In the roughly 100,000-year history of humanity, we have gone through successive stages of consciousness. At every stage we made a leap in our abilities – cognitively, morally, and psychologically – to deal with the world. With every new stage, a new way to collaborate, a new organizational model was invented.
Reinventing Organisations – Frederic Laloux
In the Red paradigm, starting around 10,000 years ago, organizations are structured around a strong leader who has absolute power over others. Power structures are constantly in flux as subordinates jockey for position, rather like wolves in a wolf pack around the alpha male.
Red Organizations can still be found today in the form of street gangs and mafias.
From the Amber paradigm, the organization chart with boxes and reporting lines appears, resulting in a static pyramidal structure of stacked layers of hierarchy and a clear chain of command. People identify with job titles and job descriptions and their place in the hierarchy. “Command and control” is the dominant leadership style: decisions are made at upper levels of the hierarchy while lower levels simply follow orders.
Today these organizations are still very present: most government agencies, public schools, the Catholic Church, and the military are run on Amber principles and practices.
In Orange organizations, the pyramid remains the fundamental structure. In the pursuit of innovation and to beat competition, more degrees of freedom become necessary.
“Command and control” gives way to “predict and control”: managers and employees are given targets to achieve, and some freedom in how to achieve them. New departments, such as Human Resources, Research & Development, Marketing, Product Management, etc. are formed to support Orange organizations’ pursuit of innovation. Central staff functions, like Finance, IT, Risk, Audit, etc. become very prominent in large organizations, often concentrating much power at headquarters, far away from operating units.
Today, Orange is arguably the dominating worldview of most leaders in business and politics. Choose any of the defining brands of our time – say, BMW, Shell, Nike, or Coca Cola – and you’re likely to have picked an organization whose structures, principles and cultures are inspired by the Orange paradigm.
Green organizations still operate with a pyramidal organizational structure and strong staff functions, but there is an emphasis on empowering front-line employees. Top and middle managers are effectively asked to share power and give up some control: to move from being doers, problem solvers and fixers to be servant leaders. This is often symbolized in the notion of “inverted pyramid”, where the CEO at the bottom supports senior and middle managers who support front-line employees.
Examples of Green Organizations are Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and Ben & Jerry’s.
Teal organizations consciously operate as complex adaptive systems with distributed authority, often structured as decentralized, self-managing teams or networks. The static hierarchy of the pyramid gives way to fluid natural hierarchies, where power flows to people who have most expertise, passion or interest. The dynamic adjustment – or actualization – of hierarchies and power is ensured thanks to a range of specific practices.