The Circle Line

Going Teal

A new paradigm is emerging,
set to shake up the world of work as we know it.


Tech companies get it, startups are adopting it, a rare few long-standing corporates have been successfully operating this way for decades... Teal is a way of working that has the potential to shakeup the world of work in such a dramatically positive way we may wonder how this breakthrough didn't come earlier.

Written by Philippa Richardson.

Teal Philosophy

The Teal Paradigm

Back in 2014, Frederic Laloux, a former Associate Partner with McKinsey & Company and MBA graduate from INSEAD published the now-cult book, Reinventing Organizations.  For three years he researched the ways in which twelve extraordinarily successful organisations operate. Laloux found that what these organisations all have in common was that they share a set of rare and unusual management practices and principles.  In particular, they practised…

These organisations operate largely without organisation charts, management hierarchies, quarterly goals or other traditional management strategies. These instead are replaced by:

  1. Self-organisation – Distributed authority and collective intelligence instead of rigid hierarchical management structures – natural hierarchies emerge and dissipate depending on situational context.
  2. WholenessIndividuals are allowed to “drop the mask,” and express all of who they are at work as and when they want to, not just those characteristics traditionally deemed to be professional.
  3. Evolutionary purpose  The organisation has a purpose of its own. Instead of attempting to predict and control the direction of the organisation, members strive to listen and understand where the organisation collectively is naturally drawn to go.

This approach is so new and dynamic, the conversation around what Teal practices are and how to implement them continues to evolve. But they share features like self-managed teams, intuitive reasoning and decentralised decision-making (Workology).

Looking back on the historic changes of organisations and their structures and cultures across time shows us just how far we’ve evolved so far (and where at The Circle Line we hope to play a part in the journey to Teal).

Teal: The Fifth Stage of History

In Reinventing Organizations: An Illustrated Invitation to Join the Conversation on Next-Stage Organizations, Laloux describes humanity as evolving in sudden leaps, or steps. Drawing from the philosopher Ken Wilber’s colour-based description of these steps, Laloux describes five stages of human consciousness, and suggests that organisations evolve according to these same stages.

The way organisations has evolved through history goes a little like this (Strategy + Business) – an evolution that also broadly reflects the individual human lifespan from an infant with instinctive needs responding to survival-level threat, to a mature autonomous adult:

As organisations slowly make the shift into a Teal way of operating, whether with formal constitutions like that offered by HolacracyOne, or other non-hierarchical methodologies, we wait and see what levels of success they achieve in furthering their evolving purpose. Unless, of course, we’re brave enough to join the movement and see for ourselves…

Going Teal

What is a Teal organisation?

Teal organisations use an uncommon set of management practices and principles.

They are characterised by self-management, wholeness, and a deeper sense of purpose.

Teal: How do I achieve it?

There are a rare few Teal consultancies out there such as HolacracyOne.

We hope you start by speaking to us at The Circle Line. We might not have all the answers, but we’ll certainly have a great conversation to start you off.

Does going Teal really work?

In-depth research has shown that it does.

All twelve of the Teal organisations LaLoux studied are extraordinarily successful.

As the Barrett Culture centre says: Values-driven organisations are the most successful organisations on the planet.” The Barret Culture Survey backs this up: values and behaviours drive culture, culture drives employee fulfilment, employee fulfilment drives customer satisfaction, and customer satisfaction drives shareholder value.

Teal takes this established wisdom to the next level.

How long will it take to go Teal?

Hard to say. It won’t be quick – human change never is. Maybe 6 months to put in place the core structure and practices; probably more like 2 years for the essence and approach to be deeply embedded.

What's the difference between Teal and "normal" companies?

The simple answer is – their whole philosophy.

Here are some of the key differences between the two:

Traditional CompaniesTeal Companies
Hierarchical structure with managers, a Board and a CEO at “the top”.A collaborative group of colleagues in self-organising teams where decision-making is shared..
Central staff support functions  – purchasing, HR, finance etc.Most functions performed by teams themselves, few staff have only advisory role.
Every job has a title and description.Fluid and granular roles, no titles especially ones that denote status.
Values in a culture deck or pasted on wall.Values translated into (un)acceptable behaviours to foster safe environment.
No real equivalent.Reflective time respected, story-telling practices among teams support self-disclosure
Interviews by HR personnel, focus on CVs and fit with prescribed job descriptions.Meetings and working sessions with future colleagues, focus on fit with organisation’s purpose.
Onboarding meeting and employee handbook.Significant training in relational and communication skills, immersion in culture and by rotation around company.
Have and follow a mission statement.Organisation is a living collective with its own evolutionary purpose.
Strategic course set and steered by top leadership.Strategy emerges organically and at front line from the collective intelligence of self-managing colleagues.
Competition is the enemy“Competitors” are irrelevant and embraced to pursue purpose.
“Predict + control” via budgets, targets and need to stick to plan.“Sense & respond” via constant sensing of what’s needed, simplified budgets, workable solutions and fast iterations.
Profit is the leading indicator.Profit is a lagging indicator that will come naturally when doing the right thing.

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