Is Meaningful Success Possible Within an Organisation?

Working in a twenty-first century organisation can feel pretty bleak. Many employees describe feeling increasingly discouraged, disconnected and disengaged. They struggle to feel a sense of meaning or joy in their work.

Do the harsh realities of the global economy make this inevitable? The situation can seem pretty depressing. But there is hope! New ways of running organisations may be about to change everything.

In his book, Reinventing Organizations, Frederik Laloux describes vibrant and meaningful workplaces that still deliver key outcomes. He calls these organisations ‘Teal organisations’.

in this approach, the organisation is considered to be a complex adaptive system, like a city or a forest. This is in contrast to the current dominant metaphor of the organisation as a machine. This change in metaphor is important. If an organisation is a machine, then people are seen as replaceable cogs. Whereas, in a complex adaptive system, all of the parts are important. Different parts interact in surprising ways and a small action by one element can create large, system wide changes.

In Teal organisations:

  • The usual hierarchies are dropped.
  • Individuals are given much more autonomy.
  • People often work in small, semi-autonomous groups that are nested together to create a larger system.
  • Everyone is seen as able to take on a leadership role whenever needed.
  • All employees are provided with training in the skills they need in order to navigate the complexity of this sometimes challenging environment.
  • Individual workers can make important decisions – as long as they seek advice from those who will be affected by the decision.
  • The CEO doesn’t decide on strategy or tell people what to do. The group agree a broad purpose, and then ‘the role of the leader is to listen for where this organisation naturally wants to go’ (Laloux). 

What I particularly like about Laloux’s perspective is that he doesn’t pretend this is easy. It is clearly challenging to implement this approach. If a Teal organisation is to flourish, appropriate processes and systems need to be put in place. For example, successful organisations adopting this new approach all have clear processes for dealing with conflict.

This model does give hope for the future. It suggests that grim and soulless workplaces may be replaced by something much better. Within a Teal organisation, it is highly likely that employees will experience a sense of meaningful success.

You probably don’t work in a Teal organisation at the moment, but it may be possible to start to shift the centre of gravity. In a complex adaptive system, small changes can lead to dramatic shifts. Just adopting some of the Teal daily organisation practices in your team could help build autonomy, meaning and a sense of community. Try picking one small change suggested on the Reinventing Organizations Wiki, implement it and see what happens.

Fostering these changes will require a degree of psychological flexibility. You will need to be present, open and flexible. You will need a capacity to observe what is happening; take thoughtful action; notice the outcome and then take more action.

You can watch Laloux explaining his research in more detail in this talk:

Training People To Do What You Want – Ethically

There is an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon trains Penny to do what he wants. He uses chocolate.

We are all constantly ‘training’ the people around us but we don’t usually use chocolates and it is rarely deliberate. Because we aren’t even aware we are doing it, we are often inadvertently rewarding behaviours that we don’t want and punishing the behaviours that we do want.

For example, imagine your new enthusiastic staff member stops taking the initiative and starts waiting to be told what to do, what could have caused the change? It might be because you criticised her whenever she didn’t follow the correct procedure and didn’t encourage her when she was proactive. Gradually, over time you shaped her behaviour.

So it seems like a good idea to become much more aware of the impact of our behaviour on others and start to more consciously reward people when they do what we want.

But people can feel manipulated by this approach. You don’t want to be like Sheldon.

So what is an approach that feels more ethical and less like manipulation?

To be collaborative. Rather than deciding what behaviour I want to shape in the other person, I ask them directly, ‘Who do you want to be at work? What behaviours do you want to demonstrate? How would we recognise those behaviours? How can I support you in those behaviours?’

It is also helpful to acknowledge that these interactions work both ways. So I talk to my direct reports about how I want to behave as a manager. And then I ask, ‘Would that work for you? Are you willing to encourage me when I do those behaviours? And let me know when I am drifting away from them?

This more collaborative, transparent approach builds trust and engagement. How could you apply it at work this week?

You might also want to take a look at this earlier post on the 10 factors to consider when rewarding staff.

What Facebook Can Teach Managers About Building Engagement

Facebook is amazing at building and maintaining engagement. From a behavioural science perspective, Facebook is set up in a way that encourages engagement. How does it do it and what can it teach us?

1. Facebook makes it very, very easy to give positive feedback. In fact, it isn’t just easy, it is actually feels good to click the ‘like’ button (or is that just me?).

Research suggests that team members need around 3 pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback. Not many employees are getting even close to that. So when you are reviewing a piece of work, find some way to communicate all the things you like about what has been done rather than just focussing on what needs to be changed.

2. On Facebook (and in life), feedback shapes behaviour. We notice what behaviour seems to get a lot of positive feedback and what gets ignored and over time we change our behaviour. At work, desired behaviour is often ignored, apart from occasional larger gestures – an employee of the month award; a bonus at performance review time; an acknowledgement in the team meeting. In terms of behavioural psychology, what happens on Facebook is much more powerful. Aim to give positive feedback, frequently and real-time, don’t worry if it is just small. Think of the ‘like’ button!

3. Facebook understands that people crave connection and that connection is important in building engagement. Gallup found something similar in the workplace, they found that ‘having a best friend at work‘ is associated with improved performance. We also know that leaders who focus too much on getting the task done and ignore the importance of encouraging team members to build relationships tend to have dissatisfied and disengaged teams. So what can Facebook teach us about how to build connection?

4. Facebook understands that what actually builds connection is lots of little interactions about ordinary things. Sharing a joke. Saying how tired you feel because the kids have been up in the night. Sharing something you find interesting. So, those chats in the office kitchen aren’t time wasting (unless they go on for hours!) – they are building connection and engagement.

So, to get Facebook-like engagement, managers might want to build some habits around giving frequent positive feedback, encouraging people to create connections with each other and valuing those chats in the staff kitchen.


So Do Your Really Care About Your Team?

How likely is it that your team would say ‘Yes’ in response to the following statement?

My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person’

If they do say ‘Yes’, would you be one of the people they think of as demonstrating ‘caring towards others’?

Gallup has found that people who answer ‘Yes’:

  • Are more likely to stay with the organisation
  • Have more engaged customers
  • Are more productive*

So, caring about your employees/co-workers seems to be a good idea. But, so often this comes across as fake and, in my opinion, fake interest is worse than no interest at all.

In order for this to feel authentic to both you and others, it needs to connect to a deeply held value. So, my question for you is: Who do you want to be at work? How do you want others to see you? If ‘caring’ is a value you want to enact at work then not only will you feel authentic and vital but you might just be adding to the bottom line too!

* Taken from Vital Friends – Tom Rath