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The wealth stream in the Teal for Startups (T4S) working group was discussing the scope of the T4S book and the potential audience. That prompted us to start exploring our individual ideas on what we meant by a Teal Startup. This post builds on that discussion.

Is it Teal?

Agreeing on what is Teal and what isn’t Teal is comparatively simple. The ideas behind Teal Organisations are laid out in  Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux.

Some quick reminders are

Page 56 – Outline of the three breakthroughs of Evolutionary Teal Organisations:

  • Self-management (more detail on pages 140-141)
  • Wholeness (more detail on pages 190-191)
  • Evolutionary purpose (more detail on pages 223 -224)

The general ideas of Teal Organisations are illustrated through case studies. As Laloux says:

To be included in this research, organisations could stem from any geographical area or sector (business, nonprofit, education, health, government), but needed to employ a minimum of 100 people, and to have been operating for a minimum of five years along structures, practices, processes, and cultures that to a substantial degree were consistent with the characteristics of the next developmental stage.

The research questions that he used for the case studies are listed on pages 309-314, and are divided into two parts.

Part 1 has 45 questions, relating to structure, processes and practices, under the following headings:

  • Major organisational processes
  • Human resources
  • Daily life
  • Other

Part 2 has 25 questions, relating to conditions for emergence and resilience, under the following headings:

  • History and intentions
  • Emergence and resilience
  • Culture
  • Holding tensions: how do you deal with tensions…
  • Leadership questions specific to the founder/CEO

The information outlined above is not for startups, nor about them but it does explain Teal Organisations.

What is the pathway that would lead a startup to becoming a Teal Organisation?

Taking an analogy of building with lego, there are lots of possible ways you could choose to get started. There are large lego sets and small ones. There are many different ways to begin building, but they are all lego. Even the smallest starter pack is instantly recognisable as a lego starter pack. What does a Teal “starter pack” look like?

Frederic Laloux uses case studies to illustrate mature Teal Organisations. What would we be looking for if we wanted to find examples of Teal Startups?

Is it a Startup?

We have the book to help us decide if something is Teal, but what do we have to help us decide if something is a Teal Startup? What do we mean by a Startup anyway?

The term Startup is understood in many different ways. I’ll describe two contrasting examples. At one extreme are the Startup founders who dream of making a fortune by creating “the new Google or Facebook” and then selling it. Their idea is to create a valuable online service, grow a community of users (which in itself is a valuable entity)  and then sell the service, along with the user details, to the highest bidder. The dream is short-term. The plan is simply to create a Startup to sell as soon as possible for a handsome sum. At the other extreme are founders whose Startup serves a social need they care about deeply, and they want to serve that need as long as the need remains. Their financial interest is simply in generating enough income to be sustainable. Their vision is long term involvement. In between these two extremes are a wide variety of social and financial combinations.

In the ‘Reinventing Organisations” book the mature Teal Organisations in the case studies have all been around for at least five years (timescale), and have at least 100 employees (number of people). They are drawn from many sectors.

How would that compare for Startups? They would also be drawn from many sectors. We could agree on a period of time that counts as the “starting -up” time for any organisation or initiative that wants to call itself a Startup (two years maximum perhaps). We could agree on a maximum starting size (perhaps a couple of co-founders and a handful of others during the earliest stages – but not necessarily for the full two years). We could consider other boundaries, perhaps a financial cap, or demonstrating some kind of awareness of “wholeness”, but those boundaries might  be best left to emerge rather than be defined.

Teal Startups and Wealth

The most relevant boundary for the Wealth stream of the Teal For Startups group to explore relates to the creation of wealth. The mature Teal Organisation case studies are all sustainable organisations with paid employees. It is reasonable to expect that Teal Startups have a similar model, but are paid employees a necessary characteristic of all Teal Startups?

What if the Startup expects to be working with a voluntary labour force? What if the value it adds is digital information that it shares freely, rather than goods or a traditional service? Would that still count as a Teal Startup? Arguably it could be “very Teal”, because if people are giving their time freely then there must be some alignment between what they want to be doing and what the Startup is doing. There may be a difference in emphasis between individual objectives and the purpose of the Startup, because volunteering offers a variety of  rewards, some less obvious than others and some very personal, but a measure personal and organisational alignment is likely, and could be requirement for something to be a Teal Startup.

Not all volunteers, nor all voluntary organisations, will be Teal, but maybe some could be included. Personally, I was attracted to Teal because it seemed relevant to the work I’m doing to support the growth of the Dadamac Changemakers group, and the related vision to create an information commons –  see Steps towards critical mass and International Development disruption. The developing organisation I have in mind will have a flat organisational structure – not least because it is local and global, with no intermediary organisational levels of regional, national and international. I’m currently working only with volunteers and we are working with Evolving Organisation to launch ourselves as a Holacracy. Are we also Teal?

To bring the question closer to home for the recently formed T4S group:  What of the Teal for Startups group itself? Is it a Teal Startup? If not, why not? If so, then what other voluntary groups can we include?