Seeing your organisation as a living organism?


by GoodUp Info

Have you already read the bestseller “Reinventing Organizations”, by Frederic Laloux? He describes multiple organisational models with different colours. For example: a red organisation represents a tightly controlled form that works well for criminal organisations, and in times of chaos. The latest addition is the green organisation. ‘Teal’ is the official term used by Laloux. This type is less strictly defined by mid-term strategy and strict job descriptions. It embraces more organic models of leadership. This type of organisations is currently rapidly increasing in number. Why is this? And what can you learn from it?

Why the number of green organisations explodes

Laloux sees the growth in the number of green organisations as a response to the fact that the ‘Organisation as a Machine’ model does not suffice anymore. This is the orange organisation form, where everyone has clearly described roles. He mentions several reasons for this growth, I’ll focus on the ones that I found most interesting.

First; they are all run according to the ‘Predict and Control’ theory. This theory does not work in an increasingly complex and dazzlingly fast world. Netflix is one of the frontrunners that realised this, read more about how their strategy incorporates this here.

Second; people are getting less and less comfortable with strictly defined roles that makes them feel judged and stressed all the time. They basically feel less human. With burn-out rates going through the roof in many organisations, this really is a urgent problem.

‘Farming’ as winning management style 

“Traditional companies,” Laloux says, “look five years ahead and plan for the next year. New companies try to operate like farmers: they look twenty years ahead and plan for the next day.” This demonstrates a shift towards a ‘Sense and Respond’-model where leaders perceive their organisation as a living organism with its own Creative Genius. With this comes a different planning cycle.

The long term vision relates to the Purpose of your organisation that forces you to identify the desired legacy of your business. It is the lasting improvement in the world you want to bring about.

Concerning the ‘plan for the next day’: this only works if you manage to create an agile, self-organising entity with a high level of self organisation and self empowerment. The organisation listens constantly to new opportunities and adapts accordingly. No more ‘doing a big strategic exercise every few years and sticking to the plan in the meantime’.

Having a purpose might be radical

“Does your organisation have a noble purpose? Watch out! The implications might be radical”, Laloux warns. Why? It requires the organisation to listen and dance with their purpose. Letting go of the idea of the CEO being ‘the boss’. Stop seeing the CEO as the only person that analyses what is happening in the world to devise a winning strategy for the future with the accompanying strategic planning, mid-term planning, yearly budget cycles, KPIs, balanced scorecards, SMART targets, incentive schemes.

Seeing an organisation as a living organism

The founders and CEOs of organisations like Buurtzorg, FAVI, or RHD (examples researched by Laloux) no longer believe in predict-and-control. They tend to see the organisation not as a machine, but as a living organism that has its own energy, its own sense of direction, its own purpose to manifest in the world.

An organisation that is led by this ‘Evolutionary Purpose’ (a term that is coined by Brian Robertson, the founder and champion of Holacracy, an elaborate self-management methodology) seems to have a mind of its own. In such an organisation, the role of leaders — of everyone really — becomes much simpler. And I would like add to that on a personal note: more human.

Accelerating your Purpose (R)evolution

At GoodUp, we hope that our Purpose platforms and services do just that: facilitating the Sense and Respond conversation by connecting Personal Purposes to the bigger Company Purpose. Related to all the Do Good Initiatives you want to achieve towards society and all the internal Do Good innovation, at the core of your business. Whatever you starting point might be: we are ready to accelerate your purpose (R)evolution with you!


Blog by Anna Chojnacka