Reinventing Organisations … Frédéric Laloux’s transformation from corporate hierarchies to living organisms

October 23, 2019

When rising complexity pushes corporate hierarchies to their limits, the only meaningful response is a paradigm shift, argues business thinker Frédéric Laloux.

Author of the best-selling book “Reinventing Organizations” Laloux advocates a people-centric approach with radically streamlined structures that facilitate active involvement and self-management.

Laloux’s book considered by many to be the most influential management book of this decade. It has inspired hundreds, probably thousands, of organizations throughout the world to take a radical leap and adopt a whole different set of management principles and practices.

But how does it really work?

Here he explains why the future belongs to self-managing organisations, and describes what he means by ‘wholeness’ and ‘evolutionary purpose’ – and why they represent important breakthroughs:

The way we manage organisations seems increasingly out of date. Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of employees are disengaged at work, while organisational leaders complain that their organisations are too slow, siloed and bureaucratic for today’s world.

In this excerpt Laloux discusses the historical evolution of management thinking, and shares how extraordinary pioneering organisations in very different sectors are already operating from the next stage of management:

Reinventing Organizations tried to answer the question: is it possible to run organizations in a whole new way? I now know the answer to be an emphatic “Yes!”  ​

Since then, a new question emerged: So how do we do it? How do we reinvent an existing organization in such fundamental ways?

Here is a collation of graphic interpretations of Reinventing Organisations seeking to capture the key ideas of the “Teal” organisation, self managing with an evolutionary purpose, described by Laloux:

This becomes more structured as an evolutionary journey, or maybe that should be revolutionary. Most organisations are still stuck in their orange phase or perhaps into the green phase, rather than seeking the opportunities of teal:

These then take the form of diagram used in the book with examples of organisations at each different phase. Examples of teal organisations include Patagonia, Morning Star and Buurtzorg:

Describing the differences between each type in more detail

This map brings together many of the ideas in Reinventing Organisations and overlays 20 attributes/practices discussed in the book on top of Wilber’s four quadrants and demonstrates how they manifest differently in each type of organization (colour).

In summary 

  • Modern organisations have brought about sensational progress for humanity in less than two centuries―the blink of an eye in the overall timeline of our species. None of the recent advances in human history would have been possible without organisations as vehicles for human collaboration.
  • And yet, many people sense that the current way we run organisations has been stretched to its limits. We are increasingly disillusioned by organizational life. For people who toil away at the bottom of the pyramids, surveys consistently report that work is more often than not dread and drudgery, not passion or purpose. That the Dilbert cartoons could become cultural icons says much about the extent to which organisations can make work miserable and pointless.
  • Life at the top of the pyramids isn’t much more fulfilling. Behind the façade and the bravado, the lives of powerful corporate leaders are ones of quiet suffering too. Their frantic activity is often a poor cover up for a deep inner sense of emptiness. The power games, the politics, and the infighting end up taking their toll on everybody. At both the top and bottom, organisations are playing fields for unfulfilling pursuits of our egos, inhospitable to the deeper yearnings of our souls
  • Could it be that our current worldview limits the way we think about organisations?
  • Could we invent a more powerful, more soulful, more meaningful way to work together, if only we change our belief system?
  • What do organizations moulded around the next stage of consciousness look and feel like?
  • Is it already possible to describe their structures, practices, processes, and cultures (in other words, to conceptualize the organizational model) in useful detail, to help other people set up similar organizations?
  • Can we create organizations free of the pathologies that show up all too often in the workplace? Free of politics, bureaucracy, and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment, and apathy; free of the posturing at the top and the drudgery at the bottom?
  • Is it possible to reinvent organizations, to devise a new model that makes work productive, fulfilling, and meaningful?
  • Can we create soulful workplaces―schools, hospitals, businesses, and nonprofits―where our talents can blossom and our callings can be honored?

And here you can download the entire book: