This coming week I will be participating in the Pluribus’ annual global gathering with consultants from all over the world. I so much look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and exploring together what our shared purpose will be for the time to come.
Here’s a reproduction of the article “Diversity & Inclusion, a catalyst for the evolution of organizations”, linking the framework of Reinventing Organizations and the work of Diversity and Inclusion.
Diversity & Inclusion, a catalyst for the evolution of organizations
by Magda Barceló
Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategic interventions are known for being good for business. And yet, there is a less obvious but more important reason for engaging in D&I, beyond the mentioned one: this is the fact that diversity and inclusion fosters the evolution of the organization and its individuals.
In this chapter by using the work of Frederic Laloux on the evolution of organizations, we consider the different stages from where organizations operate and explain how D&I enhances the breakthroughs that are found in most evolved organizations, therefore enhancing evolution in organizations from every stage.
What characterizes the Pluribus approach is the grounded beingness of the network of facilitators, and the organization itself, with high levels of self-organization, wholeness while being driven by its evolutionary purpose. From that stance, the different interventions advance specific dimensions of the evolution of organizations, specifically: culture, wholeness and evolutionary purpose.
With this awareness, leaders have the capacity to be more intentional and holding a wider framework as they engage with D&I strategic interventions in the increasing complexity of our times. This will likely result in a stronger impact at all levels: at the evolution of the organization, its individuals and the organization’s contribution to the world.
1. Organizational stages of evolution
The evolution of human consciousness as studied and documented by a great number of people – from historians, to anthropologists, philosophers, mystics, psychologists and neuroscientists – has been found to develop in stages. Organizations, as an expression of the same human consciousness, have evolved over time too and correlate with each stage of consciousness. Using Ken Wilber and Jenny Wade’s work, Frederic Laloux describes different stages of organizations, all co-existing in the present moment.
Gaining familiarity with the different stages of evolution of organizations is helpful to understand the main drives behind every type of organization, the culture and the type of consciousness of its leaders. But more strongly, I found Laloux’s work ground breaking, because from his research with current companies, he has come to discern three breakthroughs that underpin the companies that are most evolved, and wildly successful too. What this implies is that evolution can be orchestrated by creating the right structure, and given the necessary conditions: leadership at the highest developmental stage (Teal) and ownership support.
But before going into organizational stages, what do we mean when we talk about development? In Nick Petrie’s words: “There is nothing inherently better about being at a higher level of development, just as an adolescent is not better than a toddler. However, the fact remains that an adolescent is able to do more, because he or she can think in more sophisticated ways than a toddler. Any level of development is okay; the question is whether that level of development is a good fit for the task at hand.” So the question is, what is the task at hand? What is our task at hand as humans? What is the task of our organizations at this particular moment in history? How much complexity is asked of us to handle?
Depending on our stage of development, on the stage of development of the leaders of the company, these questions will be answered differently.
Organizations arising from this stage of consciousness are dominated by an impulsiveness drive. They first appeared in the form of small conquering armies, and today they can be found in the form of street gangs and mafias. The metaphor for these organizations is the “wolf pack,” and they function by a continuous use of power in their interpersonal relationships. In these organizations the “alpha wolf” uses the power to maintain his status within the pack. Fear is the glue that rules the organization. They are highly reactive and have a short-term focus. This type of organization thrives in chaotic environments.
The breakthroughs of this type of organization are creating a certain division of labor and implementing the command by authority. They are inherently fragile given the impulsive nature of the people running them, which can render them very unstable: the minute the power is in doubt, someone will attempt to topple it. Other weaknesses of Red organizations are they are poor at planning and strategizing.
Organizations at this stage are characterized by highly formal roles within a hierarchical pyramid. Top-down command and control is how they operate. In these organizations, stability is valued above all through rigorous processes, and the future is seen as a repetition from the past.
The military and the public school systems are archetypes of Amber organizations. Key breakthroughs of this stage are formal roles, with stable and scalable hierarchies, and processes that enable having a long-term perspective.
One of the limitations of Amber organizations is its hierarchical stratification where moving up the hierarchy can be a non-straightforward thing. The other is the “us” versus “them” where people inside the organizations relate or rather enter conflict with each other with suspicion; it’s the “silos” culture. The same rationale operates with the company and the outside world, where it’s seen as “another planet” since social life revolves around corporate life and employment is still considered life-long.
In the Orange worldview, life can be understood as complex clockwork whose workings can be investigated. The organization is seen as a machine. Modern global corporations are the embodiment of Orange organizations. With them three distinctive breakthroughs were brought: innovation, accountability and meritocracy.
The shadow parts of Orange organizations are growth for the sake of growth, making it environmentally unsustainable with planet depletion as a direct result; success measured just in terms of money and recognition; inequality and corruption.
Within the classic pyramid structure, Green organizations focus on culture and empowerment to achieve extraordinary employee motivation. Some successful examples of this approach are Southwest Airlines and Ben & Jerry’s. Their key breakthroughs are employees’ empowerment, a values-driven culture and a stakeholder model that takes into account social concerns beyond pure profit. The guiding metaphor for this stage is the organization as a family.
The limitations of Green organizations come from the post-modern world view and stem from its unease with power, rules and hierarchy. When it insists that all perspectives are equal and deserve equal respect in the face of others abusing this stance by putting forward intolerant ideas. Unsuccessful Green approaches are often a result of the failure of consensus in decision making and the rigidity of bottom-up processes. In summary, this paradigm has been great at deconstructing, breaking down old structures, but has proven less effective at formulating practical alternatives.
2. Teal organizations
The metaphor used for Teal organizations is one of a living organism or system. Life in its evolutionary wisdom manages ecosystems ever evolving toward more wholeness, complexity and consciousness. In this case, it is life itself that fuels the organization. Laloux research encompassing companies from different sizes, cultures and industries, describes three distinctive features they share in common:
– Wholeness: In stark contrast to business cultures that only allow for the “professional” self at work, which tends to be highly masculine, rational and cold, Teal organizations, through a set of practices and conducive cultures, invite people they work with to reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all who we are at work.
– Self-management: Teal organizations have created systems that transcend and include hierarchy and consensus. These systems allow it to operate efficiently and at a large scale with a system of peer relationships.
– Evolutionary purpose: These organizations see themselves as having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict the future, members are invited to listen in and understand what the organization wants to become. Connecting the personal purpose with the organizational purpose is sought and encouraged. Profit making becomes a result from following the purpose of the company, instead of the primary goal.
And these three breakthroughs are supported by the key role of particular cultural traits as recognized by the leaders of the researched organizations.
Nothing such as a “pure” Teal organization exists, but most of the researched ones are a blend, having innovated in some areas with practices and processes and having more Green or Orange practices in others. And yet, the similarities show that there is consistency and enough correlation to consider these organizations to be part of a different evolutionary stage.
Another thing to consider is that Wholeness, Self-management and Evolutionary purpose reinforce each other. This is because the more self-organized an organization is, the easier it is to be whole and show up as who you really are. The greater freedom to express your vocation or purpose at work, the easier it gets to self-manage in groups that share a common passion connected to the company’s purpose. The more accustomed people are to listening to who they are and relating to each other in an authentic and non-ego-based way, the easier it gets to listen collectively to the evolutionary purpose of the organization.
After reading this, you might be asking yourself what’s the point of all that if my organization is not at Teal level? Some organizations I have worked with have found it misleading to take Teal as a destination instead of an inspiration, a process worthwhile in itself. By considering the latter, this framework marks the key dimensions necessary to support organizational and personal evolution, and these dimensions are directly connected with the work of diversity and inclusion we do.
3. How it works in practice
Most of the organizations we support are in Orange stage. Some have Green traits. A few have Amber pasts. And others have Teal intentions. They all have in common to be formed by people with a desire to evolve along with the organization. Leaders know that there is more, and that they have blind spots they are not seeing, and invite us to support their efforts.
As Parker J. Palmer beautifully proposes, in any training or teaching program, more important than the what (contents), or the how (way of delivering them) is the who. Who are the individuals that facilitate trainings, in our case workshops, experiential learnings, strategic interventions? And for the case being, and since we’re considering organizations, what kind of organization is Pluribus?
This is fundamental, because in any intervention there is something that speaks louder than any presentation, any word that’s uttered, any email, any question asked or answered. And this is our way of being as facilitators, as humans. We all share a deep passion for this work which has us continually engaged in learning, a commitment to our continuous personal evolution and showing up with high levels of authenticity and vulnerability.
So our beingness gets to the places that need our presence and skills. But how does it get there? How is the organization behind it orchestrating it? How Teal is this organization? Well, the answer that comes is: a great deal. Pluribus does not work with strategic goals or targets. We are an expanding web of freelance consultants who are connected with each other by personal bonds, projects and interests; many of us are friends after having collaborated in many projects. One might find a project and act as project manager for it. This means that after speaking to procurement (part of the minimalist central office) then she will create her adhoc team for the project. Consulting rates are transparent according to the role. Associates join the projects that appeal to them the most. I recently was offered a collaboration for a company that I didn’t feel my values aligned with; I refused the collaboration and my decision was totally respected, having other offers for other projects shortly after. Information and materials are available in a shared drive. And adhoc mentors take up their roles from their initiative on a volunteer basis, as new projects emerge, to coach facilitators that need support in terms of content, understanding the client or designing an approach.
So having Wholeness and Self-organization, how do we collectively listen to the Evolutionary purpose? While economic sustainability is pursued, it has never been the driving force for Isabelle Pujol, the founder and CEO. In her words: “Our purpose is to bring the work of D&I into the corporate world. We’re fulfilling a need that impacts thousands of people as we support organizations shift their culture toward a more human one. If one day this is no longer needed, it will be great news. All companies will be getting it right. And I have no doubt that we will find other ways to contribute to the world.”
The founder Isabelle Pujol and a core team of facilitators meet once a year in a two-day gathering. This is a time of celebrating successes, sharing our lives and our dreams as we collectively listen to where the organization wants to evolve. And then we come back to our respective lives, staying connected and with stronger bonds that allow for continuous collaboration, learning and inspiration.
4. Enhancing Teal breakthroughs
In concrete terms, this is the what we do offer to organizations to advance each of the aforementioned breakthroughs. In each of the dimensions, our approaches combine challenge with support. We fully embrace the place where the organization and its individuals find themselves, and challenge them to move beyond.
A shift in the culture of the organization is a common result of our interventions. Teal leaders recognize the key role of culture in the functioning of the organizations as the invisible water we all swim in. For example, our workshops in Unconscious Bias unearth people’s beliefs and mindsets, and how they are linked to their behaviors and the interplay with organizational systems and the organizational culture. The experiential learning nature of the workshop invites high levels of self-discovery, intimacy, and authenticity that when noticing our shared humanity connects people from a level where there is no way back to relate to others as just “colleagues.”
In order to support organizations’ Wholeness our interventions have several components. All of our workshops create safe and open learning environments, through ground rules and facilitated discussions. This is often taken on board by employees participating, especially if they are participating in a Train the Trainer, one of our favorite modalities, where we build internal D&I expertise in the organization that then continues to operate internally once we’ve left. Authentic relating skills are built through workshops about conversational stances, non-violent communication and conflict resolution. The creation of reflective practices is achieved facilitating with tools like journaling, silence, large group reflections (Open Space, World Café). One-on-one coaching is available to work with leaders at any level, to support their inner wholeness through development. And collective learning is hosted and held through the creation and support of Communities of Practice of individuals that decide to take on this challenge.
In the words of Brian Robertson, the founder of Holacracy, talking about Evolutionary purpose: “It’s us humans that can tune into the organization’s evolutionary purpose; but the key is about separating identity and figuring out ‘What is this organization’s calling?’ not ‘What do we want to use this organization to do, as property?’ but rather ‘What is this life, this living system’s creative potential?’ That’s what we mean by evolutionary purpose: the deepest creative potential to bring something new to life, to contribute something energetically, valuably to the world… It’s that creative impulse or potential that we want to tune into, independent of what we want ourselves.”
Some of the main tools we use are within what’s considered large group processes, like World Café, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry and Theory U. These are offered to support organizations connect to their evolutionary purpose, by listening to the whole system. And as life itself, once identified, the evolutionary purpose will keep evolving and evolving, and needs to be listened to again and again.
And our work in supporting companies Self-manage is yet to start… perhaps you might be interested in starting this line of work?
5. Can you be more intentional as a leader?
Whether you are familiar with D&I work or if you are considering embarking on such, now you have a wider lens through which to consider the scope of these efforts, by asking yourself some of these questions: What is the lens through which I see the world? What is the stage of development of my organization? What would it mean to evolve? What would this make possible at an individual and collective level? What would it make possible for the world?
In practice, if you decide to go for it, be ready to walk the talk, role-modeling all that is learned, as well as to hold space and create and sustain structures for evolution. Both D&I and evolution take practice and commitment. Successful companies take it on as on-boarding workshops as they build internal capacities to deliver it, and periodically offer it to existing employees to keep growing, keep deepening in the knowledge of our biases, of the lenses we see the world through, and the impact this has in our work, in the business, in our lives.
These are exciting times to live in, high complexity, huge challenges, with increasing awareness and loads of support. From my experience, I cannot but encourage you in this ride.
More and more business leaders are engaging in D&I efforts. By considering the big picture of organizational evolution, as a leader you can engage in a deeper way why this matters and support it more intentionally. Yes, it’s the right thing to do, yes it’s good for the business, and more importantly, it has the potential to support the organization and its individuals to evolve, and as a result equip it to handle higher levels of complexity and positive impact in the world.
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014)
Reinventing Organizations Wiki http://www.reinventingorganizationswiki.com/ (2016)
Palmer, Parker J.The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (2007)
This article was originally published in the book: Inclusion Around the Clock, celebrating Diversity & Inclusion with Pluribus, by Isabel Pujol et al. Panoma Press, 2016