Teal Paradigm inspired Company Structure

Katarzyna Lawera

Maturing in colours

Recently, the phrase Teal organisation has become increasingly common in the literature on organisational performance. This term is taken from the work of Ken Wilber, who depicts the stages of development of social consciousness in a spiral model and labels them with colours. At different stages of consciousness development, different paradigms emerge visibly in the actions of individuals, social mentality and organisations.

And so humanity and its organisations are moving from Amber organisations characterised by feudal structures, through Orange organisations focused on achieving goals, to Green organisations that emphasise the individual approach to the employee and see the employee as an individual. For some time now, we can spot signals of the coming of the next stage in the development of social consciousness. It is the Teal level and the Teal management paradigm.

This stage is characterised by moving away from traditional management based on rigid structures and unchanging roles. Instead, it is about flattening, eliminating successive levels of management, and emphasising self-organising teams. Some elements of this paradigm have already found their place, for example, in the scrum approach to projects.

If you would like to read a bit more on this subject, I refer you to the book “Reinventing Organisations” by Frederic Laloux. In the first chapter, the author extensively describes and compares the various stages of the development of awareness and management paradigms.

Learned Helplessness is born in Orange

Why would self-organised teams be better and more effective? For the simple reason: If people feel they have a direct impact on the result, they are more engaged and motivated to take action, achieve the goal and solve the problems they encounter.

This motivation probably has to do with a sense of empowerment versus learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a phenomenon observed many years ago by Seligman, an American psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. It consists of the fact that if we experience for a long time that our actions do not influence what happens, we fall into a state of helplessness, apathy and resignation at a certain point. We do not take any action, even if circumstances change and our efforts can be effective.

In large organisations, organised in a multi-level structure, a lack of ownership is often experienced, and decisions are moved far away from the place of influence. Therefore, flattening the structure allows the employee to get closer to where decisions are made, goals planned and the actions needed to achieve them. Allowing this process to occur gives employees a sense of empowerment and ownership of the problem, increasing engagement and resulting in better performance.

Repaint for Teal

Of course, moving to a Teal paradigm is not that simple. It is not enough to gather a team and tell them to self-organise now. This change requires proper preparation, transfer of relevant knowledge and training, and support in difficult moments. Nevertheless, one can be inspired by the paradigm and try to look at the organisation differently.

Our company is not a Teal organisation, but undoubtedly this paradigm influences how we think about structure here. There was no structure for a long time, and everything was based on direct relationships. In fact, it worked just like in the Teal paradigm. Everyone had access to every piece of information, took an almost direct part in decision-making and felt that their actions affected the results. This was possible because of a small group and direct relationships. However, when the firm grew to 50 people, it became clear that this form of working was not sustainable. It became clear that a structure was needed. In Teal companies (several already operating successfully), self-organised teams consist of 15 to 30 people. It is a phenomenon known in psychology and sociology that a group of more than 20 people begins to lose direct communication and inevitably breaks up into smaller subgroups.

Teal slightly blue

Our company has developed its model. We have created teams that are, in a way, competence centres, but they are also organised around specific tasks. Each team has its leader, who comes from the group and has technical competencies. The leader also has to have considerable soft skills and can support his team in communication within the team, between other teams and with clients. The leader is also the link between teams and supports solving problems and tasks that arise at their interface (e.g. a project that requires cooperation) and between the management and the team. With personal soft skills, the leader can support team members to take the initiative and solve problems themselves.

The role of the leader here is not understood as in the Orange paradigm, where the leader manages, plans, makes decisions and delegates them down the structure. In our company, it’s more like a leader with a shade of teal. Leaders role is to organise the team’s activities in a way that triggers collaboration, creativity and to bring out the best in the team. Their job is to give team members the chance to get involved at every stage and take on roles in the team for which they feel ready and can use their strengths. A leader is more like a facilitator and catalyst of processes than a manager.

Within the teams, there are several smaller groups assigned to projects, which results in some people acting as sub-leaders for the duration of a particular task. This division gives each staff member the chance to draw on their strengths and bring what is most beneficial at any given time. However, these roles are not rigidly assigned. They arise naturally in response to demands from the team’s task. The roles can change if the team concludes that this will be more beneficial to achieving the set goal. As you can see, the structure created at ConnectPoint is not what is usually understood by the term ‘structure’. It is more of a network of connections and interactions to facilitate collaboration and communication to achieve goals.

One of the essential things in the Teal paradigm is mindfulness, which allows you to notice changes and react to them flexibly. With this attentiveness, a new structure is now forming. It will probably evolve further to reach the best solution for working with a sense of purpose and achieving satisfying goals.