Post the COVID pandemic of 2020 dismissals and lay-offs became a frequent occurrence. Twitter, newly under the reign of Elon Musk, laid off as much as 70% of the workforce over just a couple of months. While Twitter was in the spotlight, most people, however, were affected by someone close to them being laid off. Reducing costs by reducing the headcount has been a common management strategy for years. It is also a very orange approach. But how do organizations operating from a teal paradigm handle dismissals? This post explores dismissals and how teal organizations handle them.

Dismissals are handled very differently by ‘orange’ and ‘teal’ organizations.  It can be best described by the guiding metaphors that represent the orange and teal paradigms. But first, let’s look at a brief history of the evolution of organizations to put it into perspective. If you want a more detailed summary, look at this post or read Reinventing Organizations as a source of the model.

A brief history of the evolution of organizations

The earliest identified development stage of humanity, spanning roughly from 10,000 to 50,000 BC, is represented by the reactive infrared paradigm, where there wasn’t any form of organizational model yet. People lived in small family units and foraged for food. They can be compared to a newborn infant who doesn’t yet see themselves as separate from their mother and the world at large.

The next developmental phase, the magic magenta paradigm, was when nomadic families shifted to larger groups, combining the strength of different family units. As the world at large is not understood, magic and pleasing the gods with rituals is how people make sense of the world around them. At this stage, there are still no organizations and it can be compared to a toddler.

Impulsive Red – The Wolf Pack

The first chiefdoms and empires emerged next, and from it the first forms of organizational life. At this stage the ego is fully formed and with that the sense of separation from the whole. This is a fear-based paradigm typically seen in mafia gangs.

For the first time division of labor within a hierarchy emerged. The guiding metaphor is the “wolf pack” where the alpha maintains his power by force. The main benefit of this stage is that the group is highly adaptive to outside threats and chaotic environments, for example, combat situations.

Conformist Amber – The Army / Church

The next breakthrough came with the conformist amber paradigm. For the first time, people could project into the future and agriculture, for example, emerged. Rather than only reacting to the immediate situations, forward planning and with that discipline emerged.

The guiding metaphor for this stage is “The army” where formal roles and processes bring with it stability and scalable hierarchies. For the first time, this is a long-term perspective.

Achievement Orange – The Machine

The next phase, the achievement orange paradigm, made a major leap in societal development. The main worldview is scientific and for the first time, people started questioning authority. The key breakthroughs this paradigm brought is the concept of meritocracy, accountability, and innovation.

The scientific worldview aimed at understanding the parts of the system that formed the organization as a machine. We typically talk about inputs, outputs, efficiency, moving the needle, hitting the breaks, re-engineering, human resources, and blueprints. We see the organization as a machine. The world at large is a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Most large organizations today operate from this paradigm.

Pluralistic Green – The Family

The next phase of development is the green worldview where for the first time there is more to life than work.  Organizations are highly sensitive to people’s feelings. They seek equity and fairness and place emphasis on social needs and culture.

The guiding metaphor is “the family” with the key breakthroughs that emerged in individual empowerment, the stakeholder model and values-driven cultures.

Evolutionary Teal – The Living Organism

Finally, we arrive at the evolutionary teal worldview that sees the organization as a living organism. It brings with it a systems approach, taking the parts mastered in the orange phase and turning them into a system where the impact and interaction with the world outside the organization are taken into consideration.

Striving for wholeness, purpose, and self-management are the key breakthroughs this paradigm brings to organizational development.

From this vantage point, it is clear to see that you can’t skip a level of development. It values each developmental phase, realizing that without caterpillars consuming the green leaves of your garden there would be no butterflies.

With this greater understanding of organizational evolution, let’s look at the characteristics of how organizations handle dismissals in the two main paradigms, without judgment.

Characteristics of dismissals in orange organizations

Organizations operating mainly from an orange paradigm view an organization as a machine. When a part in a machine doesn’t function as desired, it is simply replaced. The orange worldview handles dismissals in a similar way. Here are the main characteristics of these organizations:

1. The Boss has the authority to dismiss

In an organization operating primarily from an orange paradigm, bosses have the authority to hire and fire as they deem fit.

Dismissals are not seen as personal, but rather a logical decision focusing on the efficiency of the overall machine. There is typically little to no emotional connection when deciding to dismiss someone.

2. Dismissal is mostly a legal and financial process

To expand on this machine worldview, a dismissal is mostly a legal and financial process. With a drive for achievement and efficiency, cutting costs is simply seen as a means to ensure the organization’s survival.

Characteristics of dismissals in teal organizations

Organizations operating mainly from a teal paradigm view an organization as a living organism. When a part of the system doesn’t function as intended, healing is attempted, as with the human body.

If, for example, you have a heart problem, you attempt to heal it first. Only as a last resort will you replace the faulty organ. Dismissals are handled in a similar way. Here are the main characteristics of how teal organizations handle dismissals.

1. Mediated conflict management

In a typical teal organization, there is no hierarchy.  Therefore, no boss can decide who to fire or hire. Any discord in the team or organization initiates a conflict management process.

Viewing the organization as a living organism, any issue initiates a mediated conflict management process. The goal is always to find a mutually beneficial solution to the problem.

2. Dismissal is the last resort

Dismissals are a last resort if the conflict resolution process fails to resolve the issue.  Issues are typically addressed when they are still small with a win-win outcome desired.

A teal approach to conflict management might look like this simple four-step process where at first you take a look at yourself and how you might change before you address it directly with the person.  If the issue remains only do you call in a mediator and as a last resort an outside decider that might result in dismissal.

2. Support the dismissed

In a conscious living organism where every part is seen as useful and needed, it’s not possible to cut out a part without also feeling the pain.

When a decision results in a dismissal, they are supported in the transition and even helped to find another role. This might look like having coaching conversations and other types of feedback sessions to increase their self-awareness. The dismissal becomes a learning opportunity where the dismissed person has an opportunity to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Getting from orange to teal

Moving from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’ mostly involves developing more responsible team members and managing expectations better. Here is a rough guide to get from orange to teal:

1. Manage expectations pro-actively

Prevention is better than cure. Rather than having to get to the point where you have to dismiss people, focus on preventative measures. This starts at the recruitment phase by being very clear about your expectations, including desired values and behaviours.

Whenever a new hire doesn’t meet expectations and when the issue is still small, immediately address it directly in a non-confrontational way to resolve the issue.

Don’t ignore any issue hoping it will disappear. Confront it head-on and honestly, be clear about what the problem is, as well as what you would rather have happen. Also, be explicit about the consequences if it happens again.

Most people would gladly change their behaviours or up-skill in an area if they were included in a dismissal decision. Including a coaching strategy in your organization can also help in changing both behaviours and skills by giving people the tools to solve their weaknesses.

2. Define a conflict resolution process

No matter how proactive you are, however, you may run into situations where you have to dismiss someone. Define a conflict resolution process and make it available to everyone.

Include consequences and escalation in the process. Aim for a mutually beneficial solution as an outcome. The evaporating clouds process is an effective and simple example of how to resolve conflict with a win-win outcome.

3. Identify and enable mediators

While going through the conflict resolution process might resolve most conflicts, in more extreme cases you might need a mediator. Train people in mediation and make sure everyone knows who they can pull in when needed to resolve a conflict.

4. Provide support

When mediation and conflict resolution don’t resolve the issue, create structures and processes that will provide adequate support to help the person with their career transition. This could mean simply having a conversation and asking them what they need. It could also include coaching conversations or emotional support to prepare them for the exit.

In a typical orange worldview organization people are simply severed from the organization with no emotional attachment. It’s just business.  In a teal paradigm, however, the goal is to make sure the person leaving is supported and has the resources to allow them to find an alternative position elsewhere. With a more long-term outlook, you never know who this person might become in the future or when you might need them again.

The goal is thus to leave on good terms where both agree it is best for them.

Are you ready for teal?

Transitioning to a more teal way of operation doesn’t have to result in chaos, and it doesn’t have to disrupt the status quo.  The question is whether the pain of staying where you are is bigger than the pain of trying something new.

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.