These are such potent times! Transformative circumstances tend to invoke fear, an inflated desire for control, and a search for certainty and security. Yet, such times can also be emancipating because they can provoke us to dig deep, open up and reach beyond the limiting beliefs of the day while pioneering into a brighter future.
Transcending this catalysing time on our planet requires we evolve to a new level of consciousness that embraces the extremes of darkness and light so we become deeply human and deeply divine at the same time. As leaders, this is how we become fortified and firmly anchored with strength and resilience to evolve our people through the perils of this collective initiation.
Frederic Laloux’s timely and important work around Teal provides excellent guidance on the style and tenor in which we can embrace the future – for those of us courageous enough to break-rank and prototype new ways of thinking, being and doing. Teal is a holistic worldview, not simply a set of concepts, principles, processes or practices. People who have this worldview find Teal organisations natural; whereas others do not. Teal is not an off-the-shelf cafeteria choice but a new stage of consciousness.
In his book, Reinventing Organisations, Frederic Laloux explores how organisational structures and processes have evolved over centuries, mirroring and reflecting the expanding maturity of our collective consciousness. The original framework that colour-coded the stages of consciousness was developed in Spiral Dynamics and elaborated by Ken Wilber. Laloux researched organisations in each stage of consciousness, focusing on a small but significant emerging wave of organisations at the stage labelled Teal. Teal has become a shorthand term for some of the “next-stage” structures and processes emerging in the world of business. In this way of being, Teal organisations simply make good business sense. Purpose-driven, self-managed, and people-oriented is a very different paradigm to most organisations operating today.
“We have reached a stage where we often pursue growth for growth’s sake, a condition that in medical terminology would simply be called cancer.”
3 Principles of Teal
It is all too easy to unwittingly apply the very same logic to our learning journeys that created the very challenges we are trying to move beyond. In our desire to get on with making Teal our new reality, we default to looking for tools, frames of reference, methods, and structures outside of ourselves – cultural values, mission statements, decision making protocols etc. While these types of things have their place, there is often an overly eager tendency to find solutions to our problems ‘out there’ so we can fix them with the right toolkit. This is part of the inherent problem in our current paradigm.
We have an unbalanced focus on the ‘outer’ at the expense of the ‘inner’. We ‘show up’ with this impoverished inner while attempting to make hip and cool outer initiatives work well in the midst of daily stresses and demands. The business world is littered with examples of wounded organisational cultures that have embarked on painful unbalanced paths of transformation. It is time to realise the learning from this. The three principles of Teal can act as guidance for us as we learn to transform ourselves and our organisations amid these choppy VUCA waters:
1. Evolutionary Purpose
Teal organisations base their strategies on what they sense the world is asking from them. Agile practices that sense and respond replace the machinery of plans, budgets, targets, and incentives. Paradoxically, by focusing less on the bottom line and shareholder value, they generate financial results that outpace those of their competitors.
We can ask: What is our purpose at personal and organisational levels, and how do we best allow this sense of purpose to deepen and evolve as our context and learning journey inevitability deepens and evolves?
2. Authenticity and Wholeness
Teal organisations invite people to reclaim their inner wholeness. They create an environment where people feel free to fully express themselves, bringing unprecedented levels of energy, passion, and creativity to work. Everyone is encouraged to show their complete personality, including quirks, dreams, emotional and spiritual facets. The more life you bring into the company, the more life the company has. An enormous amount of energy and creativity is set free when we can simply be ourselves.
We can ask: How do we create the conditions, both inside ourselves and within our organisations, for a deeper quality of authenticity and wholeness to emerge within us and through our relationships with others?
Teal organisations operate effectively – even at scale – with a system based on peer relationships. They set up structures and practices in which people have high autonomy in their domain, and are accountable for coordinating with others. Power and control are widely distributed throughout the organisation, and no longer tied to the specific positions of a few top leaders.
We can ask: As our relationships and organisations become more purposeful and authentic, we are required to transform our command-and-control mechanisms into governance dynamics that empower and ignite rather than control and predict. How do we best embody these self-organising methods within ourselves while deepening our personal responsibility, sense of purpose and wholeness? How do we bring this into our inter-personal relationships and team dynamics during day-to-day tensions and emotionally charged situations?
“In a forest, there is no master tree that plans and dictates change when rain fails to fall or when the spring comes early. The whole ecosystem reacts creatively, in the moment.”
We Are Each The Leader
Once we recognise our tendency to seek solutions ‘out there’ to our problems, we can be mindful of too much focus on fixing the symptoms downstream while leaving the root causes inadequately addressed. We can see this tendency manifesting in all areas of our socio-economic system from leadership and organisational development, political activism, management education, health and well-being, corporate responsibility, and more. Here’s the thing: we need to attend both to symptoms and underlying root causes. We must address both ‘outer’ structures and systems as well as our ‘inner’ awareness and consciousness. In this way, we become more aware of our own inner-outer dynamic in our own lives and as part of our own organisational development as leaders and change agents. Put simply, leading with Teal is first and foremost is a radical act of leading the self. Our systems ‘out there’ transform as we transform ourselves and our quality of awareness. Our ‘being’ informs and transforms our ‘doing’, not the other way round.
To refer to Laloux’s three Teal qualities of Evolutionary Purpose, Wholeness and Self-management, we first need to create the conditions for our own evolutionary purpose, wholeness and self-management. We must ‘be the change’ before we can effectively embark upon organisational and systemic change, and yet we need to recognise that no person is an island. Our lives are a rich tapestry of social connections inside and outside of work. Teal is a lived process of ‘becoming more human within our more-than-human world’.
“There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
— Morpheus, The Matrix
11 Fundamental Assumptions of the Teal Worldview
Teal is not a thing; it is a process of becoming who we truly are. It is a continuous revelation, letting go of all that we are not and reaching into our essential nature. It is a perpetual learning to live and lead with love and wisdom through vulnerability, curiosity, courage, and compassion. The challenge for each of us is undergoing this metamorphic revealing process in the midst of our busy working environment, while our organisations are simultaneously going through unceasing transformation in this VUCA world. In the Teal stage of development of consciousness:
1. Human beings and organisations are complex adaptive living systems.
2. Living systems evolve, and organisations with a meaningful purpose foster the flow of evolution.
3. Synergistic relationships among all living things, including human organisations, result in life-enhancing natural and social ecosystems. Diversity, including among stages of consciousness, can become the source of synergies, from a Teal perspective.
4. Developing yourself is fundamental to being of service to the world, with a scope of care and concern that goes far beyond the scope of “sustainability.”
5. Teal consciousness balances the wholes and the parts, within ourselves, among ourselves, and among our organisations.
6. In Teal consciousness, we navigate into the future by sensing into the moment in as deep and a broad a way as possible. We use all our sources of wisdom to respond to the future rather than seeking to move forward by planning, and controlling.
7. Teal consciousness requires a willingness to experiment, fail, learn, adapt, and grow, in many scales of context.
8. Teal consciousness lives life from possibilities, rather than fears, and values co-creativity, which requires personal autonomy and personal responsibility. This is why “self-managed organisations” are an expression of Teal consciousness.
9. The Teal worldview recognises that consciousness matures, which is a natural process based on experience, rather than a paradigm anyone can choose at any one time.
10. Instead of right and wrong, Teal seeks to evoke the gifts and value in every perspective, every person, and every previous worldview. Teal is capable of designing a system to weave all of these gifts together to express a shared purpose.
11. The Teal worldview naturally holds the view of power and leadership as situational, emergent, and in service to the larger purpose, rather than based on title, status or clout.
“I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody – including me – has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honoured, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace.”
Can we really transform beyond our essentially fear-based ways of operating in business and beyond? Following psychological research in the 1960’s by Dr Clare Graves, Dr Don Beck and Chris Cowan developed a simple way to articulate differing worldviews held by our diverse human population: spiral dynamics.
The basic premise underpinning spiral dynamics as a map of our spiralling levels of consciousness is that we are all born into the bottom of the spiral and progress as far up the spiral based on our learning and experience. No one jumps levels and everyone has access to all levels through their own learning and development. These levels are known as memes (value systems) and have colours representing them: Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow and Turquoise. These memes are not hierarchical. No one level is better than another and different life conditions call upon different meme characteristics as part of our human repertoire. Each meme can be expressed by us in a positive or negative way, and we can call upon these expressions in our daily lives as we traverse the ever-changing landscape ahead.
There are two tiers to the spiral: Tier One (Beige through to Green) has the prime motivator as fear, and it is estimated that 98% of the human population currently fall within Tier One. This means they find it very difficult to operate beyond fear-based motives, although there is emerging evidence of an increasing shift in consciousness as we are collectively initiated through The Great Awakening. The second tier (Yellow and Turquoise) has the prime motivator as love. Here people find it easier to empathise, value and communicate with people on all other levels of the spiral.
Beige – Tribal
An instinctive focus on basic needs such as food, safety and shelter. We are all born into this meme and, under extreme stress, we may call upon this level of consciousness – such as in the face of natural disaster. Today, Beige represents about 0.1% of the adult population with no influence on the way our global ‘society’ is run.
Purple – Mystic
During our clannish and animist history, our view of the world was essentially superstitious and full of enchantment, rooted in an embodied relationship with Nature. The conscious and unconscious realms (dream state and shamanic journeying) mix readily here. This can be likened to how a young child engages with life, prior to the formation of a prominent ego-consciousness. However, we must not fall into the trap of attempting to simplify or belittle the consciousness of animist cultures. The inherent wisdom within many indigenous cultures is not limited to a child-like state of consciousness, quite the contrary, as the fluid interplay of ego with ‘shamanic’ consciousness is often a conscious act in itself, unlike a child (as far as ‘Western’ psychology informs us). Today, Purple represents about 10% of the adult population and 1% of the influence.
Red – Ego
While finding our place in the world during adolescence, we may become competitive, impulsive, heroic or rebellious. This stage is essentially hedonistic, self-centred and ego-driven. Instant gratification is the main focus, without much regard for the wider consequences. A sense of separation between our conscious ‘I’ and unconscious nature demystifies the world – shifting our way of attending from the animate, embodiment of self/nature witnessed in the Purple meme to the more individualistic sense of ‘self’ apart from ‘other’ of the Red meme. Today, red represents about 20% of the adult population and about 5% of the influence.
Blue – Moralistic
The egotistical, dominator approach of Red can transform into a hierarchic way of viewing the world where things are judged as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right or ‘wrong’, ‘excluded’ or ‘included’ and ranked in order of strict priority, for instance: plants, then animals, then foreigners, then the working class, the middle class and at the pinnacle are the elite ruling class. This accentuates the individualistic characteristics of the Red meme, formulating them within a hierarchical societal paradigm. Dualistic ways of viewing the world become ingrained as cultural assumptions: self-other; human-nature; rich-poor; male-female, good-evil, etc.. Today, 40% of the world’s population are Blue and they hold 30% of the influence on society.
Orange – Highly Competitive
Evolving out of the restrictive, polarised, elitist and essentially oppressive and exploitative nature of the Blue meme is the self-expressive and still largely individualistic nature of Orange. This is the go-getting, materialistic, competitive mentality so prevalent in today’s Western consumerist paradigm. The ego-conscious ‘I’ seeks to make its mark on the world outside itself by rationalising, defining, extracting, commercialising and then exploiting all aspects of life in the pursuit of freedom from perceived constraints. While self-starting, innovating, boundary-pushing, ‘freedom from bureaucracy’ qualities of competitive self-expressive individuals is an important aspect of our own individuation process, it comes at a cost along with an opportunity for us to learn and evolve.
Free-market capitalism, Darwinian reductionist science, and materialistic consumerism become the dominant norms of this meme. Orange meme people tend towards seeing the world through threat-tinted glasses rooted in ‘dog-eat-dog’ competition which encourages excessive material wealth accumulation. The historic mix of the Blue and Red meme we find prevalent in today’s Western paradigm results in a predominantly elitist, greed-based approach where vast quantities of material wealth accumulate in the few while the many feel impelled to struggle up the lower rungs of the consumerist ladder. It is a worldview that is busily being assimilated throughout humanity. Orange represents around 30% of the adult population across the globe and about 50% of the influence exerted through business, science and politics.
Green – Anti-Hierarchy
With the recognition of the shortfalls and inherent inequality of the Blue meme and the potential for debasement of the ethical and social aspects of human behaviour that come with the Orange meme, the Green meme of consciousness is formed. The motivation for Green meme people is of the co-existence of people at different meme levels and the abolition of hierarchical forms of exploitation. They search for a less dominator-orientated society and a more egalitarian consensus. While this meme is essentially aiming for a peaceful coexistence, it is driven by fear and anger formed by the oppression and control, and subsequent repression, of the Blue and Orange meme. Hence, it manifests by taking an anti-position e.g. anti-capitalist protests. The rise of social and environmental movements largely speaks to the Green meme, and while there are notable exceptions of ‘ecological-social innovation’ approaches which move beyond an ‘anti’ stance into ‘solution’ orientation within such movements, these exceptions are in themselves beyond Green meme consciousness.
The Green meme does a great job of pointing out the atrocities and inequities of the current prevailing paradigm, yet struggles to implement real world practical solutions or move beyond alienating people in the other memes which they are actually trying to assist. In reaction to the ‘anti’ position the Green meme takes against the Blue and Orange memes, often people within the Blue and Orange memes retrench further into their current mind-sets rather than opening up to transformation; a way forward is often blocked due to the ‘anti’ stance taken. What ‘solutions’ the Green meme may grapple with are often viewed as ‘anti’ by the dominant Blue and Orange memes and so resisted. As we move beyond the Green meme into the second tier of consciousness, fear is replaced by love as the prime motivator which radically alters our way of catalysing scalable transformation.
Yellow – Solutions
Moving beyond the ‘anti’ position of Green is a more pragmatic Yellow meme where rather than protesting about specific problems and fighting for justice in the face of adversity, our creative energy flows into working on, prototyping and implementing solutions. In being able to deeply collaborate, empathise and engage with the other memes, concerns for status or control are transcended by the opportunity to learn and further expand human consciousness. Here there is the emotional and spiritual potential to comprehend the complexity of issues we face in transforming to a sustainable future. Here we embrace working with (rather than against) business, government, community groups, social entrepreneurs and indigenous peoples.
Yellow meme people recognise the two paths that lie ahead for us as:
- catastrophic downsizing/revolutionary restart, with the systemic strife and potential for violence that entails, or
- an evolutionary consensual transformation.
Today 1% of the population are Yellow and they represent 5% of the influence on global society.
Turquoise – Cocreative
Complimenting and working alongside the Yellow meme is Turquoise where a deeply intuitive and spiritual (dare we say, psychic) level of awareness plays out. Improvisational co-creativity and prototyping – rather like a musical dance of resonance – fuels the envisioning and implementing of the path ahead. Here people understand that sustainability is first and foremost a spiritual challenge. For the solutions of the Yellow meme to be lasting and ‘sustainable’ in all senses of the word, the participants must become rooted in, attuned with and aligned through love. Here the individual and collective value the fundamental importance of opening up the heart to allow their true nature (Higher Self) to direct the rational mind and sensuous body. Here we begin to recognise the profound sacredness of our being and becoming through each unfolding moment of reality. From this foundation, the individual and collective humanity embark on the true journey, the journey home: heaven on earth.
Today Turquoise represents less than 0.1% of the population and 1% of the influence, yet it is an emerging level with increasingly influence expected in the years ahead as the paradigm shift in our midst continues to unfold. There is also a Coral meme which is emerging as we speak. This Coral meme is referred to as the Integral Holonic and is referenced by Ken Wilber and his Integral Theory. In becoming fully realised, our true nature becomes attuned with Nature.
From Fear to Love
To categorise the ego as corrupting, hierarchies as exploitative, materialist science as debasing, or capitalist economics as evil is to perceive with fear-based blinkers. This is an ‘anti’ orientation that fails to embody the individual and collective learning of our past and present realities. In shifting from fear to love, we recognise the importance of the ego as our assistant. We open ourselves up to the deeper wisdom of natural inclusion beyond exclusion, where the material and spiritual attune within our authentic cocreativity. From this place, illusory dichotomies of human-nature, self-other, ego-soul, conscious-unconscious can be transcended into the dynamic spiralling fluidity they really are. As we open our conscious minds to our unconscious oceanic depths, and our human nature with the awesome wildness of Nature, we allow the culturally conditioned shadows of repressed psyche to come out and play.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
— Richard Buckminster Fuller
Teal: The Fifth Stage
Laloux describes humanity as evolving in sudden leaps, or steps. Drawing from the philosopher Ken Wilber’s colour-based description of these steps, he describes five initial stages of human consciousness, and posits that organisations have evolved in line with them. They are:
Red (impulsive) – Characterised by establishing and enforcing authority through power. Examples of red organisations: Mafia, street gangs.
Amber (conformist) – Views on what is right are internalised according to the belief common to the group. Self-discipline is exercised to adhere to these views, and shame and guilt are used to enforce them. Examples of amber organisations: Army, Religious Dogma.
Orange (achievement) – The world is seen as a machine: predictable, and able to be scientifically understood and controlled to achieve a desired outcome. Examples of orange organisations: Wall Street Banks, most MBA programs.
Green (pluralistic) – Characterised by a sense of inclusion, and a drive to view and treat all people as equal. A common metaphor used for relationships is that of a family. Examples of green organisations: Southwest Airlines, many nonprofits and NGOs.
Teal (evolutionary) – The world is seen as neither fixed nor machine-like. Instead, it’s viewed as a place where everyone is called by an inner voice to contribute based on their unique potential. Examples of Teal organisations: Patagonia, Holacracy.
“An organisation cannot evolve beyond its leadership’s stage of development.”
Breakthroughs at Every Stage
For Laloux, each of the above steps is characterised by breakthroughs in the ways people collaborate in order to get things done.
Red breakthroughs – Division of labour, top-down authority.
Amber breakthroughs – Replicable processes, a stable organisation chart.
Orange breakthroughs – Innovation, accountability, meritocracy.
Green breakthroughs – Empowerment, values-driven culture, stakeholder value.
Teal breakthroughs – Self-management, wholeness, evolutionary purpose.
“When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return. Emulation and peer pressure regulates the system better than hierarchy ever could.”
Teal for Real
We create our own purgatory, and our own illumination. Everything we need to learn and grow into Teal is within us, and within each evolving moment. The unfolding wisdom of Nature shows us how we need to live in harmony with ourselves, each other and all of life. Sensing into the wisdom of Nature means the journey towards wholeness comes alive in us, embodied in ways that maps, models, and metrics cannot reach. There is a tendency to look outward and flee the inner-work required for next-generation regenerative business. This tendency is within us all. By noticing it, we can start to recognise the need within ourselves to create adequate space-and-time to reflect, to pause, to check-in, to refind right-relation with self-other-life, and integrate the parts of ourselves that are waking up and also honour the parts of ourselves that are dying.
In these challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves as we embrace the dance on the journey towards wholeness. Sometimes a little more yang and sometimes a little more yin. Sometimes more structure and sometimes more space-holding. Sometimes proactivity and sometimes patience. How we integrate the journey towards wholeness in the day-to-day thick of it is the real challenge. The workplace is not a therapy room, and we need to get on with doing while also contributing to a nurturing wholesome environment. This is an artful dance!
This is where we need to build organisational and cultural structure as well as nurture conscious leadership; both ground rules and the emergent sensitivity to what works best in each given context. The feedback loops, the check-ins, the circle sharing from the heart, deep listening, space to reflect – all of this supports distributed authority. There is no short-cut. Be open to having your heart broken open, to forgiving, to trusting, to transforming tensions time and again. Learn to listen to the voice of fear while also seeing beyond it. Then a deeper pain – a gaping wound – appears deep in the gut. The wound of our profound separation from nature. Being in touch with this primal wound is just the beginning, and it is a clear sign that we are on our journey homeward bound Teal, Turquoise, and beyond.
“Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work.”