Reinventing Organisations – notes from the INTRAC workshop – March 2017

Chief Executives, Programme Heads, change making consultants, grassroots organisations and private organisations came together for INTRAC’s workshop on ‘An Introduction to Reinventing Organisations’.

The feeling in the room was relatively mutual: the organisational structures of many civil society organisations – as well meaning as they are – don’t seem to be meeting the scale of the change that is needed right now to bring about social, economic and environmental justice.

Frederic Laloux explores where organisations seem to be evolving a new form of existence which is able to meet complexity, uncertainty and volatility head on. So often, organisational structures get in the way of making progress, testing ideas, real learning. There is a heavy reliance on a few individuals at the top. When people get frustrated about not being able to do their work as they feel will be best, or making change happen, then they just leave. What we need are creativity, resilience and agility with people who are emotionally and socially evolved and organisations which support and encourage the organisation’s mission to be realised. So Laloux researched new forms of organising which are based on three core principles: self-management, evolutionary purpose and wholeness.

So what does this stage of organisational development look like? What’s special or different about it? And why might this be key for revolutionising how we bring about change? And why – with a tag line: ‘a guide to creating organisations inspired by the next stage of human consciousness’, are none of the examples of organisations who are operating at this stage are from civil society? Surely those working towards poverty alleviation, human rights, environmental sustainability are pretty evolved?

Here are my notes from the workshop.  Emphasis on the word ‘notes’!

What’s different about these forms of organisations?

The organisation we set up is influenced by our ‘view’ of the world and the systems we design for organisations is limited by our thinking. So what are the different forms of organisations?

We see the world not as it is but as we are – Talmud

Laloux draws on the work of Ken Wilber, an integral theorist, to propose a model of the evolution of organisational design. ‘Red’ organisations are characterised by top down authority, division of tasks, with an emphasis on safety and power. Amber organisations are characterised by traditional entities that have formal hierarchies, stable structures that rely on the world being plannable, logical. They are based on replicable processes and bureaucracy.  Examples of this might be the army, the Catholic Church, the government. Orange organisations are characterised by breaking down complexity into measurable and mechanisms – organisations are like complex machines. Innovation, accountability, and meritocracy are key. Profit is the main motivation – but perhaps at the expense of human and environmental sustainability. Delegation of power, performance management, results – achievement. Global organisations tend to be ‘orange’. Green organisations are characterised by relationships – collaboration, value-driven, empowerment and stakeholders. They have a wider perspective of the world and what matters and are driven by culture. Ben and Jerrzy’s, Zappos, and many civil society organisations. Family is the metaphor for these types of organisations. They are well-meaning but perhaps difficult to get things done.

Teal organisations are pioneering organisations who are taking a new tact: they self-manage – without formal hierarchies but still with guidelines and practices they help people be self-directed in meeting the organisational purpose; their purpose evolves and permeates the organisational design; and they focus on personal wholeness – not needing to separate out parts of ourselves and wear ‘masks’ or pretend not to have love lives, families, hobbies or personal values. It is more a living system which is agile. ‘Self-management’ does not mean individual free for all – but rather collective discipline, agreed boundaries, and carefully designed processes which support responsive and creative.

So what does ‘teal’ actually look like?


Self-management includes things like conflict resolution, feedback mechanisms, decentralised decision making, celebration of achievement and reviews. There are no strategies. There are faster and more organic processes for having an idea and making it happen. They recommend ‘advice’ processes for people to get feedback on ideas, and for new ideas to be encouraged, and for people to have the freedom to convince people to do it, and then to join them to form a team.

Roles are fluid not static. If a role needs to be done – decisions are made fast, and they change as needs arise. There is no waiting for sign off for things to get done – everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for getting things done when they become aware of it. It requires maturity and emotional intelligence, clarity, transparency, and shouldering responsibility.

Transparency around money is key. Decisions are shared and people are empowered and responsible for financial sustainability. Money can be spent without sign off providing you have asked for advice. Salaries might be self-set. With this – you may get senior people struggling with the loss of control and junior people having to deal with added accountability.


Part of this is about creating physical spaces which support us to think, be creative, feel inspired and be comfortable. It is about acknowledging our emotional brains and feelings, desires, fears and personal values and supporting people to show up as their full self – and practice self-awareness, listening, and ‘wholeness’.  It is about encouraging and facilitating people’s evolution in terms of how they reach their own goals, build their capacity, diversify or deepen their skills.

As part of the workshop I delivered a mindfulness practice to demonstrate a practice around cultivating self-awareness, as well as grounding. Practising mindfulness can support us to be able to be more reflective, but it is also about living out and through our values.

Short mindfulness practice as a way of encouraging self-awareness, knowing what is happening for us in our internal world which is highly likely to be affecting the way we collaborate, make decisions, build relationships.

Evolutionary purpose

A key difference with this approach is to accept and allow purpose to evolve and integrated into the organisations daily life rather than be static, and distant. Key skills for this are to sense and respond rather than predict and control. To listen with intent to organisational purpose. Part of this is about not ‘competing’ – more open source, more sense of purpose driving organisation rather than profit. Strategies may not be written but rather evolve over time according to aims and values. To support this ‘sense and respond’ approach – some organisations invest in particular ways of cultivating psychological buy in and trust with everyone who is part of the organisations.

Who is doing this and what does it look like practice?

Someone said to me that there isn’t anything different about this – but for me, what is different is that it is not about implementing one practice – but about the principles from which everyone operates. It’s about creating a system in which each key aspect of the organisation is built around the three principles. Some civil society organisations that we heard from in the room that are ‘teal-esque’ or trialling teal processes include PIRC, Wasafiri Consulting and Future Considerations.

Ideas of what this might actually look like in terms of practices used by organisations:

  • Meditation or check ins at the start of meetings
  • Groups working together and checking in as a whole organisation once a month. Each group has a work plan which is signed off by the group.
  • Flat payment structure
  • Two away days to work on alternating strategy and development processes
  • Art of Hosting processes to support least amount of structure necessary to move forward

What’s key about ‘teal’ is about the structure that supports them to do what they want to do. One organisation talked about ‘rules of connection’ and ‘directories of precedence’ which guide the organisation e.g. precedence about taking holiday is I check if they work can be managed while I am gone and if it can be then you take the holiday. If there is no precedent then you set one as that saves everyone time (and if it doesn’t seem to work then it can be changed). If you break the precedent then it has to be done by agreement. The advice process means that the domain owner is responsible for their area and can get advice but ultimately make the decision – regardless of their level. Salaries set publically in a fish bowl scenario.

So where are the edges?

Understandably the group had questions including the following (many of which are addressed in the book – though not the specific questions around civil society organisations):

  • What happens with power dynamics in this context? Do just get lots of power dynamics playing out in the background?
  • How do you actually go about making changes to more ‘Teal’ practices?
  • How do you deal with dissent around change? What if people just don’t want to change their way of working?
  • How do you deal with the pull back to do things the ‘normal’ way?
  • How do increase the ‘literacy’ of staff around new systems and processes? And how long does that take?
  • How do you deal with performance issues?
  • How does the board hold the tension (due diligence etc.)?
  • How does donor restriction affect civil society organisations ability to make changes like this?
  • Is it systemic enough – does it consider how organisations network, and how they relate and how affected by/affect the social, political, ecological environment?
  • Are the leadership qualities that have got ‘to the top’ in green or amber organisations – the ones that are necessary to create ‘teal’ organisations? And if not, what do we do?
  • How do we release the ‘human potential’ to evolve in the way we work?
  • Is there appetite in the sector for this?

I’ve ran out of time for this piece. I’m left still believing that mindfulness is one key practice for evolving – for cultivating clarity of vision, wisdom and emotional resilience as well as wholeness and connectedness. I am hoping to set up an organisation with others which will be teal-esque in the future so watch this space.

To ensure that this blog gets up on line (better up than not) – I’ll stop there and share resources for you to read if you are interested in finding out more. The question I will leave you with is: What’s the relevance for our own organisations or for the ones that we are involved in?


NEON are running an action learning set on this with organisations that are ‘reimagining’ their organisations. INTRAC may run future events on this so keep an eye on their website:

Living at Ecodharma

As the booming interest in mindfulness begins to peak and attract criticism from various quarters, ecodharma is staying ahead of the curve. Looking to combine both social and personal transformation in a training that has secular credibility, Paula Haddock spent six months at ecodharma developing and piloting a new Mindfulness for Social Change course. She writes:

A Guardian article recently argued that mindfulness emphasises detachment, undermines social and emotional literacy, and prioritise personal self-actualisation before all else. “With a food bank in every town, a Big Issue seller on every street and strangers clamouring at the gates,” claimed the writer, “it is just plain wrong to seek a life of mindful calm”.

I agree that our culture doesn’t need more movements that encourage individualism at the expense of the collective. Nor does it need calm that leads to detachment. But that is not how I understand mindfulness.

I’ve spent ten years in the development and humanitarian sector, six of those managing the training department for INTRAC, providing trainings for international NGO’s. During that time I’ve witnessed many of the challenges facing those sectors. From what I’ve seen, it has become increasingly clear to me that people and organisations often fail to appreciate the importance of inner work. Consequently they struggle with the effect that this dimension has – often stalling the progress being made in their outer work.

In my experience, inner work, such as mindfulness training, can provide vital resources for social engagement. Sustaining commitment to positive change isn’t easy, nor is working with others – especially across diverse groups, organisations, or even sectors that might have different value bases. A mindfulness practice can support us to meet these challenges. It helps us to build awareness of ourselves, of others, and of the systems in place around us; it is a valuable basis for navigating through the challenging emotions which arise as we open up to the state of our world; it offers us practices for dealing usefully with strong emotions and learning to harness their energy in our work; it illuminates the ways our views and biases affect the way we are in the world. Mindfulness practice also teaches us about compassion, kindness and patience – supporting our sense of connection with others.

With all this in mind I left my job at INTRAC to dedicate myself to bringing attention to and supporting people with the inner work of social change. In August 2014 I attended ecodharma’s Engaged Buddhist Training. I immediately recognised the coincidence of interests between their approach and what I wanted to explore. I could also see the potential for designing a more introductory and secular course, and was delighted to discover that they were also interested in developing a course along those lines.

I am studying Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Cognitive Therapy at Bangor University. My interest was developing the teaching they have developed and harnessing it to support people involved in social change. This sat so well with the approach ecodharma have been applying at their residential centre in the Catalan Pyrenees that we decided to combine ideas and run a pilot course.

I took up temporary residency in the ecodharma community earlier this year and I set to work, in collaboration with Guhyapati, the centre director. Through spring and summer 2015, I worked through the range of skills which, based on our experience of working with development practitioners and activists, we felt presented people with the biggest struggles in social change work. We choose to focus on communication, collaboration, team work, and decision making. We structured the course with plenty of space for personal reflection, mindfulness meditation, and skills for collaboration, as well as creating a temporary community.

The pilot took place in October, with thirteen participants attending from around Europe. The result was very encouraging:

“A brilliant course, superbly facilitated, that explores how to apply the inner benefits of mindfulness to external change. I think you have identified a gap – I see this as an important next stage in the current wave of mindfulness practice.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed this course – mind shifting and life changing and resourcing for my life and work. Gave me a fresh look at what I’m doing and why I’m passionate about social change.”

“…the course exceeded my expectations… the fact that it is mindfulness for a greater cause, for action – super important”.

Given the success of the pilot, we will be including two courses of this kind in the programme each year, and joining forces with INTRAC to run the course in the UK in April.

Thankfully we are not the only ones exploring this area, and over the past year, a small group of us initiated an informal network to help us to share, learn and collaborate together. On November 24th, 2015, we held our first Mindfulness for Social Change gathering, bringing 30 people together in London, to explore our big questions, share ideas, showcase our work, and ask ourselves ‘what next?’.

We explored a range of topics in small groups including: How can mindfulness support people working to promote sustainability, social justice and wellbeing in society? How can mindfulness training and practice in mainstream settings help or hinder efforts to address the systemic causes of social, economic and environmental problems? We also opened up a space to explore how we might move forward together including building a network, co-designing materials, building an evidence base, and supporting each other to sustain our work.

As the year draws to an end, I have more appetite and energy for this work than ever! My experience at ecodharma and with the network, has shown me that as a collective, we are much stronger, and more effective than we are on our own. When we have the courage and support to let go of – or at least loosen our hold on – our organisational or personal ‘egos’ then we can be more honest about what is needed, and build more resilience for the long road ahead. There is much work to do, and clearly many people who can benefit from mindfulness practice – and the whole range of inner practices. Without it, we may never learn that change starts with us and happens through us. And we can do anything once we realise the power we have within to make change happen.