adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We have lived in Berlin since 2009, have two kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.

Micro book review: Reinventing Organizations

Posted by Oliver on the 2nd of April, 2020 in category Thoughts
Tagged with: Books

reinventing organizations Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. Wow, what a book. I've had this sitting on the bookshelf for a couple of years and finally got around to reading it in the last couple of months. When it comes to books around the theme of management, the most interesting books are the ones that completely challenge and change my existing ways of thinking, or the ones that fully resonate and amplify my existing thinking. This one seems to fall into the latter category.

Several years ago I went to an engineering leadership meetup in Berlin and someone presented the theory around Teal Organizations and self-managing companies. Around the same time there was a bit of talk about Holacracy and the Zappos story - which I remember thinking slightly disdainful thoughts about. Who could question the existing hierarchical model, and how could some random guy from a tech background come up with a new model and expect it to work, with its bizarre "circle" model and other weird new concepts. Who do these people think they are?

Maybe it's because, in the last few years, I've seen a lot of examples of very top-down decision making that really doesn't gel with my way of operation. I find it even more ironic when you see copies of Turn The Ship Around or Drive lying on desks around the office and yet there isn't much of a culture of delegation or giving teams autonomy. Reading Reinventing Organizations starts out with a fairly dense description of organizational evolution and theory, and how we got to the "Teal Evolutionary" level, and what characterises it.

The second main section of the book is a walk through many companies - yes, including Zappos and the Holacratic model - and how exactly they started, how they operate, and how they deal with many of the typical problems that challenge any business around the world. The companies in question represent a number of industries and vary in size from several hundred to over 10,000 employees. Several are multi-national companies. The final section of the book is a howto guide, for those interested in changing their company to operate from a Teal perspective. It includes the necessary preconditions for success (must have a Teal-minded executive group and board) and it examines many of the cultural, process and mission changes that will need to take place.

During the course of reading the book I identified many aspects which appealed to me about this organizational model, and indeed I think that if I had the complete freedom to choose where I work right now, I would opt for a Teal-based company. Sadly there aren't too many around the world at the moment, and many Google searches will just give you websites of consultancies that provide services for making a Teal "transformation" in your company - I give these a fairly high amount of skepticism. However, in thinking over the longer term goals of my career I think I can confidently say that ultimately this organizational model needs to feature somewhere in the long-term plan. The fundamental basis upon which the model rests, the culture that must arise in such companies and the freedom (but also responsibilities) of the individuals operating within it are hard to not obsess over.

It's probably not a book I'd recommend to a starting out manager - in many ways it's very orthogonal to the typical management and leadership duties in most companies that you want to learn about. That being said, I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to broaden their horizons on what can be possible in the companies we operate inside of every day. Seven out of five stars.

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