Reinventing Organizations

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 2.56.47 AMPart two of a four-part series

Written with generous collaboration from Michael Meirer

Last week we talked about some of the unnecessary assumptions and myths we have accumulated around going to work, and about the astounding number of people who only show up at work to make money, and would otherwise quit given half a chance.

This week I want to point your attention towards a very brilliant groundbreaking new book by my friend Frederic Laloux. It’s called Reinventing Organizations, and I deeply and thoroughly encourage you to rush to Amazon, or iBooks, or your local bookstore and grab a copy today. It’s chockablock full of good and inspiring news.

Laloux has spent the last many years investigating organizations which have begun to explore different organizational structures that allow people to experience work in a different way. Using the Spiral Dynamics model initially developed by Clare Graves, and later made popular by Don Beck, Laloux characterizes these organizations as “Teal.”

In a nutshell, Teal organizations do two important things, which have previously been considered not to coexist together. The first is that they create environments where people are motivated, fulfilled in what they do, feel happy and look forward to going to work. At the same time, these organizations maintain a solid economic basis for the company to be successful.

An example which Laloux comes back to again and again his his book is a Dutch organization of nurses known as Buurtzorg. Prior to restructuring, the organization had followed the old traditional system of organizing nurses. They had tough timelines, tight regulations, lots of reporting and checks. In that old system the nurses felt like cogs in a machine run by rules they had no understanding of. Buurtzorg reorganized itself on Teal principles. Nurses were divided into small groups of 12 to 15 people, who essentially ran their own independent businesses. They were given a very broad mandate of providing good services for sick people, and doing whatever they knew to do to create happy patients. They were not taught how to do this, and they were given minimal control, and reporting requirements. The results were astounding: patients felt more cared for, the nurses felt more motivated and enjoyed their work more, and each and every independent unit was more financially successful than they had been before.

How do they Do It?

In the dozen or so examples that Laloux gives of Teal organizations, he identifies four essential components to restructuring an organization so that it reflects these more conscious values.

1. A sense of purpose. Teal organizations put a shared sense of purpose at the center of the organization, and make sure that each and every person within the organization senses this purpose as real, appreciable, and meaningful.

2. Decision-making is decentralized. Teal organizations put decision power where it needs to be: right on the spot. So those Dutch nurses were able to decide things for themselves, with minimal need to check in with a higher authority.

3. A great deal of emphasis is placed upon bringing forth the unique gifts and talents of each individual, and utilizing them in the best possible way within the work environment. This means that within a Teal organization the people fully express their unique brilliance, rather than simply getting a predefined job done.

4. Minimized regulation, rules, and compliance. Teal organizations take a huge leap of faith in trusting their employees to do the best thing. Time clocks, report cards, and productivity reports are thrown out the window. The organization trusts each individual to do the best job they can. Time and time and again, Laloux reports that when you trust people, they perform better.

A second example which Laloux refers to in his book is the French company FAVI, which produces glass parts for the automobile industry. They are also organized in the same way as the Dutch nurses: into small groups who are each responsible for their own product line, and who take pride in doing things right and making their customers happy.

Close to Home

Although Laloux’s book only focuses on a dozen or so examples, he is actually describing a movement that is sprouting up all over the world. Here in the United States, the publishing house Sounds True, founded by Tami Simon, is a glowing example of a Teal organization. I have five books published by them, and I know that each and every person within their organization takes pride in doing their work well, making autonomous decisions, and often feels like they work for themselves, albeit in collaboration with other colleagues.

Ninan and Associates, an architecture and construction company founded by David Ninan in Fort Collins, Colorado is another great example of a Teal organization. Years ago now, David removed all the doors from the building, and remodeled the workspaces to have all walls only 4 feet high. The entire company of more than 100 people was divided into small “villages” who worked on independent projects and were highly self-sufficient and accountable primarily to themselves.

The company most likely to:

IMG_1374Among larger, multinational companies, the one that has made the biggest strides in restructuring the work environment is Google. They are famous for doing things that nobody else has done. They have meditation rooms scattered around the Google complex in Mountain View, California. They serve high-quality organic food in the dining room, which is all provided free for employees. Wherever you go, you can see examples of thinking outside the box to make things more fun and interesting.  As a random example, I remember when I spoke there that there was a slide to get from the first floor back to the lobby.They’ve invested unprecedented amounts of energy in exploring technologies to elevate consciousness, and to support people in bringing forth their innate brilliance.


While Laloux’s book is extraordinary and inspiring, and essential reading for anyone interested in the next incarnation of conscious business, it leaves us with as many potential impediments that stand in the way, as it offers practical solutions. Here are just a few:

The first, and most important impediment is money. Most big companies are owned by investors, and hence decisions made in the boardroom are often with an eye to satisfying those financial interests. The majority of shareholders in companies are mutual funds controlled by professional money managers. Consequently, the individual investor is very far removed from the needs and quality of life of the employees within the company. This extreme disassociation between the investors, to whom senior executives feel accountable, and the quality of life of the employees makes it very difficult for most companies to implement Laloux’s suggestions for more conscious organizational principles.

The second major impediment has to do with existing power structures. The world today is largely run by money provided by big banks, and huge international organizations. Even though individuals within these organizations may want the things that Laloux describes, there is also a huge inertia from  corporations, which assume an identity of their own. For example: if you actually meet individual people who work for Coca-Cola, or Johnson & Johnson, or even (dare I say it!) Monsanto, they are just people: with families and homes and fears and dreams. The individual people are probably far nicer and more innocent  than we might project. The corporation itself develops an identity of greed, or control, or heartlessness, which may not be present within most of the individuals who work for the company.

In my next article in this series I am going to talk about why even the Teal organizations that Laloux describes may not be going far enough. Based on the work we’ve done through Awakening Coaching, (not so much with organizations, but with individuals who work within organizations), I want to present for you a vision of possibility for how the way we experience work can go far beyond anything implemented so far. I want to paint you a picture of what it would take to really deeply transform business, as well as busting some of the myths about what is possible and what is not possible within the work environment.

Stay tuned!

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One Response to “Reinventing Organizations”

  1. Hilde Verbeeck November 18, 2014 at 10:59 am // Reply

    Thank you so much for your enthusiasm. It makes me happy :).


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