One of the key differences between organizations primarily operating from an orange and a teal paradigm is their organizational structure, as discussed in more detail in a previous post. The circular structure of a typical teal organization lacks a hierarchy, and with that, the need for promotions. This post looks at how appointments and promoting people are handled in an organization operating primarily from a teal paradigm. It also provides a rough roadmap to take you from orange to teal.

The purpose of promoting people

The core intent of promoting people at work is to recognize leadership skills and experience. When you are promoted essentially your employer tells you that you have leveled up your skills and are deserving of more decision-making power. It is typically a token of trust and respect in the organization.

Titles tell you who you can ask for advice and support. In a typical pyramid hierarchical organization, a title also indicates who to listen to when it comes to work assignments. This decreases any overwhelm or confusion compared to, for example, a matrix model where people report to many different bosses, sometimes with conflicting priorities.

Although ‘teal’ organizations tend to get rid of any titles, there are definite advantages to titles. The main contribution that titles brought to organizational development is the ability to create an organization that can outlive the leader.  Before the introduction of roles, an organization’s success depended on a specific person. When that person was no longer there, the entire organization dissolved.  It was only when roles were introduced that it became possible for organizations to outlive a single leader.

As with all things, though, there are both advantages and disadvantages to titles and promotions, with the biggest shadow side to promoting people being the reinforcement of a hierarchy and competition amongst employees.  Competition, in turn, decreases trust.

The shadow side of promotions and hierarchy

One of the key differences between an ‘orange’ and ‘teal’ organization is that a ‘teal’ organization actively works at getting rid of any hierarchy and as a consequence, promotions.

But what’s the problem with hierarchies you might ask?

A hierarchy, in essence, destroys the need for trust. It requires us to obey those in power without question. Sometimes with dire results. Possibly the most extreme example of the negative impact a hierarchy can have is seen in the aftermath of the Holocaust.  In an experiment attempting to understand why good and respected people in society did such bad things, authority figures instructed participants to deliver a painful shock to someone in another room. As much as 65% of people obeyed, even when they disagreed or refused initially.  Having an authority figure ask you to do something makes you more likely to obey – whether it’s in line or goes against your grain.

From the day we are born, we are taught to obey authority figures. Our survival as a child depended on it. While being obedient to a caring parent might protect you from harm, blind obedience destroys the awareness of trust.

If trust is an issue in your organization, thus, try to flatten the hierarchy.

Another shadow side of hierarchy is that it breaks the emotional connection between the instruction giver and the impact of the instruction on its recipients. The boss instructing layoffs in the workforce, for example, is protected from the impact. They simply make the decision. Someone else has to act on the decision and inform the people affected. Essentially, a hierarchy makes it easier to behave destructively towards the people less powerful than you.

So how do you solve this problem that hierarchy brings to an organization?

Distributing decision making

In a boss-less environment, it doesn’t mean there are no bosses. Rather, everyone is expected to behave like a boss.

This brings up a question worth pondering. When you don’t recognise employees with a title or a promotion, how do you reward talent, seniority, and loyalty in an organization? Or, more simply, how do you know who has more experience than someone else when you’re new to the organization? How do you know who you can turn to when having to make decisions?

In a typical ‘orange’ organization, more decision-making power is granted to those higher up the proverbial food chain. The primary focus when transitioning to teal is thus to distribute decision-making power.   That requires a level of responsibility and leadership qualities in all employees.

Leadership development is thus a crucial aspect of a successful teal transformation.  But first, let’s look at the characteristics of a typical ‘orange’ compared to a ‘teal’ organization and how each handles promotions at work.

Characteristics of promoting people in Orange organizations

Organizations operating mainly from an orange paradigm have a pyramid structure. This structure is maintained by scarce positions and a battle towards the top. Here are the main characteristics of these organizations:

1. Intense competition for scarce promotions

In an organization operating primarily from an orange paradigm, there is intense competition to climb the proverbial corporate ladder. As positions higher up the ladder become increasingly scares, it often leads to politics and dysfunctional behavior.

As decision-making power and with that more autonomy – a basic human need – is linked to promotions, a predatory survival-of-the-fittest culture tends to form. The most cunning rather than the best leaders are often promoted, which can lead to all sorts of dysfunctions.

This desire to be promoted can also create corruption, where people are willing to do anything to get the promotion they so much desire.

2. Knowledge hoarding in Silos

As a direct result of the rather intense competition to get promoted, silos form where the manager has to protect his domain to remain in control. This leads to information hoarding which in turn leads to an increase in bureaucracy and ultimately, a decrease in overall productivity.

Characteristics of promoting people in Teal organizations

There is no need for promotions in an organization operating from a teal paradigm. Essentially, each person is a leader with equal decision-making power.

With great power, though, comes great responsibility. Leadership development should thus become the primary focus when transitioning to teal. Here are the main characteristics of how teal organizations handle promotions.

1. Rotation rather than promoting People

The need for competition is essentially removed from an organization operating from a teal paradigm. There are no promotions and people have relative freedom as to which projects they participate in as outlined in the post on project management in a teal organization.

Relative, because by being part of a team you have to consider everyone.  Think back to when you were a small child playing with your friends. If you behaved destructively or selfishly, your friends didn’t want to play with you anymore. The same is true for boss-less organizations. For teams to work well together, you have to play well together.  Practically, that means you might initiate an advice process before you volunteer to become involved in a new project.

2. Individual leadership

For a boss-less organization to work everyone has to have basic leadership skills and shared values.  But you can’t expect people who has been rewarded for being obedient and following orders for years to be fully autonomous the next.  It is a process to develop leadership qualities.

To create autonomous teams people need to have good communication skills and be team players.  Judgment is also a key skill required, together with responsibility.   Being responsible means no one waits for anyone else to act or decide. When they see something wrong, they do something about it. Sometimes it might be taking ownership, at other times it might mean initiating the advice process.

Getting from orange to teal

Moving from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’ essentially requires an organization to develop individual leadership. Here is a rough guide to get you from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’ and what such a leadership development strategy might look like:

1. Develop leadership qualities

Identify the leadership qualities you deem important in your organization.  Typically, this might include good communication skills, good judgment and decision-making, responsibility, ownership, and integrity.

Once you’ve identified the qualities, give people the tools to develop them.  This might be access to courses, workshops, roles, or projects.  It will also require support on a personal development journey.

2. Include a coaching strategy

Coaching is a tool to help people reach their goals and increase their self-awareness. A natural consequence of an increase in self-awareness is a higher level of responsibility.  As the coaching process usually ends in action, it naturally develops a more proactive attitude. It also models the power of asking good questions as a means to lead and improve decision-making and communication skills in the organization.

Decide on a coaching strategy best suited for your organization.  Maybe you might start with introducing individual coaching to start with, and later roll out a peer-coaching program for longer-term sustainability.

3. Visualize work and skills

In a boss-less environment, it can be confusing who to ask for what.  Transparency in the form of visualizing each person’s skills can solve this problem.  It can also serve as motivation for people to develop their skills or seek out a mentor.

For example, you might outline all the key skills required for a project (or team) to succeed in a skills matrix.  Each team member is either a beginner, intermediate or advanced at a specific skill.  The more generic and simple you keep this, the better.  Prevent too much detail or long lists.  If it doesn’t fit on a page or a whiteboard, eliminate those skills which are a lower priority.  You can always add it back when it becomes more pressing to develop this skill.

promoting people

When, for example, from the fictional team above, you want to know something about designs you can easily identify Angela as the best person to ask. If she’s not available, Chris will be the second best equipped to answer.

Not everyone will develop, or be interested in developing, all the skills.  Leave space for individual preferences and imperfection.  It’s not intended to be a checklist to complete.  It’s a tool to communicate visually.

Are you ready for teal?

Promoting people enforces hierarchies, and in an organization operating primarily from a teal paradigm, there is no place for hierarchies.  Handling people development and recognition for advancement is thus very different from a traditional ‘orange’ organization.  Ultimately, it requires a leadership development strategy and a means to recognize an individual’s talents for others to see.

If you missed the previous articles in the teal series, here is a summary:

Are you ready to take a step towards a more teal way of operating?

Do you need help to diagnose where you are and define a strategy to transition towards teal?  Do you need a coach to instil a more teal way of operating in your organization?  Find out about an organizational growth coaching program tailored to your organization.  Or get in contact to design a consulting or mentoring engagement to help take your organization to teal.

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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.