Can Agile Help Us Reinvent Organizations?

In two recent posts on the history of organizational development, I discussed Taylorism and the need for a new leadership paradigm, and the five levels of organizational consciousness discussed by Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations.

In this post, I will follow-up by discussing how Agile values and practices fit with the Evolutionary-Teal paradigm, which, according to Laloux, is the most recent and advanced stage of organizational consciousness.

To summarize, the Evolutionary-Teal paradigm is based on an evolutionary world view evolving toward wholeness, complexity, and consciousness. Leaders of Teal organizations break away from the Orange and Green metaphors of organizations being machines and talks of organizations as living organisms. According to Laloux, pioneering Teal organizations reveal breakthroughs in self-management, wholeness, and operations from an evolutionary purpose. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, members of Teal organizations see the organization itself as a living entity with its direction and evolutionary purpose.

Self-Management and Agile

According to the Agile Manifesto, the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The concept of self-organization is often confused with self-management. Self-organization is a spontaneous process of coordination between the components of a system without outside influence. In Scrum, it means that the team is trusted and able to decide how it will work on the prioritized items on the backlog. A self-managed team will, in addition to organizing its work, also do its training, rewards, recognition, and salary appraisals. A self-managed team collectively plays the manager’s role and has to solve all issues itself.

Agile self-organization is not the same as the self-management breakthrough experienced by Teal organizations. A self-managed team will, however, naturally use self-organization principles to organize its work. Hence, Agile can be a good stepping stone towards self-management.

Wholeness and Agile

The Agile Manifesto does not mention wholeness as a principle. It does, however, encourage the development of projects around motivated individuals, giving them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. On the other hand, wholeness is about being, thinking, and acting from the core of who we are, our wisdom and beliefs, so we achieve both collective and individual well-being. If what we do at work and home is meaningful to us personally, we feel a sense of wholeness.

Being part of an Agile team, you get to know the other team members exceptionally well. Their strength, weaknesses, potential, and motivations become transparent as the team evolves. Getting to know each other on a deeper level builds trust, as long as individual values are not in conflict and the team can rally behind a common purpose. Trust and purpose are two vital components in creating an environment that allows people to bring their whole self to work. However, the lack of self-management discussed above might put some restrictions on what people are willing to share outside the team.

Evolutionary Purpose and Agile

The concept of an evolutionary purpose fits well with the principles behind the Agile Manifesto; however, just as with the other two breakthroughs of Teal organizations, the evolutionary purpose stretches beyond Agile.

The Agile Manifesto states that we welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for customers’ competitive advantage. Agile teams are usually guided by a product owner who represents the customer. The direction of the team is generally captured in a goal/vision statement, typically developed during some formal and defined strategy process. In Teal organizations, there is no formal strategy process. No one at the top sets a direction for others to follow. Instead, strategy happens all the time and everywhere, as the people of the organization play with new ideas and test them in the field. The organization evolves in response to a process of collective intelligence, as its members interact with the market, each other, the local community, and society.


If all organizations operated under the Teal paradigm, we would not need product owners to guide teams, and Scrum masters and line managers would get out-of-the-way, to let people self-manage how to support and develop the organization’s evolutionary purpose. Until we get to that point, if we ever will, I genuinely believe Agile can play, and already is playing, a significant role in how we organize work. Agile principles and practices shorten vital feedback loops and make it easier and faster for organizations to respond to the rapidly increasing pace of change around them. Agile also pushes power down the organization, thus increasing the engagement and collective intelligence of the organization.

In my opinion, Agile is a much better paradigm than the organization-as-a-machine Orange paradigm from which we came. If you are hoping for the Teal paradigm to become dominant, I think embracing Agile values and principles is an excellent step in the right direction.

As always, I would love to know what you think. Please use the comments field below to join the conversation.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Image credit: Coworking Office Space in Berkeley |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *