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Change Management

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This article discusses the difference between traditional “change management” and the evolutionary process of change under Teal.

A new perspective

In the machine paradigm of Orange, organizations are viewed as fixed systems. These systems don’t have an inner capacity for change. Force must be applied from outside. That is the role of senior management. They are the ones that must identify the need for change, determine how that change will be brought about, and ensure that it happens.

Furthermore, the impetus for change in pre-Teal organizations does not come easily. These paradigms view change as an unfortunate necessity or the result of management failure. It is the job of management to predict and/or control the future, thus eliminating surprises. Reality should conform to a well executed budget and strategic plan. When it doesn’t, managment is often slow to acknowledge their presumed failure. And when they finally accept that the world around them has changed while they were pursuing their plan, they are uncomfortable with what they see. They now have to act decisively to make up for lost time. They must impose with urgency.

The change will be painful (they imagine), but once accomplished, everything will be fine again. And so, they hasten to redesign the machinery of the organization. Unsurprisingly, people resist change being imposed upon them. To overcome this, management may feel compelled to play on fears, and choose to blame hostile competitive forces or titanic environmental factors that threaten the organization’s survival if it doesn't react. .

Thus, change tends to happen in a series of ‘jumps’. This is not a fluid, emergent process. It’s a series of discrete and usually disruptive movements, from one relatively static state to another.

In contrast, living systems seem to have the capacity to sense change in the environment and adapt from within. In a forest, no master tree plans and dictates to the other trees what to do when rain fails to fall or when spring chooses to come early. The whole ecosystem reacts creatively, in the moment. Teal organizations approach change in a similar way. People are encouraged to act on what they sense is needed. They are not confined by static job descriptions, fixed reporting lines, or functional discipline. They react creatively to life’s emerging, non-linear changes. Change is expected. It happens naturally, all the time.[1]

For more on how earlier stages undergo organizational change, see below:

Red organizations

In Red Organizations, change is directed by the boss. A Red organization can often adapt quickly in chaotic environments, because the leader can initiate rapid change, if necessary through intimidation. Change typically consists of immediate reactions to threats and opportunities rather than a response to more gradual and longer term (although no less important) developments. Little attention is paid to altering ingrained patterns of employee behavior over time.

Amber organizations

The Amber paradigm believes the world is (or should) be essentially immutable: what was true yesterday should be true today and tomorrow. It is built around an orderly structure and formal, stable processes. Change is primarily via small improvements to enhance the excellence of existing processes and traditions. Amber organizations can display a strong resistance to the need for change, especially if the nature of the change threatens ideological boundaries or social norms. When outside forces do impose the need for change, the change is mandated top-down with little thought of how change could be planned to minimize resistance. In that sense, there is little or no "change management" to speak of. 

Orange organizations

Orange organizations are more likely to embrace change. Innovation is the key to outperforming competitors. Change should be constant. Unfortunately, as Orange organizations are typically structured as hierarchical pyramids, change can be difficult. Thus, the constant pursuit of change, hindered by the static nature of the organization, gave rise to "change management" and an industry of tools and consultancies to help organizations overcome their internal resistance to change.[2]

In Orange, the dominant perspective on change comes from engineering. The typical steps to any change (e.g., re-organizations, re-structuring, re-branding, re-positioning, etc.) are to diagnose the current situation, design the desired future state, and then plan the change journey from here to there. For large change projects, this might involve several projects, program milestones and a central "program office" that reports to the top leadership. This kind of change planning is typically performed by a small team of senior leaders or "high potentials", sometimes with the help of external consultants. When their plan is approved by senior management, it is communicated throughout the organization, often with some “burning platform” message (“we must act now, or we are doomed”) due to the perceived need to provide the necessary motivation for change. Consistent with the Orange metaphor likening the organization to a machine, the phrase “drive change” is common. Change, in others words, is done to people, not via people.

Green organizations

Green organizations try to be more consensual. Having only a handful of people design the future state and change process sits uncomfortably with Green's ideal of empowerment. More people are likely to be involved. This might take the form of large group workshops and innovative facilitation techniques (think for instance, Appreciative Inquiry, Theory U, Open Space, etc.) in which a large number of colleagues participate. The every-day hierarchical structure of the organization is suspended temporarily to make room for an organic process of collective intelligence. The outcomes are then fed back into the traditional structures and processes of the organization. Involving a larger number of colleagues in the planning of change can feel risky for the senior leadership (what if the group veers in a direction we don't want?), but it tends to increase the buy-in of employees and improve future designs by capturing the insights of collective intelligence.

In practice

Change management is less of an issue in Teal organizations. Change tends to happen more naturally, and continuously, with less effort or management. It's an evolutionary process which can be initiated by anyone and managed by everyone. As the organization evolves, it changes on a daily basis, and there is rarely a need for major overhaul or drastic change management programs. Change management as a field of practice mostly disappears.

Change on a continuous basis

Thinking of Teal organizations as living systems helps to explain how change unfolds within them. Living systems have a capacity to sense change in the environment and adapt. They react creatively, in the moment. Teal organizations deal with change in a similar way. People are free to act on what they sense is needed. They are not restricted by static job descriptions, reporting lines and functional units. They can react to emerging events. Specific methods embedded in the organization allow space for people to listen to the organization's purpose and the change it may require. When everyone is free to sense the need for change, and to act on it, change is a given; it happens naturally, everywhere, all the time, mostly without great pain or effort. Major disruptive change efforts (as we know them from more traditional organizations) largely disappear.

When large scale change is needed

Even in those rare situations when large scale change is needed, Teal organizations naturally work to involve all those affected by the change in determining the appropriate response. In most cases, Teal organizations will uphold the advice process, even if it means including the entire organization. Experience has shown that, in most cases, colleagues have the maturity to participate in even painful decisions and the ingenuity to come up with creative solutions.

When many colleagues are involved, large group processes, such as Theory U, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space or others may be used to effectively surface a collective understanding and to crystallize a vision of the future. To what degree do change projects then need to be formally planned and followed up? As is often true within the Teal paradigm, form follows function. For instance, if there are many interdependencies, very tight deadlines, or high degrees of risk, more formal planning and follow-up might be needed. In other cases, a common, clear understanding of the future is all that is required. Groups of people launch the necessary projects to manifest the collective vision. If that fails to happen, the system will self-correct: someone will speak up to initiate further change.

Frequently asked questions

Surely a Teal organization must sometimes face a situation where drastic change and top-down decision-making are needed: Are traditional change management methods helpful in such cases?

Teal organizations tend to adapt continuously to small changes in the environment. But sometimes the organization can fail to adapt to a number of changes that build up over time. In other cases, a sudden, external shock occurs (say, the biggest client goes bust, or a key regulation changes). In such circumstances, drastic and quick actions may be necessary, calling for the advice process to be suspended, and for decisions to be made quickly by a small group of people or even an individual. However, it is made clear to all that such a suspension is temporary. See “Crisis Management”.

How do these practices link with the three Teal breakthroughs?

All three Teal breakthroughs support a more fluid, organic approach to change that makes "change management" largely irrelevant.


Self-management encourages everyone to sense when change is needed and to initiate the necessary actions to make it happen. No longer do people wait for a mandate for change to come from someone higher up the chain of command.


The more colleagues can show up from a place of wholeness at work, the better they can sense changes in the environment and what the organization's purpose might call for. An environment that feels safe and trusting will also make it easier to enlist colleagues in the need for change, especially when the proposed change might be risky or painful.

Evolutionary purpose

Earlier organizational paradigms (predict and control) hold that that it is up to senior management to determine what the objectives of the organization should be and to initiate any change programs needed to achieve them. In Teal, as long as people’s actions are being guided by their “listening” to the organization’s purpose and sensing/responding to changes in the environment, there is no need for "change management".

Concrete examples for inspiration

Following is an example of how change occurs in a Teal organization.


Health care - Netherlands - 9,000 employees - Nonprofit

At Buurtzorg, change happens organically.

Buurtzorg was created not only out of frustration with the way neighborhood nursing companies in the Netherlands had fragmented a noble profession into a series of senseless tasks. It also grew out of a new, and broader perspective of neighborhood care. The purpose of care is not to inject medication or change a bandage; it is to help people have rich, meaningful, and autonomous lives, to whatever degree that is possible. Within this broad definition, Buurtzorg keeps evolving, keeps moving to where it feels called.

Not too long ago, for instance, one team in the countryside developed a new concept: a boarding house for patients, to offer the patient’s primary caregiver a break. With most patients, Buurtzorg provides medical care, but someone else — often the patient’s husband or wife, sometimes a patient’s child — is really the primary caregiver. It is not unusual for the husband or wife, often elderly as well, to be exhausted by the constant patient needs, sometimes 24 hours a day. If the strain becomes too much, the caregiver can fall sick too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, one team of nurses thought, if we could have a place where we could take in our patients for a day or two, or even a week— a sort of bed and breakfast and lunch and dinner and care — so that their primary caretaker could take a break and rest? One of the nurses had inherited a small farmhouse in the countryside. Together, the team transformed it into a Buurtzorg boarding house.

At a subsequent company retreat, the team presented its concept to all of its colleagues. However it was left up to them to decide if they felt called to create their own boarding houses. No one at Buurtzorg, not even Jos de Blok, the founder, made the call in the name of the company to say, “Yes, this fits Buurtzorg’s purpose, so we will create dozens of boarding houses and here is the budget we will allocate,” or “No, this is not within the scope of Buurtzorg. Let’s not pursue this.” The idea of boarding houses was left to run its own course. If it was meant to be, it would attract nurses to make it happen and carry Buurtzorg into a new dimension of care. Otherwise, it would remain a small-scale experiment.[3]

Related topics

Notes and references

  1. Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Locations 4671-4688). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition.
  2. For prominent theories developed to facilitate organizational change, see for instance Kurt Lewin’s three-stage model of change and John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change.
  3. Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Locations 4334-4351). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition.