Philippine has advised large organizations on the Continent, in Switzerland, in Rotterdam, and Brussels, and then in the UK, where she has worked for years with Unilever. In Geneva, she did a lot of organizational development work for the United Nations. In this interview, she describes her vision for the role of coaching, and for the growth of a community of trainers and facilitators for Teal adoption.
What do you see as the role of a coach in adoption of participatory leadership practices, and how is it affected by the emergence of Teal?
Coaching is an important skill in Teal leadership. I coach individuals – I have been a coach for more than 15 years. My focus is on leadership development.
The Teal for Teal group is my brainchild, so to speak. About two years ago, I read the book “Reinventing Organizations.” After that, I put together a leadership development organization. I had been doing leadership training for more than a decade and I thought there was no coherent vision for what we were doing with our clients, as coaches, facilitators and trainers. I wanted to create a program that brought people to a next level of organization, but I didn’t have the words to express this. And I saw in Frederic Laloux’s book a good expression of what we were aiming for. These organizations already exist, and this is no longer an ideal that we should try to accomplish. This is real.
I wanted to talk to other facilitators to adopt a common vision, instead of just doing scattered interventions at organizations. I wanted to put a firm stake in the ground and say, this is where we’re going – this is our intention. It started really small, among my friends and colleagues in Lausanne, with a meeting of about 15 people in a small room. We agreed to explore what Laloux was advocating and how we could apply in in the organizations we were coaching. Then I had a similar meeting in Geneva, and had a similar response. And the commitment to this idea spread to other groups through the networks of these colleagues in Lausanne and Geneva.
We decided from the beginning that we’re not going to give any specific guidance – this has to be self-organizing. So very soon we came up with the name “Teal for Teal,” and we committed to be Teal in order to organize Teal – to start with ourselves.
Does Teal for Teal have an actual corporate structure, or is it a loose confederation of individuals?
We’re in a transitional phase, now that we’re a year down the road. I think in the first month we added five groups, and then in the fall another 10. What we wanted was a self-organizing movement. But there is beginning to be demand for more structure now, for a legal entity. In Belgium, people are creating a foundation. But the original conception was that the structure would be kept minimal for as long as possible.
Are your best prospects relatively large, conservatively-run organizations? Are they the ones that give you the best opportunities for meaningful change?
First we concentrated on coaches, trainers and facilitators – “first to clean up our own street,” as the Dutch say. There is a lot of competition, a lack of transparency and a lack of consensus among facilitators as a profession. So our first challenge was to enable trainers to work better together as colleagues.
But it quickly became apparent that it would be worthwhile to start bringing individuals from organizations that want to make the transition into our discussions. We are starting to support more and more small and medium size business entrepreneurs who join in our discussions alongside the trainers. It has been very useful to have their perspectives on what they are trying to do in their organizations and as individuals in our discussions.
And there are people in big organizations who are looking outside to see what is going on in organizational leadership and want new insights. At CERN in Geneva, a colleague of ours has started a very robust conversation about leadership changes. It’s an uphill fight there – it’s really tough. But she has gathered a number of supportive colleagues there, and she is very passionate.
In the Geneva group, we try to give her oxygen – we work to support her as best we can. We try to share our experiences in finding allies and building community. We also counsel her not to push too hard or try to move too fast. She does have a job, and she needs to concentrate on that as well.
In Switzerland we have a number of large, established companies that tend to buy their innovation from small start-ups that they swallow, because they don’t have the energy themselves – they’ve drained the innovative energy from their own employees over years of downsizing, increasing productivity, doing more with less. They can renew their innovative resources for a while by buying the creative capacity of small companies.
Now, of course, the new generation of employees are millennials who are pushing these companies to change the way they are organized. They want accelerated growth or responsibility. They want a sense of purpose and meaning in their work, and a better work-life balance than their predecessors had. If a person’s wife is having a baby, he’s gone for a few weeks – millennials don’t even want to have to negotiate about that.
In that respect, I’m a little bit frustrated with the trainer community, because we haven’t gotten our act together to support these aspirations. But I’m super-hopeful for the world, because of the ideals this next generation of workers are bringing to large organizations.
What has to happen now for the trainers to get their act together?
Well, it’s very positive that the trainers are joining together in organizations to develop a common approach to adoption of participatory leadership goals. What I preach is that we no longer do scattered interventions, which we know will have little or no effect. We need to be purpose-driven, just as we advise our clients to be. Our purpose is to have more humane organizations, with better relationships and happier balance among the employees.
In the 21st Century Leadership context, there are branded methodologies like Holacracy. Organizations have had mixed results with things like this, but there is an advantage in having a built-out, tangible character. Adopters have the sense that if they simply buy the branded methodology, and follow it to the letter, they have a good chance of getting it “right.”
Would it be an adoption advantage for Teal to have this kind of concrete, branded character to it? Would it make adoption easier?
I see Teal as the purpose – healthier, more self-organized, purposeful organizations. That is the bigger picture. Holacracy is one way of accomplishing this. It’s a multi-step program; if you just follow it, in theory, you’re there. I spoke to Brian Robertson [the originator of Holacracy] and asked why organizations should adopt it. And he suggested the whole operating system of the typical organization is corrupted, and to become a healthy organization, you have to install a new operating system that gets rid of all the obsolete hierarchical structures, and people can start to think freely again, and can start to think about what their purpose is. He was adamant about that as a starting point, and I loved it that he was so clear in his mind about it.
But it also got me thinking about whether that is really the only methodology available to achieve this aim. I personally think there are multiple ways of going about this, and wholeness practices are the common entry point. That brings us back to coaching. If people’s motivations come from fear and scarcity, and you can move them toward passion and purpose, as soon as that becomes their intention – individually or as a team – and when they have the proof that they can make quicker progress when they are motivated by passion rather than fear and scarcity, then any number of new structures can make sense – not only Holacracy.
It’s a good point – offering the managers who have to sponsor these initiatives a concrete methodology could make acceptance easier. It’s something to think about for Teal. But I have seen lots of new and beautiful structures develop – not adopted whole but invented by the adopters themselves – that have given the organizations a sense of passion and purpose.