Unfolding the Future Together (Guest post)

This is a post written by Tony Chamberlain, author of «The Congruence Framework». It gives a wonderful overview of what the book is about, and so I’m delighted that Tony agreed for me to publish it here. It is based on a piece Tony wrote a few weeks ago, where he contrasts the findings from my research with his own «Congruence Framework)

Unfolding the future together

How emerging organisational models are responding to a shift in global consciousness. 

‘Can we create organisations free of the pathologies that show up all too often in the workplace? Free of politics, bureaucracy, and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment and apathy; free of posturing at the top and the drudgery at the bottom? Is it possible to reinvent organisations, to devise a new model that makes work productive, fulfilling and meaningful? Can we create soulful workplaces – schools, hospitals, businesses and non-profits – where our talent can bloom and our callings can be honored?’

Frederic Laloux asks these questions in his book Reinventing Organisations. The answers, he suggests, are to be found partly in our history, which tells us that ‘with every stage of human consciousness also came a breakthrough in our ability to collaborate, bringing about a new organisational model’.

Laloux traces this development from 100,000 BC to the present, observing a gradual but accelerating evolution from simple ‘family kinships’ to ever more collaborative and powerful forms of organizations. He shows how at this moment we are at another historical juncture. The current management methods start to feel outdated, exhausted. And a new organisational model is emerging, a radical new way to structure and run organizations. He calls this the Evolutionary-Teal model (ET model). The ET model’s development can be seen as a response to an expanding global consciousness – a growing awareness that ‘the ultimate goal in life is not to be successful or loved, but to become the truest expression of ourselves . . . and to be of service to humanity and our world . . . [to see life] as a journey of personal and collective unfolding towards our true nature’.

Many writers and commentators refer to this expansion of global consciousness as the ‘rise of mindfulness’.

Laloux’s contribution is to have identified a dozen pioneering organizations that, responding to this shift in global consciousness, already operate on the new Evolutionary-Teal model. He has researched their ways of working, and shows how much these organizations depart from traditional management practices, and what a consistent new set of principles and practices they have developed instead For instance, the founders of these ET organisations all talk about trying to create workplaces that operate as ‘living organisms’ – workplaces that embrace the ‘adaptive, flexible, self-renewing, resilient, learning, intelligent-attributes found only in living systems’ (Margaret Wheatley)

Laloux’s studies also revealed ‘three breakthroughs‘ in the way that ET organisations focus on engaging their organisational community, three bold departures from management as it is told in business school today. These organizations demonstrated:

  • A commitment to an evolutionary purpose – collaborating with their people to unfold a future grounded in a shared purpose, Leaders in these companies assume they their organizations have ‘a life and sense of direction of their own';  So rather than trying to pursue a predicted future through strategies, plans and budgets, they engage the whole organisational community to ‘listening in to their organisation’s deep creative potential… and understanding…the purpose it intends to serve’.
  • An emphasis on wholeness – an invitation for the ‘whole person’ to participate in a workplace where each person’s ‘emotional, intuitive and spiritual parts’ are welcome and respected and where the adoption of ‘social masks’ becomes irrelevant and therefore unnecessary. ET organisations create workplaces that ‘support people’s longing to be fully themselves at work and yet deeply involved in nourishing relationships [that build]...wholeness and community’
  • A preference for self-management – replacing the constraints of traditional hierarchical control systems with agile self-organising systems that are enabled by [collaborative] peer relationships. Laloux observes that  ‘People who are new to the idea of self-management sometimes mistakenly assume that it simply means taking the hierarchy out of an organization and running everything democratically based on consensus. There is, of course, much more to it. Self-management, just like the traditional pyramidal model it replaces, works with an interlocking set of structures and practices’ to support new ways of sharing information, making decisions, and resolving conflicts.

There is much interest today in mindfulness practices in organizations. Even Wall Street banks are starting to offer their overworked bankers courses in mindfulness. Mindfulness is often used as a way to help people deal with pressure, stress and unhealthy corporate cultures.   It is interesting to note that the practices for ‘evolutionary purpose, wholeness and self-management’, which characterise ET organisations, weave mindfulness deeply into the fabric of the organizations. So much so that few organizations researched by Laloux spend much time talking about the concept. Mindfulness is no longer an add-on.

The same holds true for another concept many organizations aspire to embrace: the learning organization.  The evolutionary self-organising and self-managing nature of these organisations turns them into natural learning organizations. So much so that the none of these organizations spends any conscious effort to become a learning organization. This reminds us that mindfulness and learning are natural human conditions, part of our wholeness, and that organisations that evolve by listening to their communities will find these practices emerge quite naturally as part of their operating culture.

For those of us interested in how we can ‘create soulful workplaces…where our talent can bloom and our callings can be honoured’, Laloux’s case studies provide a wealth of practical examples of how we can ‘reinvent [our] organisations, to devise a new model that makes work productive, fulfilling and meaningful’. 

When you read this book you will be encouraged to find that new organisations of this sort are emerging in diverse industries and across different geographies. Some organizations that Laloux researched are businesses and others are non-profits. Some are in manufacturing, others in food processing, retail, media and IT. There are hospitals, nursing organizations and schools. Some have hundreds, others thousands or even tens of thousands of employees. With all that diversity, these organizations share a great many common structures and practices, modeling new ways of engaging with their communities to unfold their future together.

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