Jurgen Appelo on why there’s no such thing as a teal organization
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by Jurgen Appelo
I am slowly delegating the production of our Management 3.0 workshop materials, which is not easy for me. I am quite territorial in my attitude toward our creative products, and the workshop modules have always been my territory. I am a dictator in that area. It is the main reason why people rate our Management 3.0 content so highly around the world. La qualité, c’est moi.
But now, the Happy Melly team needs to scale up content production and that means removing me as the bottleneck.
The first modules created by others have already given me a bit of a fright. “What? You’re suggesting a big top-down plan. How does that fit with Management 3.0 thinking?” And to another: “The amount of info you offer here is never going to fit on a slide!” But I’m sure we’ll get there, eventually. I just need to codify my opinions and experiences properly as a quality checklist for contributors.
There’s nothing wrong with being a dictator, in the right context.
When you have significantly more experience than others and when you have to live the consequences of their work, you have every right to tell them quite precisely what to do, when, and how.
For example, I either enjoy or suffer the hotels that my assistant books for me. Will anyone blame me for having dictated my requirements in detail? Is anyone calling me less “mature” for severely restricting someone’s freedoms in this area? Is my business not “teal” because I’m handing down a list of instructions as a manager to a worker?
At the same time, I offer my assistant many freedoms. I don’t care about office hours, the amount of time worked, or which technologies to use. And I even handed over my credit card for making hotel and flight reservations, without specifying a restricted credit limit.
The wrong time for organizational classification
Many people don’t seem to appreciate that freedom and self-organization are highly contextual and multidimensional. It all depends.
That’s why I don’t believe in a classification of entire organizations using a simple pyramid or ladder of maturity levels. And I don’t think we can distinguish the cultures and governance types in organizations using just a few colors.
What does it mean when someone says that an organization is “teal”? Sure, it sounds great when self-organizing teams do their recruitment (like at Valve software) or when employees sign peer-to-peer agreements with each other without involving managers (like at Morning Star tomatoes). But top-down rules and directives, such as the purpose and values of the company (like at Southwest airlines), the maximum size of business units (in W.L Gore’s Innovation Model), mandated communication processes (as in a Holacracy), or the selected industry and business model (like the Buurtzorg Nederland Model) still sound like a dictatorship to me.
And as I said, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of dictatorship, when you know what you’re doing and when it’s your head on the block. Don’t forget that Apple survived and thrived thanks to the dictatorial habits of Steve Jobs.
Teal interactions inside your rainbow organization
I don’t believe we can apply a qualifier such as “teal” to an entire organization. Instead, we should apply it to individual interactions. I am very “teal” with regards to people’s work hours, tools, and dress codes. But I am totally “red” (leader of the pack) in the area of writing and formatting. I have good reasons for that.
That’s why I suggest that you all stop looking for teal organizations.
I think it’s better to become aware of your own behaviors and attitudes so that you can consciously decide which ones should be teal and which ones should be red, or some other color in between.
When everyone in the organization does the same, the whole company should look more like a rainbow than a slab of concrete. And rainbows are nice.