Why is “Going Teal” So Painful So Often?

By Alia Aurami for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Why are organizations that try to reinvent themselves so often reporting that “the effort failed,” “Holacracy failed,” “self-management failed,” so they go back to the way they were operating, licking their wounds?

Come with me on this guided tour of the landscape of organizations “going Teal.” Put on these special glasses that enable you to see things you wouldn’t ordinarily see, like infrared glasses reveal heat to the eyes. These special glasses have Spiral Dynamics-Integral lenses, and they enable you to see, in the landscape, the developmental stages of consciousness related to people and organizations.

You’ll discover things that could reduce your pain. You might experience breakthroughs and find solutions in getting to what you are passionately trying to create in your organization.

The Landscape Littered with Painful Failures

All over the world, people are becoming discontented with the way work is done together, with their organizations and businesses. Many initiatives have been invented to try better ways. In that context, Frederic Laloux researched and published his book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness.

It landed in the world like a burning match on dry leaves, because so many people lit up when they read about Teal organizational breakthroughs, saying “Oh my gosh, he’s talking about what I want, or how I’ve actually been functioning. But I thought I was alone.”

Many coaches and consultants developed ways of helping people implement the “three Teal breakthroughs,” (wholeness, evolutionary purpose, and self-management) and “going Teal” became popular—and often fell flat on its face, creating pain and suffering along the way.

People blamed the Teal structures, processes, and procedures they were trying to implement.

They were completely puzzled, because they didn’t realize they themselves were “ready” for Teal, but others around them were simply “younger” in the development of their consciousness, so were resistant to or incapable of what these enthusiastic “Go-Tealers” tried to get them on board with.

So that’s the landscape. What does it look like through the lenses that show the developmental stages of consciousness, which we can “see” in the Spiral Dynamics-Integral “colors” of Orange stage, Green stage, and Teal stage that Laloux used in his descriptions.

The Ideal of Teal Organization—in the Context of Maturation

In the Teal stage of consciousness, people form and run organizations when they all want to express some big purpose in the world by working together, some purpose that actually moves the world along toward being better: an Evolutionary Purpose.

And they do this showing up in their Wholeness, and they relate and get the work done in various kinds of Self-Management or Self-Organizing. [which are not really identical, but that’s another story.] So they develop new structures, processes, and procedures of work that are quite different from the old ones.

But these structures, processes, and procedures, that are natural in the Teal stage of consciousness, flow from aspects of the humans involved that are their entire worldview, not just the ways they organize. The 3 breakthroughs of Teal organizations emerge from the context of people moving into that stage as people—and cannot successfully be done separated from that larger context.

Developmentally, each stage has its natural limits. After people learn all they can from living in that stage for awhile, they bump up against the limits, get frustrated, look for something better, discover new ways to be, live, and organize, and their consciousness gradually moves into the next stage.

Let’s zoom in and see how this is relevant to this landscape.

Limits and Learnings: Blue to Orange to Green

In the predominant kind of organization in the Western World, reflecting the Orange stage of consciousness, people are relieved from the limits of Blue, and revel in discovering and exercising their own autonomy and empowerment, for their own goals, and not having to (in Blue) live by the rules of some outside authority.

But eventually they get tired of the status games, the power-over manipulations and dominations, the emotional dryness of it all, the never-content constant seeking for “more,” the using of people as objects/stepping stones. They move into explorations of ways of living that have been labelled “Green.”

Spending the time in healthy Green, and learning what there is to learn, people explore concerns like these:

  • Developing healthy boundaries, and respecting others’ boundaries
  • Dealing with expectations in a healthy way, from oneself and others
  • Becoming authentic and empowered, and helping others to develop and express their authenticity and empowerment
  • Becoming a self-starter, not waiting for instructions or outside motivation
  • Knowing when to lead or to follow or to share equally
  • Developing true teamwork skills as equals, not manager and managed
  • Developing healthy vulnerability and trust
  • Exploring ways of belonging and safety
  • Exploring and learning some skills around being vs. doing
  • Developing ways to communicate truly effectively
  • Learning what it means to care and express caring and compassion, deeply, individually, intimately, from body to feelings to soul
  • Learning ways of conflict resolution, and of self-assertiveness
  • Gaining even more respect for diversity, including the diversity of one’s own and others’ “imperfections,” and for the natural world
  • Taking the time to relate, to learn about others more deeply
  • Learning how others perceive you, and deciding how much and when to adjust
  • Learning to see things as others see them, standing in their shoes, even if you disagree with them
  • Becoming self-reflective, curious non-judgmentally about one’s deepest feelings
  • Developing a healthy relationship with authority

Those are just some of the capacities, perspectives, and skills that people who are maturing into and through the Green consciousness stage, are focused on developing. These are not concerns in Orange—and not in Teal either, because healthy Teal already has developed them, and uses them all consistently, automatically, as part of Teal being and doing.

Limits and Learnings that Motivate Green into Teal

But while immersed in those maturational tasks, Green is also blind to natural hierarchies, because so allergic to the all-too-c0mmon dominator hierarchies. Therefore Green often can’t or won’t prioritize or rank the value/relevance of things to a goal.

Insistence on equality means that a ballet slipper and a hammer must at all times in all circumstances be regarded as equal. Teal consciousness realizes that building a house with a ballet slipper in my hand, or dancing with a hammer strapped to my feet, won’t accomplish those purposes. One is “better” than the other in the context of a purpose.

Green consciousness bumps up against other limits also: the endless immersion and focus on relationships is time-consuming and interferes with Getting Things Done. Some folks as they mature through Green begin to notice that Green’s embrace of care and concern, while wider than Orange’s, doesn’t include being tolerant of intolerant people, for example. Some other inconsistencies become evident, and frustrating.

So we can begin, on our tour, to see through our special lenses three main capacities that begin to come online in moving into Teal consciousness, being motivated by frustrations from the limits of Green, after learning what there is to learn from Green’s concerns.

What capacities does Teal consciousness gain?

Here are some of the most relevant capacities:

First, things can be prioritized and ranked for purpose. Purpose becomes the guiding principle, rather than quality of relationships. But not in a power/dominator-hierarchy, emotionally-sterile Orange way; quality of relationships is built in, is part of the process. Hence, the Teal breakthough of showing up in work in our Wholeness.

Second, Teal thinks systemically beyond (not instead of) relationally. The web of relationships is seen from a more complex perspective as parts and wholes that fit together for the purpose at hand. Layers of causes and effects, interactions and “complex adaptive systemic” constant co-evolutions become evident as Teal learns about them, and learns to work with and within them.

Third, Teal goes far beyond embracing and respecting diversity. Teal has such deep knowledge of people, and such capacity for systemic design, that Teal can design organizational systems that actually see the value that any “diverse” view, opinion, or person could contribute to the Purpose, and

can design the system to capture that value for expressing the Purpose in the world, while also helping the person feel valued, able to show up in the wholeness of who they are.

That design requires accepting that there are natural hierarchies of relevance to the Purpose, hierarchies for example of skills, knowledge, and motivation. Without the respect for and indeed harnessing and allowing such natural hierarchies, the systems and processes of self-management that require distributed, emergent situational leadership won’t work. (Of course they don’t work in Orange either, for obviously different reasons.)

Skipping Steps Doesn’t Work on the Developmental Path

Without those Teal capacities of consciousness, we can see, through these lenses, why placing people with predominantly Orange consciousness into Teal structures, processes, and procedures, is a recipe for pain, suffering, and “failure.”

But neither the people nor the system is failing. It’s simply a mismatch, most commonly based on trying to function as Teal without Green skills and wisdom.

The people who lit up when they read Reinventing Organizations didn’t fully realize they themselves were already Green, but those around them were perhaps not. The people who lit up didn’t realize what that would mean for their enthusiastic “organizational transformation” attempts.

What has this little tour evoked that is going to be helpful to you in your situation? Please comment and share.

cropped me at IEC 2016-05-13 at 17.19.30 copy

Alia Aurami: Within Enlivening Edge, I energize a variety of roles to express my sacred life mission: to amplify our human capacity for living, working, and relating within shared higher consciousness. That optimizes the chances of success of transformative changes, by operationalizing collective and spiritual intelligence to help organizations be efficient and effective. I delight in creating and amplifying synergistic connections toward all that! 

  1. I have felt uneasy with the term ‘natural hierarchies’ and struggled with the interpretation given that my difficulty was a throwback to the power domination hierarchies which I found intolerable, giving rise to a ‘common misconception about self-management (is) that everyone is “equal” and should have equal say in decisions.’ http://reinventingorganizationswiki.com/Organizational_Structure

    So in your very clear exposition, Alia, I seem to fall in that category which ‘often can’t or won’t prioritize or rank the value/relevance of things to a goal’. I seem to confuse a hammer with a ballet slipper, and balk at the lack of tolerance of intolerant people. I might also find that a focus on relationships can interfere with ‘getting things done’.

    It seems that this failure on my part is to do with not understanding the relevance of Purpose.

    You say “In the Teal stage of consciousness, people form and run organizations when they all want to express some big purpose in the world by working together, some purpose that actually moves the world along toward being better: an Evolutionary Purpose.” Certainly the work situation can be improved by bringing more consciousness there. But to pretend that that can then express some higher evolutionary purpose, by making work more fulfilling and enjoyable, is I think attempting to disguise the fact that work itself is an imposition. Some are even predicting the end of work, with automation taking over many jobs.

    Most of the organisations we are talking about have one purpose, to make a profit. And the people involved in those organisations are there to earn a living. So it feels there is a confusion? Or perhaps conflation? An assumption that by being more authentic and bringing our whole selves into our work situation, we can resolve the human conflict of having to spend much of the time in our lives doing things we don’t enjoy and don’t want to do.

    The introduction of Purpose is fine if everyone agrees to it. When the organisations we talk about are there to make a profit and provide people with an income, the purpose is already predefined. When we set up an organisation for a particular purpose, to provide health care, or bottled water, then the purpose is clear. What can be defined as natural hierarchies occur, because some have more skills, willingness to be involved than others.

    But we really don’t know what our purpose is here on earth, or if we think we know, we would have to admit to much disagreement, and certainly we have many different ideas about how we should spend our time.

    What I am questioning here is the subordination of my values of ‘insistence on equality’, of ‘inclusivity of intolerant people’, to some grand Evolutionary Purpose. When we talk about Evolutionary Purpose, we cannot afford to exclude anybody. We are not in a position to judge that some people have more to offer than others, because we are not in a position to define the end goal. We have to admit that we do not know the Purpose of Evolution. We may know the past, and see certain trends. But if there is anything our present state of the world is teaching us, it is the unpredictability of the future, and the need to be open to any and every possibility.

    So what you call the ‘blindness of Green’, in not being able to move to Teal by subordinating green values to Evolutionary Purpose, is in my view confusing practical purpose, which requires certain skills being valued over others, with Evolutionary Purpose, which requires remaining open to input from any and various and totally unexpected sources. Otherwise our concept of Evolutionary Purpose becomes more of a caricature than the messy reality as you have spoken of elsewhere

    1. Thank you Anna for your thoughtful and beautiful comment with so many great observations and thoughts. It gives me the chance to make more explicit, and perhaps clean up my language, that I’m talking about a maturational sequence, not choices anyone can or should make at any time.

      I am sorry if my languaging seems to imply that working from evolutionary purpose is always “better” than some other way, or more precisely that everyone OUGHT to be choosing that. Not at all.

      The ways you characterize yourself are not flaws, in my view, though you seem to be saying you think I view them that way. They are important characeristics of a stage of maturation. Using the lens of developmental stages of consciousness, everyone goes through them, and wherever a person is at any time is perfect, and there is no “ought to change to this or that” implied.

      I wonder if you are attributing an implicit dominator hierarchy to me when I am intending to describe a natural hierarchy. Stages of maturation is a natural hierarchy, just like ages. I don’t hold it as a dominator hierarchy. Do you think that’s the only alternative to your view?

      Because I didn’t say and don’t believe
      “So what you call the ‘blindness of Green’, in not being able to move to Teal by subordinating green values to Evolutionary Purpose, ”

      I’m distressed to think my wording might have implied that, and I will check my language because I wasn’t saying that at all. First, it’s not a blindness of Green that it doesn’t MOVE to Teal, and second, maturing isn’t done by subordinating something. That mechanism would not be healthy. No maturational move subordinates something; it transcends and includes, builds on. The blindness to natural hierarchy is simply a CHARACTERISTIC of Green, which eventually some people FEEL as a limitation on themselves.

      And I would NEVER suggest SUBORDINATING Green VALUES to anything. that is nowhere in my thoughts or my writing, and FEELS to me as if you are assuming I am talking about a dominator hierarchy when I am trying to describe a natural one. Green values get INCLUDED when people mature over time and with experience, into Teal.

      And some people will make that maturational step and some will continue to be fully Green, because the world needs them to help others who are learning Green wisdom and maturing INTO Green.

      There’s a valuable place for everyone. I adore that you care enough about all this to write such a long and thoughtful comment, Anna, and thanks for the opportunity for me to clarify. Does what I said here make a difference in your view about what I was saying in the article?

  2. Thank you so much Alia, for your response to my comments. I think there is much here to unpack, and I can see this exchange being the beginning of a long conversation.

    We agree that natural hierarchy only works in the context of a goal or purpose. I have tried to distinguish two types of goal or purpose. The practical, ‘getting the job done’ type which needs to be able to distinguish skills or things which are relevant to achieving a particular goal. The other is evolutionary purpose, which it seems to me has totally different requirements.

    I think I am perfectly capable of seeing relevant differences between people and things when trying to achieve a particular goal, such as building a house, that is in your terms I recognise ‘natural hierarchies’, though I prefer to just simply call them differences. But when it comes to evolutionary purpose, I am classed as a ‘blind green’ because I insist on equality of voice, on tolerating the intolerant, and focusing on relationships. By confusing those two types of purpose or end goal, you imply, however much you protest the contrary, that my attachment to those 3 characteristics, is immature and limited. ‘The blindness to natural hierarchy is simply a characteristic of green, which eventually some people feel is a limitation on themselves’. On the contrary they are values I hold dear, that I believe to be morally superior and have universal value.

    .

    1. Anna, I appreciate your continuing to tell me how you are interpreting what I’ve been saying.

      I don’t classify any persons, and that hasn’t been in my wording. I speak about stages of consciousness. No person is in only one stage of consciousness; we all are mosaics.

      And I haven’t been saying any of this:
      I insist on equality of voice, on tolerating the intolerant, and focusing on relationships. By confusing those two types of purpose or end goal, you imply, however much you protest the contrary, that my attachment to those 3 characteristics, is immature and limited. ‘

      I don’t disagree with equality of voice, though there are nuances there we probably both see. And if you are tolerating the intolerant, I gave that as a marker of Teal consciousness. And focusing on relationships is neither Green nor Teal nor anything else. It is the nature of the focus, the priority of that focus, and other aspects, that change with stage of consciousness. Everyone needs to focus on relationships at some times in various ways. I didn’t say or imply that Teal abandons focus on relationships. I was saying Green does that more often, and in different ways, from Teal.

      So I disagree that I am saying anything about you, and I disagree with your description of what I am saying about those 3 values or characteristics. Probably we need more nuance in our descriptions than a commenting format permits.

      I’d also like to add that I don’t confuse various kinds of purpose. What I was saying pertains to both kinds, practical and evolutionary, and perhaps I need to come up with an example that flows from evolutionary purpose.

      I’m curious whether you see anything useful in what I’m saying in the article. I really want to be useful to those who struggle with some of the issues I have tried to tease apart and illuminate.
      Blessings!

      1. Ah, here’s one way to approach the “equality of voices” matter. Orange consciousness often grants greater value, weight, or importance, and power, to the voices of those persons occupying a certain status or position in a dominator-based hierarchy, independent of the characteristics of that actual real person.

        That’s a maturation over Blue’s approach to equality of voices, which I won’t go into here, but it also has drawbacks that become obvious over time to some folks with enough experience of it, and they move into Green consciousness on that matter.

        As Green consciousness around “equality of voices” replaces the Orange view, Green says, No, position and power are not sources of value of a voice. All voices must be treated as equal. Green consciousness, in rejecting power and status as bases of value, generally rejects ANY basis for differences in value. And of course that’s a generalization, Anna, but we’re using frameworks here, not talking about complex individuals.

        Teal agrees that position and power are not sources of value of a voice, but also recognizes that given a purpose, whether evolutionary or any other purpose, certain voices will have more relevant knowledge, skills, information, wisdom or even time, energy, attention, motivation, or initiatve to offer toward expression or achievement of purpose, than other voices.

        And Teal is willing to pay more attention to those, and see them as of MORE value FOR the purpose. That forms a natural hierarchy, the same kind we see in Nature. They are differences, yes, but differences that matter in working toward a purpose. They form a basis for prioritizing what we act on or pay attention to. Not for ignoring any voice, but for attending to them differently.

        AND here’s the thing: a natural hierarchy changes rapidly with time and circumstances. Just because a voice might have more value for a purpose in today’s work, doesn’t mean the same person’s voice will be most valuable tomorrow for the same purpose!

        AND Teal still values each voice, and in fact can do something Green can’t: design a way to discern and harvest the value offered from each voice, every voice, FOR THE PURPOSE. So every voice ends up FEELING valued, and BEING valued, but not all in exactly the same way, because some are more DIRECTLY useful for the purpose than others, on a given day at a given time.

        This is the basis for “situational leadership” and allowing leaderSHIP tp pass around among the voices based on the need of the group at the moment, rather than the Orange concept that some PEOPLE are leaders and some are followers.

        I wonder if that clarifies my view. ?

  3. Thank you Alia, for being willing to engage so fully.

    I have tried to make a distinction between practical purpose and evolutionary purpose, but you have again lumped them together, perhaps because you think you see what evolution’s purpose is.

    I want to question that, I feel we need more humility when it comes to understanding Nature and our evolution. We can guess at it, hypothesise. But always with the awareness that our knowledge is limited. And for that reason the claim that Teal can ‘design a way to discern and harvest the value offered from each voice, every voice, FOR THE PURPOSE’, does not ring true for me. It is a hollow claim based more on hubris than wisdom.

    We cannot afford to assume that we know what voices are generative or relevant when it comes to evolution. It’s OK to do that when building a house. But when it comes to humanity and our existence on this planet, amid this tragedy we are perpetrating on this earth, based on thinking we know what we are doing, we have to realise the complexity of this web of existence, that it is way beyond our efforts to understand. And certainly beyond us to claim that we know the PURPOSE of Evolution.

    This applies also to your statement about natural hierarchies, ‘the same that we see in Nature’. If we see a hierarchy in Nature it is because we have superimposed a purpose there, which is more likely to have come from our own mentality and teleological interpretation than to be something we can directly apprehend from Nature.

    1. Hi Anna, It always helps to compare definitions, doesn’t it! Thank you for bringing that to light.
      And I am willing to “engage fully” in this conversation because it contains classic thoughts and is a conversation that in my view is overdue in the next-stage organizational movement.

      “but you have again lumped them together, perhaps because you think you see what evolution’s purpose is.” I do lump them together, but the “perhaps” is an incorrect guess. I love the sense of wonder and vastness you evoked talking about Nature and evolution. I really resonate with that.

      I don’t believe I know what the purpose of evolution is. I think it’s beyond challenging to even agree on a definition of evolution, and then to discuss whether the world or any part of it is evolving or devolving by some definition. I don’t personally find that even an interesting discussion, haha.

      I’ve never heard “evolutionary purpose” defined as “the purpose of evolution.” That’s not Laloux’s definition. And I think what I and most people who use the term in the next-stage organizational conversations around the world mean, is something like what George Por just wrote about http://www.enliveningedge.org/tools-practices/collective-intelligence-new-guru-part-2-powerful-questions-discovering-evolutionary-purpose/

      That is, a statement of a person’s evolutionary purpose is their answer to the question What is my greatest possible contribution toward a world that I regard as better?” And a group can ask the same question about “us” and come up with a shared answer, which they would call the evolutionary purpose of their organization. It’s evolutionary because it is about change on a large scale, a change that the people regard as beneficial. That most certainly is not the only possible definition of evolution, but it’s the one we’re using in this context, most of us, as far as I can tell.

      And on that, I can’t afford NOT to know the degree of relevance or generativity of a given voice to MY or OUR stated purpose, not if I or we want to make our greatest contribution with the limited time and resources we have to put toward that end.

      None of us are claiming that our purpose is THE purpose of evolution itself. But it is our desired contribution toward “that more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” as Charles Eisenstein puts it.

      Does that make sense? That’s why I lump evolutionary purpose and practical purpose. In this next-stage movement, EP seems to be thought of as one KIND of practical purpose.

      I totally agree that if we see a purpose in Nature, it’s our own mentality and teleological interpretation. And sometimes that is useful because for example if we see a natural hierarchy around health, we can discern what contributes most and least to health.

      When I said “we see in Nature” I meant that literally. Not that it is there, but that we are seeing it there because we find that useful! And some folks do forget they are imposing the purpose; I too find that saddening.

  4. Thank you Alia, for being willing to engage so fully.

    I have tried to make a distinction between practical purpose and evolutionary purpose, but you have again lumped them together, perhaps because you think you see what evolution’s purpose is.

    I want to question that, I feel we need more humility when it comes to understanding Nature and our evolution. We can guess at it, hypothesise. But always with the awareness that our knowledge is limited. And for that reason the claim that Teal can ‘design a way to discern and harvest the value offered from each voice, every voice, FOR THE PURPOSE’, does not ring true for me. It is a hollow claim based more on hubris than wisdom.

    We cannot afford to assume that we know what voices are generative or relevant when it comes to evolution. It’s OK to do that when building a house. But when it comes to humanity and our existence on this planet, amid this tragedy we are perpetrating on this earth, based on thinking we know what we are doing, we have to realise the complexity of this web of existence, that it is way beyond our efforts to understand. And certainly beyond us to claim that we know the PURPOSE of Evolution.

    This applies also to your statement about natural hierarchies, ‘the same that we see in Nature’. If we see a hierarchy in Nature it is because we have superimposed a purpose there, which is more likely to have come from our own mentality and teleological interpretation than to be something we can directly apprehend from Nature

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