Laloux Cultural Model and Agile Adoption

Peter’s Update: March 2021

The post below, as is true of all historic writing, describes my perspective at the time. That perspective has evolved quite a bit over the years as I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders in dozens of organizations. My current opinion, informed by teaching it and trying to apply it, is that Laloux’s descriptions of Teal are probably more high Green, though the organizational case studies include a mix of Green examples and what I’d consider legitimate Teal thinking.

The key move from Green to Teal is an abandonment of what people “should” value and an embracing of how each value set provides some benefits that are important for different contexts, what the original researcher behind the model Clare Graves called Life Conditions. Through that lens, Teal does not equal “no hierarchy”, but includes situations where hierarchical structures match the life conditions, needs, and context of the organization. In my opinion, the organization in the book that best exemplifies this value set is FAVI, which integrates the needs and value sets of all of the  color stages from Red through Green. A person with any of these values (the need to be powerful, the need for stability, the need for achievement, and the need for loving connection) would be happy working at FAVI. With that preface, I humbly share the original below, unedited.

I had invested years of my life in a ground up, large-scale agile adoption. The early years of the adoption seemed to go at breakneck speed. Teams were adopting scrum with great success. People were feeling more engaged, products were getting better, and the company was benefiting. And then it felt like we hit a wall. Despite what felt to me like a groundswell of support from teams, managers, and directors, we were struggling to make the leap to real organizational agility.

The Breakthrough

While reviewing a draft of a good friend’s upcoming book, a single reference leaped off the page:

“There is … evidence that the developmental stage of the CEO determines the success of large-scale transformation programs.” (Tolbert, cited by Laloux, 2014)

I immediately bought and read Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations, which provides a comprehensive overview of how humans have organized in groups over the centuries. The prevailing perspective today (what Laloux labels “orange”) seemed to describe my organization in an almost clairvoyant way. It helped me make sense of what my organization valued the most, how I could continue to be effective in my role as agile transformation leader, and what was likely possible given our cultural values. Keep reading to learn more…

Laloux’s Culture Model

I created the following video overview of Laloux’s cultural model and how it applies to Agile adoption in various types of organizations. It’s kind of a whirlwind tour, but I wanted to cover the basics in as succinct a way as possible. Feel free to pause and ponder as you digest the information.


The Rest of the Story…

Did one of the descriptions/colors stick out to you as the prevailing perspective at your organization? How about for you personally? My story takes an interesting twist after reading Laloux’s book. The prevailing perspective at the executive level seemed firmly rooted in Orange. I felt like I was somewhere between green and teal, personally. The difference in what I valued the most, and what the organization valued most, helped me understand why I had been so frustrated with the wall it seemed we had reached at the organizational level.

For me, it seemed I had three options:

  1. Acknowledge the value in an Orange perspective (there is value in every perspective), and work hard to help my organization be a shining example of Orange at its most vibrant.
  2. Seek out leaders with a Green perspective and work with them to try to expand the influence of Green values in the organization.
  3. Leave the organization and seek out Green or Teal organizations where I could grow personally at a faster pace.

Option one had been my journey for the first several years of my work leading our agile transformation. Option two had been my approach for the previous 18 months, but seemed to stall out when we needed executive level support for the types of changes required for a vertical transformation from Orange to Green. For option two, it felt like a waiting game – I could work with Green leaders in the hopes that at some point, the current CEO would either evolve personally, or, as happens frequently in large organizations, a new CEO would eventually come along, and all of the Green level cultural work would be unlocked and begin to flourish. This felt like a crapshoot as to what perspective that new CEO might have, and how long it might be before such a change might occur.

This left me with Option three, and that’s the option I took. While I think I could have provided value helping the organization be the best version of Orange it could, for my own personal growth, I really wanted to advance what’s possible and see how I can add value in a Green or Teal organization. I joined Agile for All knowing that they had been doing some really cool work with organizations adopting a Green/Teal set of practices, and I’m excited to see where we can go with such an approach.

So Now What?

First of all, definitely check out Laloux’s book. He provides fantastic details of how Teal organizations do awesome things.

If you are in a predominantly Amber or Orange organization, we’ve been there! We’ve seen Agile help these organizations get better at what they care about most, be that stability and predictability (Amber), or innovation and competitive advantage (Orange). An Agile mindset and practices will help achieve awesome results, and in a way that is more engaging and fulfilling for the people doing the work.

If you are in a predominantly Green or even a Teal organization, or one interested in moving in that direction, please get in touch! We’d love to hear about how it’s working for you. Whether we can help you out or not, we want to learn more about and help connect organizations taking this approach.

No matter your organization’s primary perspective, if you are interested in learning more about deep, long-lasting organizational transformation then let’s talk! 

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