Are Self-Managing Organizations The Next Wave?

  • 3 mins read

Some forward-looking companies are now using self-managing principles to organize work with stellar results for both people and profits. Up to this point in history, we’ve organized work based on four very different worldviews: impulsive, conformist, achievement and pluralistic.

I wrote about this in my series on the history of organizations. To recap:

The history of organizational evolution is tied to the four stages of human consciousness proposed by psychologists Clare Graves, Don Beck, Ken Wilbur and others, as summarized by Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Nelson Parker, 2014):

  • Impulsive-Red: Tribes, crime cartels, and gangs run by a powerful chief
  • Conformist-Amber: Religions, the military, and schools run by rules and social norms
  • Achievement-Orange: Corporations and businesses driven by innovation, incentives, goals, profits, competition and egos
  • Pluralistic-Green: Nonprofit and service organizations driven by a culture of shared values, purpose, fairness, consensus, and respect for the community and environment

Each developmental stage yielded major breakthroughs that have allowed us to solve increasingly complex problems and achieve extraordinary results. And each stage also had its limitations, leading people to seek better ways of working together.

Most corporations today are organized around an Achievement-Orange worldview. Leadership is goal-oriented, focused on solving tangible problems and favoring tasks over relationships.

One of Orange organizations’ downsides is “innovation gone mad,” or growth for growth’s sake. When numbers, targets, milestones and deadlines drive success year after year, people may never experience meaning or fulfillmenta paradigm that can lead to collective greed.

Pluralistic-Green organizations emphasize bottom-up processes, gathering input from all stakeholders to achieve consensus. The Green perspective is uneasy with power and hierarchy. But reaching consensus in large groups is inherently difficult.

While Orange is predominant in business and politics today, Green prevails in postmodern academic thinking, nonprofits, social enterprises, and activist groups.

In small but increasing numbers, leaders are thinking beyond Green, striving to attain the next stage of consciousness. Their goal is mindfulness, thus taming the ego’s needs and impulses. They develop an ethic of mutual trust. They ground decision-making in an inner measure of integrity. They’re ready for the next organizational paradigm.

The Teal Paradigm

Progressive leaders are reinventing the way they organize work with the Evolutionary-Teal Paradigm, which encourages people to be:

  1. Self-managed
  2. Driven by a culture of shared power, responsibility, wholeness and higher purpose

In my work in organizations, I hear a lot of complaints about management. People need and want more autonomy if they are to be truly engaged and passionate about their work. What do you think?

I’d love to hear from you; you can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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