Crisis Management

The topic of Crisis Management addresses the organizational process of making swift or particularly challenging decisions at times of crisis, and how this may differ from regular decision making processes.

A New Perspective

In a Teal organization, everyone is involved in decision making to allow the best response to emerge from collective intelligence. Every historical stage has given birth to a distinct perspective on Crisis Management, and to very different practices:

Red Organizations

In the Red paradigm, the organization's short term planning horizon and its reactive nature makes it familiar with crises. Decisions can be made on a whim and are passed down to employees from above by using the Red breakthrough of command authority.

Amber Organizations

In the Amber paradigm, the organization is more stable and predictable. Processes and procedures define the way things are done. It is assumed that workers need direction. In the unpredictable realm of crisis, the CEO and highest management make decisions which are then translated into orders for those further down the hierarchy. They are expected to follow without question.

Orange Organizations

In the Orange paradigm, decision making is based on effectiveness, measured by impact on measures like profit and market share. Decision-making in Orange is based more on expertise than on hierarchy. In crisis a task force of select advisors might meet confidentially to advise the CEO and board. Top management will be under pressure to regain control and as a consequence decision making may be centralized in the hands of the senior executives . Decisions are typically communicated after they are made and then expected to be implemented swiftly.

Green Organizations

In values-driven, purpose-led Green organizations, decentralization and empowerment help to push day-to-day decision making down to frontline workers who can make them without management approval. For far-reaching decisions, consensus is valued, and sought, by senior management before they act. Crises challenge these practices. For highly contentious and time-sensitive decisions, it may be that the CEO steps in, suspends the consensus model, and makes a top down determination.

Teal Organizations

In the Teal paradigm, everyone is involved in decision making to allow the best response to emerge from collective intelligence. If the advice process needs to be suspended, the scope and time of this suspension are limited.

In Practice

Upholding the advice process

The regular decision making model adopted by Teal organizations is the advice process, which distributes decision-making. This remains the preferred approach to deal with crisis situations.

Trusting the process

Crisis Management via the advice process is an ultimate demonstration of [Self-Management Self Management]. In crises, sensitive and urgent decisions may have negative implications for employees and the organization as a whole: for example, loss of jobs, or selling off parts of the business.

It is natural, given the earlier organization models, to question the capacity of staff to be included in making decisions in such sensitive circumstances.

A leader of a Teal organization is challenged to trust in the advice process anyway. They risk the unknown reaction of the employees, and the potential for things to descend into chaos or adversarial exchanges. However, when the advice process is not used, there is a risk of losing the trust of the employees by doubting their ability to resolve the situation. When employees are fully engaged with the advice process in a crisis, they are asked to share responsibility for difficult decisions and trusted to make a contribution. This is empowering and helps the organization to grow.

See FAVI and Buurtzorg below.

Suspending the advice process

Occasionally a crisis may require the advice process to be suspended because of the scale or urgency of the situation. Under these circumstances the leader may choose to suspend the advice process temporarily. This can be acceptable providing:

  • the reasons for the suspension are fully disclosed
  • the limitations (time period, areas of decision making etc) are explained
  • Decision making is passed to a capable person rather than the leader

See AES below.


Dealing with a crisis via the advice process is a key test of self management. Leaders are asked to suspend any desire to take charge and trust the workforce to deliver effective solutions. There is an underlying belief that employees are responsible, committed and capable.


By upholding the advice process, even in crisis situations, leader(s) are forced to face a fear that losing control could imperil the organization, cause chaos, and risk the interests of stakeholders. Crisis situations provide an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their wholeness by being transparent, potentially vulnerable and genuinely supportive of their colleagues' participation. Employees in turn are invited to take responsibility for their own feelings in situations that may have unwelcome outcomes.

A crisis situation offers an opportunity for an organization to come together as a whole to find solutions. This often leads to more powerful solutions than those created by a leader or a group of advisors in isolation. When these situations are successfully addressed, the organization collectively experiences a growth into [Wholeness wholeness].

Evolutionary purpose

When employees are engaged in the advice process in a crisis, they are invited to understand what is unfolding and participate actively in the decisions that need to be taken. Deciding what to do asks everyone to re-connect with the purpose of the organization. Serving the needs of the evolutionary purpose becomes an important factor in deciding what to do. Without this reference point, decision making can easily be dominated by self interest and survival needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

'The buck stops here' is part of our inheritance of 'heroic management'. Theoretically, it sounds unarguable. Perhaps the best answers are what can happen in practice. Three examples of crisis management below (Favi, Buurtzorg, AES) show how three Teal organizations have handled crises constructively.

Concrete cases for inspiration

Related Topics

    Notes and references