The idea of “teal organizations” described in Frederick Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations is gaining popularity today both globally and in Russia.
Hundreds of entrepreneurs and business leaders in various companies—from IT to banks—are seeking new forms of self-organizing. They’re tired of the limitations that are inherent in classical hierarchical subdivisions, their low efficiency and effectiveness and incapacity to flexibly adapt to the VUCA world (that is, our world now characterized by volatility, uncertainty, change, ambiguity, fluidity, chaos, instability, and so on).
The hope for a new world has started to glimmer on the horizon, and people feel the wind of change and liberation. Even German Gref, the head of Sberbank (the largest Russian bank system), announced that his organization will attempt to shift towards a “teal” level of organization in its several departments. The possibility of “teal organizations” is explored in some other Russian banks and IT organizations (unfortunately, mistakenly translated to in the Russian edition of Laloux’s book as “turquoise organizations”)—gives birth to myriads of dreams and fantasies about what Teal means.
This trend provides many auspicious opportunities: It inspires new explorations and studies which eventually lead to becoming acquainted with the larger, revolutionary Integral framework. There are also undercurrents which potentially may serve as hindrances and obstacles. In order to clarify a bigger vision of what would actually take for an integral or second-tier or teal/turquoise organizations to emerge, I created this diagram (above).
You see, in most cases lay people are not familiar with either Ken Wilber’s Integral theory or Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi)—Laloux’s work is inspired by both frameworks. Lay folks think that it is sufficient to make just a one-step transformation—to relinquish old organizational models and undertake a new, “teal” or “turquoise” model of organization. That’s a grave error that could lead to really devastating consequences. In fact, everyone who wants to shift towards, say, teal organizations, must catalyze (and undergo) a series of quite complex step-by-step transformations that span many years and literally affect all major areas of life.
Teal, not Turquoise: A Case of Creative Misunderstanding in Russia
First of all, there is a terminological misunderstanding in the Russian-speaking world regarding “teal organizations” (this is not to say that there are no misunderstandings in the English-speaking world, as, for instance, Jon Freeman’s article “‘Reinventing Organisations’ and the Teal impulse” shows). As I already mentioned, in the Russian edition of Reinventing Organizations by Laloux the term teal was translated with the color biryuzoviy, which actually means turquoise.
In actual Integral Theory and Practice as well as in SDi, turquoise is a stage and level that is even higher and more complex than teal. Turquoise dynamically operates with large-scale transformational processes based on a very long-term planetary vision, often focusing on collective emergence and wide sociocultural shifts. In terms of the theory of Ego development (see works by Susanne Cook-Greuter) the turquoise altitude corresponds to the construct-aware (Alchemist) stage, which is a very complex, trans-historical meaning-making system that turns awareness towards investigation of virtually every epistemological and ontological premise upon which we build our descriptions of the world. The teal altitude (yellow in SDi) corresponds to the previous Autonomous stage, which is still a very complex stage of consciousness development, which is all about evolutionary- driven innovative and integrated action.
So, you may already appreciate that mixing up the two different levels of the complexity of consciousness (and, henceforth, the two different levels of their organizational complexity) that happened in Russia is potentially a source of the problem. But any problem with such a misunderstanding can also potentially be a source of creative solutions (what postmodernists call creative misunderstanding). In my view, the mistake of using the term turquoise instead of teal can actually be helpful in highlighting the complexity of the issues at hand and appreciating these differences, while setting a very lofty view on the entire panorama of organizational development.
To provide you with a context, I have been translating and editing translations of books and articles on Integral Theory and Practice for almost a decade now. I’ve translated several of Ken Wilber’s books and works of other authors (for instance, Marilyn Hamilton’s book Integral City is important to discuss in any comprehensive exploration of what integral organizational forms can be and what evolutionary intelligences are necessary to bring them forth). I think it was 2007 when I introduced the term izumrudniy in order to translate the teal color-level that was used by Wilber in order to designate this specific developmental altitude that we’re talking about. You see, I couldn’t find a translation for teal, so I chose the nearest color that sounded nice and is situated in between green and turquoise. As George Pór indicated (in personal communication), izumrudniy or “emerald” seems closer to Green than to teal. Still, the choice of colors on the rainbow gradation is somewhat arbitrary anyway, so this variant is as good as any as long as it is different from Green and as long as it sounds very beautiful—which it does.
So, through my efforts translating teal as izumrudniy has been a standard translation for Ken Wilber’s books and numerous articles on Integral Theory for many years, and it is unfortunate that this terminological tradition was overlooked in the Russian edition of Reinventing Organizations (I actually talked about this with the publisher, and I will be helping them in terms of Integral-related terminology in the future). I still believe that it is possible to both explore the translation mistake creatively and amend the case of mistaken color identity in the long run.
On the Necessity for Systematic Meta-Reflection
So, the important point here is that at the moment in the collective field there is still no systematically- performed reflection of the conceptual foundations that are the basis of the very idea of teal organizations. In Russia people strive towards turquoise organizations, but they are not aware that they are in fact striving towards teal organizations, and they have almost no clue what either one actually means.
I would suggest that in reality teal organizations are not equal to the image of decentralized, non- hierarchical organizations (the impression that was partially popularized by Laloux himself). On the contrary, these kinds of organizations that represent the new waves of consciousness-and-being can be fluidly hierarchical organizations with numerous ways of structuring energetic and informational flows. Truly teal organizations are those that are reflections of an Integral wave of consciousness-and-culture, as well as informational and post-informational modes of production, as well as new forms of material basis.1
Experts and Achievers: How Far is It to Teal?
My second major point is that the actual situation in today’s Russian organizations is that most of them are centralized around primarily two major altitudes of consciousness: orange and its predecessor amber (blue in terms of SDi). Orange is a rational and strategically minded achievement and activity- oriented stage. Amber is an earlier conventional stage, which is all about being loyal to a particular group or tribal or societal norms, often in a very literalistic and ritualistic way. As some integrally informed organizational specialists point out, there is also a great deal of preconventional red drives (power games, egocentric manipulations, explicitly corrupt forms of exploitation, use of force) in Russian organizations.
More advanced organizations in Russia exhibit a clear tendency towards a conscientious Orange level that is characterized by a dynamic relation towards tactical operations, functionally subjugated to a rational mid-term strategic vision spanning a few years (but not decades). You may consult Wilber’s books such as The Integral Vision, Integral Psychology or A Theory of Everything for an explanation of what constitutes altitudes and levels of consciousness.
It is more realistic to take the stance that in contemporary Russian organizations their collectives represent a mixture of the red-to-amber-to-orange range of consciousness. On some occasions, especially among the younger generation, there are glimpses of what in SDi can be called ORANGE- green and orange-GREEN—the transitional stages. These latter collectives strive towards egalitarian- humanistic, pluralistic, and postmodern values. In most cases, a great number of employees have the center of gravity in the amber-orange stage of Expert (this is a stage well-described in Ego development theory by Susanne Cook-Greuter, please consult her foundational article “Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace in Ego Development”).
The Expert Stage: Its Strong and Weak Points
The action logics of the Expert consciousness tends to be that of a “craftsman,” or someone who is almost exclusively identified with the proficiency of his or her own specialization (for instance, programming, PR, management etc.) and has a narrowed capacity to see anything beyond this particular craft. Often Experts are not able to take into account larger and wider strategic, longer-term, and ethical contexts, and cognitively they think in terms of weeks and months (operational tasks), rather than years (they don’t have a fluid strategic vision). In situations where a person has acquired sufficient professional competency they can manage routine and very specific work tasks very efficiently.
It sometimes happens that Experts who exhibit high efficiency in their specialization-related tasks receive a promotion and become bosses over other Experts. This often leads to their taking a position “in over their heads” with a requirement to do something they developmentally are not ready to do, because a new management position requires a higher level of consciousness, reflection, or skills. It can also happen that someone exceeds the Expert-related position but is not recognized in his or her necessity to move on towards a more orange-Achiever-appropriate position. I recommend Robert Kegan’s book An Everyone Culture (It will be published in Russian in Fall 2016).
Not Possible to Skip Stages
It is important to understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE to skip stages. You cannot jump from being an Amber/Orange Expert or being a conscientious Orange Achiever into becoming a teal autonomous Strategist just in one step. The autonomous stage, or Strategist, is precisely the stage that corresponds to the teal altitude of consciousness and the forms of its organization. You (by this I mean the key stakeholder or stakeholders who are facilitating the process of organization-building) have to be Teal in order to build a truly teal organization.
Each transformation from one stage to another, from one level of consciousness to another is sequential, wave-like, with both progressive and regressive oscillations. Assimilation and integration of each fulcrum of development typically takes several years. As Wilber and some others note, there is frequently a plateauing at amber/orange for decades (from the 20’s to 40’s), where many people never move on.2 Studying and comprehending what all of this means also takes a lot of time.
It is simply impossible to force anyone to move into even slightly more complex levels of consciousness and being—a person or a group of people will not be able to sustain it, if they’re not ready.
Exit Green, not Teal in Laloux’s work?
My third point is that what Frederic Laloux describes in his book lacks precision in differentiating the specific deep structure of teal organizations from that of green organizations. In fact, he does not mention the issue of such a differentiation in his book much.
Furthermore, it is likely that much of the organizations and personalities that are included in his book have the center of gravity of their consciousness somewhere around the green altitude (or, at least, in the mixture of green and teal). I suggest this because Laloux puts a major emphasis on non-hierarchical and decentralized forms of organizations in which responsibility is shared in an egalitarian way. This is a typical value for the Green form of consciousness.
Paul van Schaik—one of the founders of IntegralMENTORS and Integral Without Borders and a long- term Integral practitioner who has worked in the field of international development and sustainability with large organizations such as UN and UNICEF, explicitly applying the Integral AQAL framework since 1990’s—has also mentioned to me (in personal communication) that, in his view, the organizations described by Laloux actually resemble the exit phase of the green stage rather than proper teal.3
What does it mean? It means that the teal wave—consciously or not—is used by the author of Reinventing Organizations as an evolutionary bait in order to inspire people towards the growth of their consciousness and forms of organizing being-consciousness-activity, to bring forth the understanding that the vertical dimension of growth and development does in fact exist and so far has largely been ignored.
Developmental Process is a Very Long Journey
But Laloux does not emphasize that the majority of entrepreneurs operate from the orange level of consciousness, and it is impossible to jump from orange to teal without passing through the green altitude. It means that, psychologically, you have to spend about ten years for such a transition; and if you practice meditation or a sort of integral life practice, the time that is needed for such a transition may decrease to five years, but such a boost in growth can facilitate the emergence of multiple unforeseen difficulties both in the interior and the exterior worlds.
Furthermore, in Russia a major number of organizations include people whose consciousness gravitates towards the Amber-Orange range of development, with its specific principles of organizing the processes of activities and meaning making.
In order to shift from an Amber-Orange form of organizing consciousness-and-being towards a teal form of organizing consciousness-and-being, it is necessary—at least for those who are doing the organizing activity or directly involved with organizing—to make at least three very complex transformational steps, which by default require passing through a series of very complicated and prolonged growth processes.4
It will be necessary to stabilize at the newly-emerged and recently-acquired teal level of consciousness, integrate and assimilate its ways of structuring the world, and retain the capacity not to regress downward under the pressure of the fiercely-resisting environment (especially in Russia or the former USSR, but not only there). Already, this is quite a rare feat in terms of its complexity and uniqueness. All of this requires colossal strength and resources and a well-organized material basis, some sort of financial stability.
In ordinary circumstances, when one is not applying a well-thought out Integral approach (including various transformative practices of mindfulness, meditation, therapy, coaching, etc.) a transition through three subsequent stages of consciousness transformation requires at the very least 15–20 years—but only if such an individual or a group of individuals values consciousness development. Of course, someone may go through these stages quicker, let’s say not in 15 years, but in 10 years, which is still a long ride. Still, even in that case you will have to spend years stabilizing newly-formed modes of consciousness and negotiating your new values with your overall life.
Various invariant structures of the brain and consciousness can be quite rigid, and at some point they often just refuse to grow vertically, requiring taking time in order to assimilate experience and live through it. So, in these cases one often encounters sudden “road-side picnics” that last for years; and one often encounters even proactive resistance towards new modes of being and attempts to regress towards the old modes.
You can see this behavior in children, you can see it in adults. Defenses can be more or less mature, but they still exist. Human mind, psyche, culture—all these things are not mechanisms and cannot be mechanistically “grown” and forcibly “evolutionized.” They’re extremely sophisticated psychological realities.
You Have to Activate All Quadrants
My fourth major point is that in the current discourse on teal organizations (which are mistakenly called turquoise organizations in Russia) there is almost a total lack of consideration for the four closely intertwined quadrants (I, We, It, and Its, or consciousness, culture, behavior, and system). Genuine transformation towards the teal altitude would require transformations and stabilization of these resultant changes (their healthy “conservatism,” so to say) in all four quadrants.
Meanwhile, most people today discuss “teal organizations” merely in terms of one quadrant only—the Its quadrants (they talk about changing the system or form of organizational operation). There is virtually no understanding of what quadrants are and how these four dimensions are quadratically intermeshed and tetra-arise.
Furthermore, many organizational consultants assert that any organization has its ceiling in terms of the level of consciousness development of its primary organizers, especially the owners and the persons who make key strategic decisions. This is why it is necessary to create conditions that catalyze transformations in leaders and executive managers in terms of their long-term growth and development (across numerous lines of development such as emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, spiritual intelligence, etc.). Today we see that the value of qualified personnel is only increasing (not just in terms of specific skills and social recognition but also in terms of the depth of their consciousness). A person, who is a well-developed and mature postconventional personality, is increasingly recognized as a treasure even by those who are not aware of the existence of the psychology of adult development.
So, in order to create teal and even more complex turquoise organizational forms of being- consciousness it is necessary to create worldspaces that specifically resonate with these integral altitudes in all quadrants. Each quadrant has its own complex methodologies for generating transformative change. All of this is an extremely complicated network of developmental and evolutionary processes.
The higher the level of consciousness that exists, the greater the number of perspectives that is taken into account by this level, and the more multidimensional processes are unfolding in the collective worldspace, which is brought forth by this level. The increase in consciousness leads to a greater attention to uncontrollable chaordic and synergetic factors of environmental evolutionary processes.
Transformation towards teal and turquoise organizations requires, in fact, a systematic reflection of the notion that a teal or turquoise organization can probably be created only by such an organizer (or an array of organizers) who is at the level of development of Strategist (in the case of a teal organization) or at that of Alchemist (in the case of a turquoise organization).
Studies have shown that in general Western population it is likely that there are less than 5% of Strategists (by optimistic evaluations, up to ten percent, if we speak about a mixture of the green-teal altitudes of consciousness), while Alchemists comprise an even lesser portion of population: less than 2%.
In Russia and the former USSR situation, it is probably even less optimistic due to various crises that the societies of these countries have been going through. But any emergency is also an opportunity for emergence, so it is possible that there are many opportunities for a rapid growth in consciousness and a sort of consciousness renaissance if key stakeholders adopt and execute an adequate strategic agenda.
To do so, a Strategist or an Alchemist will need to use their developmentally-earned capacity for intentionally conducting and catalyzing transformations in all quadrants, attempting—through dynamic triple feedback-loop activation (see Torbert et al.’s Action Inquiry about the important notion of triple- loop feedback)—to create a fluid design of the forms of being-consciousness organization, so that they would incorporate and realize all the major kinds of evolutionary-adaptive intelligences at an adequately high level.
See Marilyn Hamilton’s book Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive for an explanation of evolutionary intelligences as applied to the meta-organizational form of human systems at the city scale5; in Russia, the ideas of Integral City Development have been promoted by Lev Gordon and his Association for [integrally informed] City Development in Izhevsk, and, more recently, at the Living Cities Urbanfest initiative.6
A truly teal or turquoise organization is a form or forms of organizing structuring of integral or holistic consciousness, a culture of wholeness, integrity, and evolutionary adaptivity. Its qualities:
- include the component of flexible resilience;
- are based on the values/needs of self-actualization;
- recognize the importance of flow and peak states;
- do not attempt to be overly egalitarian in the contexts where it is inappropriate;
- recognize the entire spiral of consciousness evolution and appreciate the appropriateness of each and every earlier-stage form of organization in their relevant contexts;
- and have other characteristics (including the necessity to develop the cultures that support higher emotional, moral, and spiritual intelligences).
In order for such truly integral—teal and turquoise—organizations to emerge, one has to (1) build an environment that invites authentic and serious reflection and action-inquiry, (2) succeed in many trials and tribulations, and (3) eventually come towards radically new modes of existence. Using the Achiever energy in an attempt to “storm heaven” would help in nothing more than transitioning from orange to green.
This does not underplay the importance of the energies of passion. Yet it is important to support the growth and emergence of Integral leaders who channel their passionarity7 towards a constructive and long-term-oriented perspective. It is appropriate to mention here that autonomous Strategists and construct-aware Alchemists have the capacity for a fluid multivariate vision that spans decades and centuries of the space-time continuum both into the past and into the future.
Having said all of this, let me invite all of us towards a collective reflection upon how we can actualize our Integral agenda—the agenda of wholeness and evolutionary self-actualization.
1 To clarify what I mean by the term, in the Marxist theory “material basis” is a set of social and economic relations foundational to the dominant structuring of a society or community. I use the term material basis in a generic way to refer to wealth-generating materialistic conditions, in today’s world system closely associated with monetary exchange. Basically, strong material basis means an appropriate functional fit in terms of being able to respond adequately to societal needs and co-participate in the economic system.
2 I am thankful to Marilyn Hamilton for reminding me of this fact when I was in the process of working on the article.
3 Also, van Schaik proposed (in personal communication) that it as well could be that one has to be at the teal altitude to design a green organization and at the turquoise altitude to design a teal organization—and altitude here means “center of gravity” (a summation of a few developmental lines), rather than development merely in one developmental line. I personally think that it definitely helps to be at a later stage of consciousness; yet I currently hypothesize that a structure of consciousness of a particular altitude would necessarily have its correlative form of organization (or a system of organizing) of the same altitude of complexity, so it is possible to be authentically teal in terms of your center of gravity and co-generate a teal form of interobjective organization as a natural expression of that particular altitude. In any case, to clarify that, we need additional case studies and research (preferably using Integral Methodological Pluralism).
4 Here we don’t even begin to address the issue of multiple intelligences, or many lines of development which are relatively independent from each other and have their own stage sequences.
5 As Marilyn notes (personal communication), cities are complex ecologies of multiple organizations and individuals.
6 Hamilton’s Book 2 in this series sets out the how Strategists and Alchemists can engage city organizations in the inquiry and action needed to design impact at the city scale
7 Passionarity [passionarnost’] is a term coined by Lev Gumilev to designate a level of power or activity energy of members of a given society.
About the Author
Eugene Pustoshkin is the Integral Leadership Review’s Associate Editor and Bureau Chief for Russia. He is a citizen of the world who currently lives in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Eugene is a clinical psychologist, translator, and integral scholar-practitioner. He currently serves as the Chief Editor of Eros & Kosmos (see: http://