Many people consider Frederic Laloux to be the most influential thinker of the decade when it comes to management and organizational reinvention. His research, writing and speaking has inspired a movement (sometimes called ‘Teal organizations’) of businesses, nonprofits, hospitals and schools taking radical steps towards more powerful and soulful structures and management practices.
Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations is a rare phenomenon. Self-published with no marketing, it has turned into a global bestseller (in English, but also in German, French, Russian and a dozen other languages) entirely through word-of-mouth, propelled one conversation at a time by readers fascinated with possibilities the book evokes.Things unheard of in the publishing world happened. Readers in Ukraine and Chile paid for translations into Russian and Spanish out of their own pocket. Readers in the US and Germany offered to record audiobook versions. Forty readers in China crowd-translated the book. Other readers created a knowledge base and further research efforts, and others still established an online news hub about organizational transformation inspired by the book.
The energy the book unleashed is one of hope. Many people sense that today’s management practices are exhausted. Reinventing Organizations shows how at every major stage in history, humanity has reinvented management in fundamental ways. It appears we are on the cusp of another big leap: the book traces the emergence of a new breed of organizations that no longer operate on the template that’s still being taught in business schools. They have invented radically more powerful and purposeful management practices, and the results they achieve are out of the ordinary. The hopeful message is this: if we know where to look, we can find the next generation of organizations already out there. The book speaks to a broad audience. It has famously inspired Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh who ordered all managers to read it. It has inspired countless large businesses (Whole Food’s John Mackey is a fan) as well as Silicon Valley start-ups. Schools, hospitals, as well as police departments and government agencies have been inspired to think about management in whole new ways. Leading management thinkers have embraced Laloux’s research. In 2016, the Dalai Lama invited Laloux to share his findings with him.
Hierarchical, pyramidal structures can no longer deal with the complexity and speed of the today’s world. Nor with the aspirations of employees, in particular of the millennial generation. The trend towards self-managing structures is propelled by inevitable forces. Reinventing Organizations documents how self-management can work beyond the occasional agile coding team or small shop floor units. We now know that organizations of thousands or people can operate entirely in self-managing fashion, and Laloux’s research into the practical management processes of self-management (Who can make what decision, if there are no managers? Who gets a salary raise? How is conflict dealt with? What explains the stellar results that self-managing organizations consistently achieve? …) make him probably the world’s number one authority on self-management.
At work, we tend to wear a professional mask. We conform to expectations, try to look successful and in control, and check out what makes us truly human—our vulnerabilities, doubts, deeper hopes and longings—at the door. Some pioneering organizations have understood that when we hide much of who we are behind a mask, we cut ourselves off from much of our passion, energy and creativity. They have put in place beautiful practices that invite us into wholeness and they have created truly soulful work places in the process. The vibrancy you can sense in these places is incomparable.
Increasingly, organizations feel that the painful cycles of strategic planning, yearly budgets, KPIs and target setting is destroying more value than it creates. A number of pioneering organizations have cracked the code to switch from predict and control to sense and respond to achieve their purpose. This, of course, is at the heart of lean and agile management. What is new is that we now know how to scale this to the whole corporation (or nonprofit). The companies that Laloux researched are extraordinarily successful, and yet none of them has a strategic plan or targets! Budgets are inexistent or hold on one sheet of paper. Are they crazy? No, they simply have replaced outdated practices with more advanced ones that allow for dynamic steering.
Frederic Laloux cuts a somewhat unusual figure among leading management gurus. To cashing in on the success of his work he prefers leading a simple life, spending most of his time with his wife and young children, and in the quiet presence of nature. He is a much thought-for speaker, but travels only a few times a year. His rare talks always leave a profound mark with his audiences, challenging them to reconsider many of the core assumptions they hold about people, work and management and inviting them to see new fields of possibilities.