Exemplifying and Modelling ‘Teal’

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I‘m a member of a discussion group around the book Reinventing Organizations and the concept of Teal. The book, and practice, advocates creating organizations that are self-organized, self-managed, self-correcting, transparent and minimally hierarchical. I’ve written about it before.

The upcoming session of our group challenges us to take Teal personally. How can we exemplify and model the practices and principles of Teal organizations in our everyday lives — in whatever activities (even just conversation) we undertake with family, friends, collaborators, and other ‘community’ members — and not just in the “work world”?

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject — none of them novel, but pulled together in one place:

  1. Start by knowing ourselves better — As I described in my collapse readiness reminders poster, this entails knowing what we’re good it, and lousy at, what our blind spots and biases and triggers and tacit assumptions are, and being aware of why we’re reacting, in the moment, the way we are.
  2. Growing our capacity to engage others — The art of inviting others to a group or a conversation or an exploration begins with genuine curiosity about what others care about, and entails learning how to ‘craft’ an engaging invitation.
  3. Sustaining an atmosphere of trust — The very best theatre ensembles trust each other deeply, and they ‘rehearse’ together to get better, as equals, authentically, transparently, with utter honesty and a focus on each other’s and their ‘customers’ extraordinary experience. Just don’t ask me how they do it!
  4. Learning by asking great questions — Asking questions to understand why things are the way they are and how they might be different. Daniel Schmachtenberger’s brilliant list of questions to ‘understand the problem-space’ is great for starters, including challenging our own tacit assumptions.
  5. Appreciating what we have in common — Understanding and building on our shared values and beliefs, what we all care about, enjoy doing, and are really good at, and how we uniquely do things and express ourselves. Our whole way of being in the world that we share in common. This is the bedrock of community. Without it, everything is a negotiation.
  6. Learning to understand and appreciate opposing perspectives — Kind of the antithesis of #5. This entails deeply exploring and appreciating why people believe things so different from our beliefs. And then trying to synthesize some sensible understanding and viable approaches that are compatible with and encompass both sets of beliefs. Devilishly difficult, but powerful when it works.
  7. Staying aware of where we’re going — Because too often we go off on tangents in meetings and conversations, because we forget what our common purpose or objective is. This ‘purpose’ may be a best possible outcome. Or, if things are in flux and we don’t know yet, it might just be the first next step, some tactics aimed along the trajectory we think might be the best one.
  8. Learning to recognize and call out power dynamics — Most of us kinda wish we had more power, so we’re quick to use it when we have it. But exploiting power differences almost never produces optimal results, and can lead to resentment, disengagement, learned helplessness, and abuse. Sometimes power abuse is unintentional, or passive-aggressive, or even non-verbal.  It takes constant diligence to keep challenging the use of power, and shifting power to those with less, to restore healthy group dynamics and optimal behaviours.
  9. Being willing to delegate to the most competent — That means acknowledging that the person with the matching title or job description or CV isn’t necessarily that person. It means letting go of control. And, always, it means matching authority to responsibility. Too many lousy ‘leaders’ delegate the latter but hold on to the former.
  10. Being willing to take courageous, calculated risks — Most of us become more risk-averse as we age and gain authority. That’s partly why real innovation is everywhere in precipitous decline, and why so many corporate oligopolies are dangerously sclerotic. Life is too short to always play it safe. We learn much more from our mistakes than from our successes. And there are ways to make it safer to fail.
  11. Learning and practicing collective accountability — This is not the same as ‘responsibility’, which refers to being the one on the hook to take action (and/or flak for failure). It means assessing together the measure of what has happened, and collectively deciding what should be done about it. It removes the ‘blame game’ and the individual burden, especially since in most cases no one person or group of people ’caused’ the outcome anyway.
  12. Learning and practicing the Art of Dialogue — This is more, and less, than conversation. It entails a lot of listening and paying attention without analyzing or even really thinking. It requires suspending judgement and postponing questions and objections. Its author David Bohm said true Dialogue requires and enables us to set aside our conditioned thoughts and beliefs and open ourselves to appreciating those of others, and hence developing a collective understanding.
  13. Learning how to self-correct (adapt to change) — This is about honing our capacity to continually sense what is happening and respond effectively, much as a living organism does when it detects something wrong. It requires a commitment to accept and exercise collective accountability (see #11 above). It requires a knowledge of what a “healthy state” looks like for the group in question (family, community, organization, or even for an individual) at a time of upset, struggle or turmoil. And it requires awareness of what pathways might be available to shift toward that healthy state.
  14. Learning and practicing facilitation, consensus and conflict resolution skills — We can practice these skills in many contexts: eg at the family dinner table, during a political debate, or when someone needs guidance (not advice) to sort out their own thoughts and priorities. Facilitation is a servant/steward role; consensus is not the same as agreement; and conflict resolution is about fairly discharging emotional distress. You don’t learn these essential skills in MBA school.

These are worthwhile objectives, I think, but the real question is: How do we actually get better at these things? What practices can we put into place now to test and track our improvement? How can this list be made useful instead of just interesting?

What is needed are practical methods to obtain and hone these skills. My guess is that one reason so many organizations that try to “get to Teal” fail is because their people just don’t have these skills, and there isn’t an opportunity to develop and practice them.

My sense is that we need a kind of “Teal curriculum” to learn the fundamentals of these important capacities, and to practice them until we’re really good at them. Like an anti-MBA program. Maybe even offer it in high schools.

Fun to think about, anyway.

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5 Responses to Exemplifying and Modelling ‘Teal’

  1. Joe Clarkson says:

    I am obviously out of touch, since I have no idea what “Teal” means (other than the color). Please explain the organizational meaning of Teal. I did google it, but got little but sites related to the color and to “emotional calmness”.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Hi Joe: This article by the book’s author summarizes the theory, explains what differentiates “teal” organizations, and provides some examples: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/00344

    The first link in the article takes you to more detail, and you can download the whole book for free if you are so inclined.

    And here’s the YouTube channel, with a slew of videos on it; the intro lecture is at the very bottom: https://www.youtube.com/@reinventingorganizations2595/videos

  3. Another short overview article: https://effectivecollective.net/teal/. Or for a longer list of info and examples on this topic: https://effectivecollective.net/teal-resources/. Cheers!

  4. september 16 says:

    Here’s a link to Elinor Ostrom’s 8 principles which share some similarities with what you described above. I was in a small affinity group back in the seventies which functioned with some of those principles in mind. It wasn’t meant to be a long term commitment but we tried to grapple with the issue of power.


  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Stephen: I was somewhat familiar with Elinor’s model, but this is a good reminder. For those wanted to learn more, her full book is available at https://www.actu-environnement.com/media/pdf/ostrom_1990.pdf with the principles discussed in detail on pg 90 et seq.

    Note that some of the principles have been tweaked and clarified over time.

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