Reinventing your Workplace? Insider Secrets from Teal Organizations Semco and Morning Star

As the founder of the Semco Style Institute USA and former consultant for the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, I am privileged to have worked with two of the teal companies that Frederic Laloux wrote about in the book “Reinventing organizations”. Today, I want to share with all the teal fans out there some insider secrets.

Christian Wandeler·May 04, 2022·5 min read

As the founder of the Semco Style Institute USA and former consultant for the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, I am privileged to have worked with two of the teal companies that Frederic Laloux wrote about in the book “Reinventing organizations”.

Today, I want to share with all the teal fans out there some insider secrets 💡

As an academic, I can state that the way Gary Hamel and Frederic Laloux have written about Morning Star is not only inspiring to anyone who reads it but it also provides you with fact-based, reliable information. I had the pleasure to meet Frederic at Morning Star in 2012 when he was visiting California to do research for his book. At the time, Morning Star was in the spotlight because of an article published by Gary Hamel in the Harvard Business Review. It became a role model for any organization that wished to organize itself without a formal hierarchy.

Doug Kirkpatrick and I were the official consultants of the Morning Star Self-Management Institute and we kept receiving requests from organizations asking us for advice on how to become self-managed. Interestingly, a few years later the conversation shifted to: how can we become a teal organization?

Coming from the trenches by working at Morning Star, and more recently, as a Certified Semco Style Expert and founder of the Semco Style Institute US, I felt there were some things that should be clarified on how things work behind the scenes. For this reason, I’m sharing with you three “insider secrets” to help leaders and organizations that are embracing the journey to becoming self-managed.

Insider Secret 1: Semco and Morning Star don’t know teal

It might not come out as a surprise to you, but most people at these exemplary TEAL organizations are actually not aware of what “teal” is. Or as Ricardo Semler once put it: “We have good news: apparently we are teal. The bad news, we have no idea what this means.”

So, on one hand, these organizations are like fish in the water, and on the other hand, they were labeled teal by an external source. This leads us to the second provocation.

Insider Secret 2: Semco and Morning Star people don’t care about teal

Being teal was never a goal for any of these organizations, and it still is not a goal for them nowadays. What they do is strive for a set of values or principles - not necessarily called teal.

Morning Star has evolved greatly, broadening its own mission and vision statement. They went from purely being in the tomato business to embrace a broader vision of human development in the business.

Semco on the other hand does not believe in mission statements and vision, finding them all too limiting and constraining. Instead, the organization has values that drive and guide behaviors: balancing performance and happiness, with a focus on democracy, aligned self-interest, and common sense.

We at the Semco Style Institute are constantly learning from great leaders and other organizations to continue shaping the future of work. We continuously test, implement, and improve work practices and methods to later discuss them and share them with the companies we collaborate with.

Insider Secret 3: Semco and Morning Star think beyond teal

The different organizations that Laloux draws on to illustrate teal are actually very different from each other - so teal is an idealized state represented by concepts of self-management, evolutionary purpose, and wholeness.

I find it particularly interesting the way Frederic Laloux differentiates various organizations by colors. The point here is that teal is not necessarily better than other “stages” or colors. However, in practice, leaders in organizations often aspire to be teal.

The ultimate question is: when do you become teal? And if there really is a “teal destination”, what comes after that? Indigo, violet?

Semco and Morning Star deliberately pursue the way they work and thus continuously evolve. As an example, Semco grew from a small family business with about 100 employees to a network of companies and joint ventures of about 5000 employees. It later shrunk again back to almost its original size, while the joint ventures kept the Semco Style going. Semco is nowadays more focused on very aligned endeavors such as the Semco Style Institute and the Lumiar school. Would you say it continued being teal all throughout its path or that it navigated between other colors? And, at the end of the day, how would it have been if Semco was too strict to commit to being teal in its change and growth process?

Considering the insights I am sharing here with you, I recommend leaders and organizations to make the most from the experience and learnings of teal, self-managed, human-centric organizations around the globe and to design their own organizational model and culture.

While being teal might have always been your ultimate goal, learn to adjust to the needs of the market and the needs of your organization - don’t just copy-paste. Focus on exploring and applying the best work practices out there to your own organization: brainstorming on solutions, research pre-existing frameworks and models, combine and integrate the learnings and processes from each, be clear on the outcomes and goals you wish to reach, and then design a path to implement an test your tailored approach. Iterate and do it again until it becomes optimal or until it is obsolete and you need to restart the whole process

This is how we guide our clients at Semco Style Institute US in becoming successful according to their own standards.

Regardless of the model you chose to operate from, simply commit to an evolutionary purpose that revolves around becoming the best ecosystem for all your stakeholders.

Become your own color 🎨


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