One of the defining characteristics of Teal organizations is how every mechanism self-organizes to fulfill the organization’s evolutionary purpose; a purpose that evolves over time and which is distinct from maximizing profits or beating the competition.
In a strategy session today with a teal organization that we’re designing, I was reminded that almost everything I’ve learned about building businesses must be thrown out the window.
If lean startup methodology of “build, measure, learn” is the modus operandi of orange organizations, then the methodology of teal organizations rests on two guiding principles: sense and steer.
Sense-making is a skill in dealing with ambiguity. It inherently asks “what is it we are looking at?” instead of defaulting to “what is it that we do?”
The simplest way to discover where an organization wants to go: do nothing special. With self-management in an environment built on trust, everyone is sensor. A teal leader’s role is to create a safe space for clear listening to purpose. This sensing of where the dynamic organization aligns with a dynamic purpose informs dynamic steering.
Brian Robertson at Holacracy describes dynamic steering well:
Dynamic steering means constant adjustment in light of real feedback, which makes for a more organic and emergent path. If you watch even the most skilled cyclist, you’ll see a slight but constant weaving, as the rider constantly takes in sensory feedback about his present state and environment, and makes minor corrections to direction, speed, balance, and aerodynamics. Weaving arises because the rider maintains a dynamic equilibrium while moving forward, using rapid feedback to stay within the many constraints of the environment and equipment. Instead of wasting a lot of time and energy predicting exactly the “right” path in advance, he instead holds his purpose in mind, stays present in the moment, and finds the most natural way forward as he goes. That’s not to say the rider doesn’t have a plan or at least some sense of his likely route, just that he gains more control, not less, by surrendering to present reality continuously and trusting his capacity to sense and respond in the moment. Similarly, we have the opportunity to get more control in our organizations by more relentlessly facing reality and adapting continuously. When we become attached to a specific predicted outcome, there’s a risk we will get stuck fighting reality when it doesn’t conform to our prediction.
This dynamic between sense and steer is a reciprocal exchange towards alignment. It acknowledges the non-static nature of all components across purpose and organization and allows what needs to be done to simply reveal itself rather than be forced.
Perhaps building with a teal logos is more lean than lean methodology itself.