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Culture and Values

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The topic of culture and values explore the different values, beliefs, ground rules and the resulting cultures of Teal organizations as well as practices for establishing and bringing culture and values to life.

A new perspective

Teal organizations take shared values to the next level either through clear ground rules or sharing beliefs about what is acceptable or unacceptable. Most Teal organizations spend a lot of time during the recruitment process informing candidates about the values of the organization to determine whether there is a good culture fit. Teal organizations also set practices to frequently review and question culture and values to ensure they are truly lived by those in the organization. Some values that are often present are trust, transparency, collective intelligence, wholeness and authenticity.

Every historical stage has given birth to a distinct perspective on culture and values, and to very different practices:


Red organizations

In Red organizations, leaders typically demonstrate egocentric behaviors driven by their personal need for power and control. They are often impulsive and find ways to exert their dominance. This creates a culture of a fear, control, risk taking and submission. Close bonds are usually formed by those in the organization.

Amber organizations

In Amber organizations, stability and respect for the group norms are highly valued. The Amber leader looks for order, stability, and predictability. Change is viewed with suspicion. Control is maintained through institutions and bureaucracies. This tends to creates a culture of conformity. The focus is to do what is right and to fit in within the group norms. Thinking is dominated by whether one has the right appearance, behaviors, and thoughts. Social stability comes at the price of wearing a mask. People may distance themselves from their unique nature, personal desires, needs, and feelings; instead, embracing a socially acceptable self. The shadow side of this worldview is that workers are often viewed as mostly lazy, dishonest, and in need of direction. Management and supervision is believed to be necessary to ensure work is carried out properly.

Orange organizations

In Orange organizations the underlying values are success, innovation, effectiveness, competing/winning, profit and recognition. This worldview is materialistic and rationality is highly valued. Only what can be seen and touched is real. The organizational metaphor is a ‘machine’. The culture can become highly professional, rational and sometimes soulless. Change is welcome provided it contributes to increased performance. Cross-organisation collaboration is valued and encouraged to speed up innovation and change. Management is strategic and focused on results rather than how to achieve them. Individual competence, results and achievements are valued and incentivized. Progression is based on merit rather than social standing or rank. 

Green organizations

In Green organizations relationships are valued sometimes at the expense of outcomes. Community, communication, collaboration, consensus, harmony, tolerance, integrity, respect, openness and equality are common values. Focus is on creating great workplace culture based on empowerment in order to boost employees' motivation. Although Green organizations are most often built on the traditional hierarchical model and structures, the culture is ill at ease with power and hierarchy. Participative and servant leadership approaches are valued to foster collaborative bottom up processes, developing shared values and a culture where people feel valued and empowered to contribute. The guiding metaphor is ‘family’. Whereas Orange organizations often use their values as a marketing tool, Green organizations embrace and live by them. 

Teal organizations

Teal organizations strive to create highly effective organizations that allow people to be fully human at work.. The culture of Teal organizations is shaped by the specific context and  purpose of the organization, not by personal assumptions, norms and concerns of the founders and leaders. The metaphor for the organization is a ‘living system’. As such it should be allowed to have its own autonomous identity and culture that can evolve with time. The culture and values are well integrated with the structure and processes. 

Teal organizations take shared values to the next level either through clear ground rules or sharing beliefs about what is acceptable or unacceptable. Most Teal organizations spend a lot of time during the recruitment process informing candidates about the values of the organization to determine whether there is a good culture fit. Teal organizations also set practices to frequently review and question culture and values to ensure they are truly lived by those in the organization. Some values that are often present are trust, transparency, collective intelligence, wholeness and authenticity.

In practice

Establishing values and ground rules

Defining a set of values

Many organizations find it helpful to define a set of values. In Teal organizations, those values, together with purpose, are at the very core of the organization' s culture, influencing most behaviors and processes. Those values often stem from the founder's vision, and are typically collectively defined. Values and related ground rules are not fixed, they are openly discussed and amended so that they remain a faithful reflection of what people in the organization live and believe in. Some organizations set out a simple set of common beliefs, or assumptions about human endeavor and behavior.

Ground rules for safe space

To show up fully in the presence of others, as Teal organizations encourage, people need to feel it is safe to do so. Having a defined set of values translated into clear "ground rules", when necessary, helps to do this.

Some examples are: RHD’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, Morning Star’s Colleague Principles, FAVI's fiches or Holacracy's Constitution. These documents provide a vision for a safe and productive workplace. They give colleagues a vocabulary to discuss healthy relationships, and they draw lines that separate recommended from unacceptable behaviors.

Some startups find it important to draft a full version of such a document early on. Others will develop one as they grow. Organizations make sure they are written collectively so that they are full owned by all the people.

Bringing values to life

Teal organizations understand it takes more than a plaque on the wall to bring values and ground rules to life. They spend a significant amount of time and energy on training and involving everyone in a continuous process of revisiting them. Some examples of keeping values alive are:

  • Values Training: once the new recruits are onboard, they are trained in the set of values and ground rules.
  • Values Day or regular events: once a year, a festive event is organized where everybody is invited to revisit the organization's purpose, values and ground rules. 
  • Values meeting: every month or so, a meeting will take place where colleagues are invited to bring up issues with values and ground rules in the workplace and suggest changes. Values can also be discussed during Large Group Reflections. 
  • Values survey: cultivating discussions around values can be supported by an annual survey.

Culture and value-based recruitment

Teal organizations understand that a person's attitude and behaviors are as important as their skills. Therefore significant energy is devoted to finding people that fit with the organization's culture and values. New recruits are carefully interviewed to ensure they can thrive in the environment. It is a two way discovery processes aiming at finding out if the organization and individual are meant to “journey together”. 

Values for the three Teal breakthroughs

The principles and practices outlines above support the three breakthroughs of self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose

Self-management

Self-managing structures transcend the issue of culture versus systems. Inner and outer dimensions, culture and systems, work hand in hand, not in opposite directions. The following are some examples of the types of values/principles that support self-management:

  • TrustTeal practices are based on trust. Meet people with trust and they will respond with trust. Trust enables people to be fully responsible. It also lowers the need for hierarchy and control and enables self-management.
  • Transparency: When people have access to business information, often held by management, they can act and take decisions that are good for the whole. When there is transparency and openness collective intelligence is available to all. Sensitive information can be shared because everyone is able and trusted to handle difficult news.
  • Responsibility and accountability: Everyone has a responsibility to the organization for sensing issues or opportunities and addressing them. People are expected to be comfortable with holding each other accountable for their commitments, through feedback and respectful confrontation.

Wholeness

Teal organizations seek a workplace that honors the humanness of the people who work there. The following are examples of the types of values/principles that support wholeness:

  • Equal worth: All people are of equal worth and at the same time different. Community will be richest when members are able to contribute in their distinctive way, whilst appreciating their differences.
  • Safe and caring workplace: Situations are approached from love and connection rather than fear and separation. Creating a safe environment where everyone can behave authentically is essential.
  • Overcoming separation:  All people are connected. We aim to create a workplace where cognitive, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects are be honored and valued.
  • Relationships and conflict: It is impossible to change other people. We can only change ourselves. We take ownership of our thoughts, beliefs, words and actions. We don’t spread rumors. We don’t talk behind someone’s back. We don’t blame problems on others.

Evolutionary purpose

Listening deeply to both the organization and to ourselves is essential in finding evolutionary purpose. The following  are examples of the types of values/principles that support evolutionary purpose:

  • Collective purpose: We view the organization as having a soul and purpose of its own. We try to listen in to where the organization wants to go and beware of forcing a direction onto it.
  • Individual purpose: We have a duty to ourselves and to the organization to inquire into our personal sense of calling to see if and how it resonates with the organization’s purpose. We try to imbue our roles with our souls, not our egos.
  • Planning the future: Trying to predict and control the future is futile. We make forecasts only when a specific decision requires us to do so. Everything will unfold with more grace if we stop trying to control and instead choose to simply sense and respond.
  • Purpose and Profit: In the long run, there are no trade- offs between purpose and profits. If we focus on purpose, profits will follow.

Frequently asked questions

Do you need to change your set of values and ground rules when you transition to Teal?

Not necessarily. If your values are consistent with your purpose and if those values truly define who you are as an organisation, it is better for you to keep them. Maybe the ground rules will need to be readapted to better fit the self-management structure and processes. In any case you need to set up a process where those values and ground rules can be regularly and collectively reviewed to ensure you keep on living them.

Concrete examples for inspiration

Here are some practical examples from organizations that have adopted values and culture.

Morning Star

Food processing - United States - 400 employees - For profit

At Morning Star, every management practice is inspired by two basic social values.

The founding principles for Morning Star's way of operating were set early in its history. When the first tomato processing factory was built, Chris Rufer and the company’s first employees met to define how they wanted to work together. They decided that two principles, two basic social values, should inspire every management practice at Morning Star: individuals should never use force against other people and they should honor their commitments . These principles are at the heart of the company’s conflict resolution mechanism, a process that is described in great detail in the “Colleague Principles,” a core document outlining Morning Star’s self- managing practices.

RHD (Resources for Human Development)

Human services - United States - 4,000 employees - Nonprofit

RHD has developed over the years a beautiful and precisely worded Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Employees and Consumers.

The first two articles spell out RHD’s objective of creating a safe environment and constructively managing conflict and anger. (Later articles deal with topics related to self- management.) The premise is maintained that conflict is inevitable, but that hostile behaviors are not:

Values meeting: Every two months, all RHD colleagues are invited to join the values implementation meeting, where people can bring up issues they have encountered with values in the workplace or suggest changes to the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities . The meeting is well attended. Bob Fishman, RHD’s founder, makes a point to be present every time.

AES (Applied Energy Services)

Energy - Worlwide - 40,000 employees - For profit

AES uses the practice of a survey to stimulate discussions about values and ground ruues.

Annual survey: Many organizations cultivate discussion about values and ground rules through an annual survey. At AES, for instance, a task force of volunteers devised a new set of questions every year and sent them out to the entire organization. Each unit had the obligation— it was one of the ground rules— to discuss the outcome of the survey, in whatever format it thought would be useful.

Zappos.com

Online shoe retailer - United States - 1,500 employees - For profit

Zappos.com is famous for its outstanding culture, offers its new hires a $3,000 check if they have second thoughts and choose to quit during the four- week orientation.

Zappos.com is famous for its Green cultural practices described in the bestseller Delivering Happiness , written by CEO Tony Hsieh. Zappos culture is based on trust, love and respect. With values of "being open and honest, passionate and humble, fun and a little weird", as mentioned by Kevin Rose, founder of Digg.com. The idea of offering $3000 for people that want to leave during onboarding phase is that everyone will be better off not staying in a marriage that isn’t meant to be. The fit with the culture must be perfect, and motivation at Zappos must not come from money. It’s a tribute to Zappos’ outstanding culture that the percentage of people taking the money and leaving is only around one or two percent. Whenever the percentage of people taking the check draws too close to zero, Zappos increases the amount (it started with $100, then raised it to $200, and raised it again and again up to its current level). The practice, in essence, boils down to a real- life barometer of the health of the organization’s culture. The 1,500- employee company is currently making the leap to Holacracy, which will make it the largest holacratic organization to date.

Related topics

Notes and References