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Applying the Teal Paradigm

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Applying the teal paradigm helps organizations increase team members' engagement and allows teams to grow. Teal oriented organizations think of themselves as "living organisms"; they are human centric and liberating towards their employees, and look for the resourcefulness in humans rather than looking at them as resources, argues Erwin Van Waeleghem, police commissioner and criminologist at the Belgium police and international steward for the Teal for Teal community.

Van Waeleghem will speak about human centric work-collaborations and applying the teal paradigm at the Agile Consortium Belgium 2017 conference which will be held in Brussels on Thursday, February 23. InfoQ will cover this conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

The conference theme is "From agile IT to enterprise agility"; the program features talks about agile in a broader organizational and business context:

What we see today in the market is that the bottom-up approach of IT agile practices is changing to cultural transformations where agile values and principles are key. Focusing on enterprise/business agility for which we need new organisational structures. Making the switch from machine-like organisations to continuously changing and improving organisms.

InfoQ interviewed Erwin Van Waeleghem about the characteristics of teal organizations, and asked him how he applied the teal paradigm at the Belgium police and which benefits this brought.

InfoQ: Which values does the teal paradigm consider important? Why these values?

Erwin Van Waeleghem: Basically we are talking about essential human values, that can connect people. They start out of a constructive co-creative mindset, instead of a dividing, egocentric, polarizing and very competitive attitude (which we seem to be conditioned to in our current society). These basic values are based on a rising moral consciousness and have the goal to reach a higher mutual purpose. Just to name a few of these values behind Teal: trust, respect, equivalence, win-win thinking, authenticity, integrity, openness, honesty, benevolence, servitude, giving and sharing before receiving, will to give mutual extra value ... This also means people are constantly looking for a great balance between heart and mind.

InfoQ: What are the characteristics of teal organizations?

Van Waeleghem: Well, most of these organizations have moved away from "machinal" view on things, which has been the basic idea in most of our organizations since the industrial revolution and the rise of Frederick Taylor’s "scientific management" (also thanks to Henry Ford). The Teal oriented organizations think of themselves much more as "living organisms", as you constantly find in nature. They are much more human centric and liberating towards their employees, and look for the resourcefulness in humans rather than looking at humans as resources. A different, much more natural leadership style is used, which can actually be used without ranks, titles, ego, and other degrading ideas.

So instead of power hierarchy, they are mostly organized in self organizing systems like you find in nature. There is no longer talk of bosses and subordinates. That means that the artificial hierarchy, based on rank, job-title, diploma, birthright, and power over people has made way for a much more natural hierarchy, which can change almost constantly, depending on the expertise and professional knowledge someone holds. These organizations are based on networks and interconnected power with people, and use "sense and respond" instead of "plan, command and control".

People who have read Laloux’ "Reinventing Organizations" will mostly recognize the three paradigm breakthroughs he talks about, namely "wholeness", "evolutionary purpose" and "self management". In Teal organizations or the ones who are evolving towards teal, you can find these three breakthroughs in all organizational basics which we also know in the "old-school" paradigms, such as decision making, structure, staff roles, project teams, conflict resolution, crisis management, information flows, performance management, compensation, dismissal, recruitment, evaluations, working hours, office spaces, strategy, marketing, competition (which actually becomes obsolete), planning and budgets, etc. All of these items are organized in totally different ways which are mostly based on insights and ideas of all stakeholders (not just the investors).

InfoQ: Can you give some examples of how you applied the teal paradigm?

Van Waeleghem: When I arrived at my new job in Leuven on September 1st, 2015 and knowingly having the support of my chief, I started having talks with all team members on a personal level. During the first encounter, after getting to know the people’s background and needs, I talked about my ideas and also told them straight away that they would receive full trust and that I would not act as their "boss" in the way they knew no better. I would no longer consider them subordinates, but colleagues with a lot of knowledge and experience in how to do their job right.

I also lived up to that trust myself, and even to me it seemed quite amazing how easy and fast most people started doing everything in their power to make sure there would be no distrust. There were a few introduction sessions in which I tried to explain which way we were going to. The team-members themselves set the framework to create a safe environment, by naming and writing down the values (see first question), which connected them. That was the basic framework on which the positive and less positive behavior was decided on, and towards which they would set up their own peer follow up, in open, respectful and polite communication. They started deciding things for themselves very easily, with a sort of advice process when issues were not getting resolved and sometimes asking for my fair decision or back up.

Examples of things they decide on themselves during a weekly or ad hoc meeting are, continuity during vacation periods, recruiting new colleagues, multi-functionality, attending meetings as team rep’s (based on their expertise), resolution of day to day problems, conflict resolution, new procedures internally and externally (based on guidelines from the judicial department), etc. You could say we have three groups in the team. Believers (the majority - 60%), neutrals (30%) and (constructive) skeptics (10%). All have their role inside this way of doing things. It is constant hard work though, and sometimes two steps forward, one or two back. Nevertheless, for all people involved it is quite clear that not one of them truly wants to return to the old school hierarchical style of getting things done.

InfoQ: How does the Belgium police organization benefit from using the teal paradigm?

Van Waeleghem: As in any organization, there is a direct positive outcome on absenteeism, sick leave, burn-outs,... There is a much higher engagement towards each other, their job and the organization, which also makes the team grow. There are still small conflicts due to some outside pressure on the task-side, and due to a shortage of staff in general. But because of a higher sense of belonging, they resolve the conflicts much easier and there is a much higher benevolence to help each other out. This of course has its influence on the general productivity and openness towards other departments.

We also have the commitment of higher management to broaden this up inside the whole organization in the next few years, making this our basic culture and putting a lot of renewed energy in a leadership and general culture transformation. In general the police forces as a whole, once they start organizing themselves more like a network, could work much more efficiently, faster, with direct information sharing, less bureaucratic and much more focused on their true societal role instead of the polarized them and us situation the police organizations find themselves in all over the world.

In essence, we are a part of society to help establish and maintain a safe environment for all. In these turbulent and VUCAP times - where the added P stands for Polarized - we can not do this on our own, so we need to reach out to and be much more trustworthy towards the citizens we are doing this for. Transforming towards the teal paradigm can surely help to re-establish the trust that is surely needed to make this happen. As an example, I can only state this: if we want to counter the ISIS terrorist global network we will never be able to do it with old school hierarchical methods and organizations. We therefore urgently need to evolve towards network organizations based on the expertise and professionalism of our own (field)people.

InfoQ: Which advice do you have for organizations that want to adopt the teal paradigm?

Van Waeleghem: Never use it as a trick to get quick wins and to get even more out of already high pressured people. Do it out of true authenticity, and out of a people-centric mindset. Look at it as a sustainable, new basic organizational culture and start transforming slowly in this way, always keeping the essential human values in view.

As a leader/manager, show yourself vulnerable and humble, show that you are worthy of the trust that you are giving and receiving, let go of controlling and convincing based on "fear". It can start on a good road when people in top positions are on a road to self development and self consciousness themselves.

Become an authentic and natural leader who inspires people to pick up or rediscover their own leadership capacities. Facilitate, advise, coach, give leeway, let people grow and support them fully, even when they make mistakes. Look for other peers or people who can help you out with the why, how, what... or have yourself inspired by the numerous examples out there.

Do not think simple copy paste is possible; use the models, systems, tools where necessary but never make a goal out of these and shape it towards your own organization and teams. Let people participate fully in this, communicate constantly, communicate in true transparency, read some basic books that can give you leads. But whatever you do: once you matter how much hard work it might seem, keep following the hard and difficult road, never ever ever give up or return to old school methods (far too easy)... it is worth all the trouble in the long run. Inspire others and truly keep believing you can do this all together.

InfoQ: Where can readers go if they want to learn more about the teal paradigm and teal organizations?

Van Waeleghem: There is quite a lot of information in the cloud. You can read several books on this. To name some: "Reinventing Organizations" (Frederic Laloux), "Freedom Inc." (Isaac Gets/Brian Carney), "Unboss" (Lars Kolind - Oticon), "Maverick" and "The Seven Day Weekend" (Ricardo Semler - Semco), "It’s Your ship" and following books (Mike Abrashoff - US Navy), "Turn the Ship around"(David Marquet - US Navy), "Start with Why" (Simon Sinek), "More Than a Motorcycle" (Rich Teerlinck - Harley Davidson), "The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy" (Kenneth Cloke/Joan Goldsmith), and lots of other titles. You can also visit several websites ( - -, lots of social media groups and pages.

You can become a member of our Teal for Teal international community and meet likeminded people at our monthly meetings in several regional groups in 14 different countries. Teal for Teal International is a Belgian-based foundation, which holds the mission to connect all teal dots.

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