Laloux Cultural Model and Agile Adoption

I had invested years of my life in a ground up, large-scale agile adoption. The early years of the adoption seemed to go at breakneck speed. Teams were adopting scrum with great success. People were feeling more engaged, products were getting better, and the company was benefiting. And then it felt like we hit a wall. Despite what felt to me like a groundswell of support from teams, managers, and directors, we were struggling to make the leap to real organizational agility.

The Breakthrough

While reviewing a draft of a good friend’s upcoming book, a single reference leaped off the page:

“There is … evidence that the developmental stage of the CEO determines the success of large-scale transformation programs.” (Tolbert, cited by Laloux, 2014)

I immediately bought and read Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations, which provides a comprehensive overview of how humans have organized in groups over the centuries. The prevailing perspective today (what Laloux labels “orange”) seemed to describe my organization in an almost clairvoyant way. It helped me make sense of what my organization valued the most, how I could continue to be effective in my role as agile transformation leader, and what was likely possible given our cultural values. Keep reading to learn more…

Laloux’s Culture Model

I created the following video overview of Laloux’s cultural model and how it applies to Agile adoption in various types of organizations. It’s kind of a whirlwind tour, but I wanted to cover the basics in as succinct a way as possible. Feel free to pause and ponder as you digest the information.

 

The Rest of the Story…

Did one of the descriptions/colors stick out to you as the prevailing perspective at your organization? How about for you personally? My story takes an interesting twist after reading Laloux’s book. The prevailing perspective at the executive level seemed firmly rooted in Orange. I felt like I was somewhere between green and teal, personally. The difference in what I valued the most, and what the organization valued most, helped me understand why I had been so frustrated with the wall it seemed we had reached at the organizational level.

For me, it seemed I had three options:

  1. Acknowledge the value in an Orange perspective (there is value in every perspective), and work hard to help my organization be a shining example of Orange at its most vibrant.
  2. Seek out leaders with a Green perspective and work with them to try to expand the influence of Green values in the organization.
  3. Leave the organization and seek out Green or Teal organizations where I could grow personally at a faster pace.

Option one had been my journey for the first several years of my work leading our agile transformation. Option two had been my approach for the previous 18 months, but seemed to stall out when we needed executive level support for the types of changes required for a vertical transformation from Orange to Green. For option two, it felt like a waiting game – I could work with Green leaders in the hopes that at some point, the current CEO would either evolve personally, or, as happens frequently in large organizations, a new CEO would eventually come along, and all of the Green level cultural work would be unlocked and begin to flourish. This felt like a crapshoot as to what perspective that new CEO might have, and how long it might be before such a change might occur.

This left me with Option three, and that’s the option I took. While I think I could have provided value helping the organization be the best version of Orange it could, for my own personal growth, I really wanted to advance what’s possible and see how I can add value in a Green or Teal organization. I joined Agile for All knowing that they had been doing some really cool work with organizations adopting a Green/Teal set of practices, and I’m excited to see where we can go with such an approach.

So Now What?

First of all, definitely check out Laloux’s book. He provides fantastic details of how Teal organizations do awesome things.

If you are in a predominantly Amber or Orange organization, we’ve been there! We’ve seen Agile help these organizations get better at what they care about most, be that stability and predictability (Amber), or innovation and competitive advantage (Orange). An Agile mindset and practices will help achieve awesome results, and in a way that is more engaging and fulfilling for the people doing the work.

If you are in a predominantly Green or even a Teal organization, or one interested in moving in that direction, please get in touch! We’d love to hear about how it’s working for you. Whether we can help you out or not, we want to learn more about and help connect organizations taking this approach.

No matter your organization’s primary perspective, if you are interested in learning more about deep, long-lasting organizational transformation then let’s talk! Email me at peter.green@agileforall.com or just respond to this blog post.

If you think others would be interested in this topic, please share it using one or more of the buttons below.

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  1. Hi Peter! Thank you for the great summary video, it’s very useful in the times of attention deficit to spread the idea easily. Frederic Laloux reposted it but there’s a problem with the privacy settings of the video — it’s impossible to have Faceboox play it in the feed (and there is no standard video page at Vimeo), which might impact the exposure. Could you make it public so I could also repost it? I thinp it makes sense to spread such knowledge. Thanks!

  2. thnx Peter for this great post and video! Frederic’s book is a must read book and this video is a really useful summary. connecting the agile and lean in organizations evolution i think will help a lot of people to understand why their organisation struggling with agile adoption…and hope to trigger a shift in their minds! thnx for creating and sharing that!

  3. Dear Peter,

    Lovely summary of this book. Fantastic.

    We are an interesting young organization where technology and creativity meet as we adopt & new marketing technologies for companies. We need both right brain and left brain thinking and we do face challenges in making people come together – process, tech, consulting, creative teams. I am keen to pick-up learning and adopt them.

  4. Dear Peter,

    Thank you so must for sharing your experience and also for putting your it into the context of Frederic Laloux’s findings. I have worked both as a project manager for Development Projects and in so called Lean organisations, and when I read Reinventing Organizations, I almost cried (OK; I’ll admit it, I did cry once or twice!) because it explained spot on my own experience that I couldn’t put into Words.

    I have made a study Group around the book here in Denmark, and try to spread the Word around the book as much as possible. But I really felt, that a small video would be essential in order to capture people’s interest. And now you made it! FANTASTIC!

    Let’s keep in touch :-)

    All the best,
    Bettina Hartmann
    bettina@hartmannconsulting.dk

    • Hi Bettina,

      I can neither confirm nor deny the rampant rumors that I shed tears a few times while reading the book :-).

      For example, this section:

      This spiritual insight inspires Teal Organizations’ second breakthrough: to create a space that supports us in our journey to wholeness. Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work. Every time we leave a part of us behind, we cut ourselves off from part of our potential, of our creativity and energy. No wonder many workplaces feel somehow lifeless. In wholeness we are life- full. We discover in awe how much more life there is in us than we ever imagined. In our relationships with colleagues, much of what made the workplace unpleasant and inefficient vanishes; work becomes a vehicle where we help each other reveal our inner greatness and manifest our calling.

      —Peter

  5. This is a great video!

    I have been inspired by the book and have wanted to share with people in my organization without them having to read the whole book or watch an hour video.

    This is way better!

    I noticed you gave Patagonia as a “teal” example and I thought in the book it was more of an example of a “green” organization.

    • Patagonia seems to have a mix of Teal and Green. It’s used extensively in the Teal description of Purpose, but I believe they have a hierarchical management structure.

  6. WOW Peter! I am going to exactly that process now. I am so happy to read this. I announced 4 or 5 weeks ago that I am leaving my organization, the next week will be the last one. I am so happy for the decision I took, unfortunately, some people did’ t understand my decision, but here, you have a beautiful article and a great video explaining it.
    Thanks a lot to share it, I was thinking in how to write a post in my blog about my “crazy” decision (for someones) to leave a beautiful “orange” organization with great people inside. You give me a few ideas.
    Thanks again, I hope one day know you face to face in any conference.
    Take care,
    Omar

  7. Great article and video I read the book a few months back – the 10 minute video wonderfully summarizes what the book is all about. Thanks very much.

  8. Peter,

    First, thanks for this post. I especially appreciated your video.

    It feels like there is a lot of overlap in Laloux’s Culture Model and Dave Logan’s Tribal Leadership model. Dave’s model is targeted at the levels of leadership maturity that exist at each level. Example:

    Stage 1: Despairing Hostility maps to Magenta and Red
    Stage 2: Apathetic Victim is related to Amber
    Stage 3: Lone Warrior is related to Orange
    Stage 4: Tribal Pride is related to Green
    Stage 5: Innocent Wonderment is related to Teal

    The two paradigms aren’t one for one per se, but seem to share the same research roots.

    I bring this up because Dave Logan’s book as great ideas about how to grow leaders into higher levels of leadership maturity and in doing so bring the organization into higher states of being.

    Hope this helps people find resources to change their business culture so that Agility can “stick”.

    Cheers,

    Devin.

Peter Green

Peter Green led a grass roots Agile transformation at Adobe from 2005 to 2015, starting with his own team, Adobe Audition. His influence includes the teams behind such software flagships as Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver and Premiere Pro, as well as dozens of internal IT and platform technology teams and groups like marketing and globalization. His work was a major factor enabling Adobe product teams to make critical business transition from perpetual desktop products to the subscription-based service, Creative Cloud. His hands-on Scrum and Agile training and coaching at all levels of the organization including executives, helped lay the groundwork to shift teams from two-year product cycles to frequent delivery of high-quality software and services. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), instructional designer, coach, facilitator, and a popular speaker at Tech, Agile, and Scrum conferences.

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