The topic of coordination covers the process of organizing work and exchanging knowledge across the organization.
A New Perspective
In Teal organisations, the need for coordination does not go away. However, the bosses, staff roles and endless meetings typically used to accomplish such coordination in earlier stages are replaced by more ad hoc and organic processes, including direct agreements and commitments between colleagues, ad hoc meetings, conversations on internal social networks, as well as people holding specific roles to support coordination. The advice process for making decisions is also fundamental to coordination in Teal.
In Red organisations coordination happens ad hoc and is intrinsically fused with power: coordination is generally limited to the boss’s ability to enforce it.
Amber organisations strive for order and predictability. Coordination happens mainly through formalized processes that everyone adheres to. The static nature of Amber organisations means there is little perceived need for coordinating actions beyond already established processes.
Orange organisations rely on continuous innovation and optimisation in order to compete. This means more need for coordination across units. The primary means of coordinating are meetings, a hierarchical decision-making structure and the creation of staff roles. Meetings, in particular, try to tap into the intelligence of the group. There are regular, fixed – often weekly – team meetings at every level of the organisation as well as numerous project and cross-functional meetings on specific initiatives.
In Green organisations coordination is often time consuming as the culture in these organisations tends to be more sensitive to people’s feelings. A lot of time is spent on bringing potentially opposing points of view to consensus. This egalitarian approach can lead to frustratingly long meetings and a lack of effective decision taking. As a result, colleagues sometimes feel the need to revert to power games behind the scenes to get things moving.
In a pyramid structure, meetings are needed at every level to gather, package, filter, and transmit information as it flows up and down the chain of command. In self-managing structures, the need for these meetings falls away almost entirely. Meeting overload in traditional organizations is particularly acute the higher you go up the hierarchy. The typical day of a top manager consists of back-to-back meetings. The joke goes that in most organizations, people low in the hierarchy work, while people higher up do meetings. In functional pyramidal structures, it could hardly be otherwise. The higher you go, the more lines converge. It is only at the very top that the different departments such as sales, marketing, R&D, production, HR, and finance meet. Decisions are naturally pushed up to the top, as it’s the only place where decisions and tradeoffs can be informed from the various angles involved. It’s almost deterministic: with a pyramidal shape, people at the top of organizations will complain about meeting overload, while people below feel disempowered.
Teal organizations are not structured with fixed reporting lines that stack up to a pyramid, but often in small, autonomous teams. How then do colleagues coordinate actions across teams? What prevents the organization from disintegrating?
Teal Organizations deal with the need for coordination in a rather simple form-follows-function manner. When a problem or an opportunity arises, an ad hoc meeting is convened. When a more permanent form of coordination is needed, a specific role might be created. For instance, in a factory, teams could create a role for sharing best practice, for making joint-purchasing happen or for dealing with payroll administration. Such roles are created in a process of reverse delegation: the teams delegate coordinating tasks to someone outside the team. This person has no power to impose decisions or rules onto the team. When coordination is no longer needed, the role disappears. None of this needs approval from above. Things happen organically. Meetings and roles in self-managing structures emerge spontaneously; they exist as long as they add value to the ecosystem.
Direct agreements and commitments
The simplest form of coordination is simply one colleague speaking with another colleague – whatever their role and place in the organization. In the absence of hierarchical structures, no colleague is out of bounds. No superior needs to be informed when a colleague wants to reach out to another colleague.
Ad hoc meetings
Self-managing organizations tend not to have fixed, recurring meetings to coordinate across teams. Meetings are called in ad hoc fashion when someone feels that a need has arisen.
Internal social networks
Information technology tools such as internal social networks and knowledge repositories can play a critical role in avoiding unnecessary structures and in steering knowledge exchange and coordination (especially when companies grow larger and people are spread throughout various locations).
Specific coordination roles (reverse delegation)
When a more permanent and expansive form of coordination is needed, a specific role might be created to help ensure the coordination. For instance, in a factory, teams could create a role for sharing best practices, for making joint purchasing happen or for dealing with pay-roll administration. Such roles are created in a process of reverse delegation: the teams delegate coordinating tasks that make sense to happen outside the team, and the person filling the role has no power to impose the use of his or her services, decisions or rules onto the team. When coordination is no longer needed, the role naturally disappears.
The Advice process
Self-managing organizations use a decision making processes (often called the "advice process") that transcends more traditional top-down or consensus-based mechanisms. The advice process is a powerful, daily mechanism to coordinate actions in self-managing organizations. When a colleague reaches out to other colleagues to share her proposed decision and listens to their advice, she is in effect creating coordination. When she later informs colleagues about the final decision, coordination has already happened. The advice process is at the heart of coordination in Teal organizations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Since coordination is largely organic and voluntary rather than imposed through hierarchy, these practices support the Teal breakthrough of self-management.
Similarly, since coordination under Teal is voluntary, any individual is free to promote coordination of efforts in a way that he or she sees fit and that meshes with his or her talents and interests.
The Teal approach to coordination allows an organization to function as a living system with its own sense for direction. Employees are coordinated as all their actions are guided by listening to the organization’s purpose. Trust in the collective intelligence of the system does away, in many cases, with the need for a master plan.
Concrete cases for inspiration
Notes and references
Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Locations 1752-1759). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Locations 1810-1814). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition. ↩︎