• Mel Butcher

Book Club Guide: Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux

Photograph with foreground showing a hand holding the book titled Reinventing Organizations; the background shows a turquoise wall with several book shelves full of books, which are slightly out of focus.
Reinventing Organizations by Frderic Laloux

Every time I host a book discussion, I'm committed to sharing the facilitation questions I develop. I hope you'll use these to journal learnings for yourself or to host your own book group.

All quotes below are from Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.


  • Part 1 of the book clarifies the context for how human organizations have formed and evolved over time. What stood out to you regarding the distinctions of Red, Amber, Orange, and Green organizations? Which of these could you clearly see in your current or a past organization you worked for?

  • How would you describe the paradigm of the culture you work in today?

  • Is this current way of operating sustainable? If not, what do you see that could change for the better?

  • "An organization cannot evolve beyond its leadership's stage of development." (p41 paperback edition)

  • What does this imply for how we might need to lead leaders by example? What could this mean for our own development and evolution as a leader?

  • "What replaces fear? A capacity to trust the abundance of life. All wisdom traditions posit the profound truth that there are two fundamental ways to live life: from fear and from scarcity or from trust and abundance. In Evolutionary-Teal, we cross the chasm and learn to decrease our need to control people and events. We come to believe that even if something unexpected happens or if we make mistakes, things will turn out all right, and when they don't, life will have given us an opportunity to learn and grow." (p44 paperback edition)

  • How do you see leaders operating in your organization from fear? from abundance? What influences their behavior?

  • How do you see yourself operating in your organization from fear? from abundance? What influences your behavior?

  • "In Evolutionary-Teal, we can transcend the opposites of judgement and tolerance. In earlier stages, when we disagree with other people, we often meet them in judgement, believing that we must be right and they must be wrong. Our task then is to convince, teach, fix, or dismiss them. Or we can, in the name of tolerance, the Green ideal, gloss over our differences and affirm that all truths are equally valid. In Teal, we can transcend this polarity and integrate with the higher truth of non-judgement--we can examine our belief and find it to be superior in truth and yet embrace the other as a human being of fundamentally equal value." (p49 paperback edition)

  • Where does judgement bubble up in the workplace?

  • How does your background influence your own style of judgement or tolerance? Do you see any aspect of this in yourself that you believe no longer serves you?

  • On p80 (paperback edition), the author described a change that the organization FAVI introduced--getting rid of clocks, eliminating clock-in/clock-out, and the production norm in a manufacturing setting. "When Zobrist [the CEO] saw the numbers, he inquired with the operators to understand what happened. When you operate a machine, they told him, there is an optimal physiological rhythm that is the least tiring for the body. In the old system, with the hourly targets, they had always intentionally slowed down. They gave themselves some slack in case management increased targets. For years operators had effectively worked below their natural productivity at a rhythm that was more tiring and less comfortable for them--and less profitable for the company. Now they simply worked at their natural rhythm."

  • Why might an employee in your industry deliberately slow down "production"?

  • Where might a lack of trust of team members be impacting how they show up for work?

  • "When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return." (p81 paperback edition)

  • How would you like to see trust extended in your organization?

  • How might you extend more trust in your organization?

  • On p82, the author describes an incident at FAVI of the operators self organizing to fulfill an additional (and challenging) order over a weekend. He correctly points out that had this order gone through a traditional order and planning department, it would not have been completed as quickly or with the same engagement. What was your takeaway from this story?

  • "If the notion of trusting the collective intelligence of a system seems risky or outright foolish, think about this: the idea that a country's economy would best be run by the heavy hand of central planning committees in Soviet style has been totally discredited. We all know that a free-market system where a myriad of players pick up on signals, make decisions, and coordinate among themselves works much better. Yet for some strange reason, inside organizations, we still trust the equivalent of central planning committees. Self-management brings the principles that account for successful free-market economies inside organizations." (p85 paperback edition)

  • Is the market economy an appropriate comparison for Teal self-management? If not, what might be?

  • The free market has also contributed to substantial mismanagement of environmental resources, wealth inequality, and environmental injustice. How might we reconcile this with the "good" aspects of self-management?

  • "From the Evolutionary-Teal perspective, job titles are like honeypots to the ego: alluring and addictive, but ultimately unhealthy. We can quickly get attached to our job title if it carries social prestige, and we can easily fall into the trap of believing we 'are' our job identity. And in a hierarchical system, it's all too natural to start considering that we are somehow above certain people and below others. Unsurprisingly, Teal Organizations mostly do without job titles." (p91 paperback edition)

  • How does this land for you? Describe what resistance comes up, if any?

  • What is one step your organization or industry could take to move to this paradigm?

  • "We often think that decisions can be made in only two general ways: either through hierarchical authority (someone calls the shots; many people might be frustrated, but at least things get done) or through consensus (everyone gets a say, but it's often frustratingly slow and sometimes things get bogged down because no consensus can be reached). The advice process transcends this opposition beautifully: the agony of putting all decisions to consensus is avoided, and yet everybody with a stake has been given a voice; people have the freedom to seize opportunities and make decisions and yet must take into account other people's voices. The process is key to making self-management work on a large scale." (p100-101)

  • How would you describe the advice process (Chapter 2.3) to someone who hasn't read the book?

  • What advantages do you see to this aspect of self-management? How might it change how employees felt working for the organization?

  • What is one step your organization or industry could take to move to this paradigm?

  • What conflict resolution processes have you seen work well in the past? How does it compare to what the author describes?

  • For many of us, especially engineers, our tendency is to want to "fix" things for people. How can this backfire in conflict resolution situations? What did you learn from this section that you will take for future use?

  • Chapter 2.3 also addresses internal communication. "Why go to this extraordinary length and share all information? Three reasons make this practice compelling for self-managing organizations: (1) In the absence of hierarchy, self-managing teams need to have all available information to make the best decisions. (2) Any information that isn't public will cause suspicion (why else would someone fo through the trouble to keep it a secret?), and (3) Informal hierarchies reemerge when some people are in the know while others are not."

  • What concerns would you have about opening up communication in your industry? What concerns might your superiors have?

  • With information flowing and teams responsible for making their own decisions, what could this mean for team members' understanding of business, strategic, and financial acumen?

  • Research has demonstrated multiple times that traditional business methods of pressuring people does not leave to better performance. "When people pursue a meaningful purpose, and when they have the decision-making power and resources to work toward that purpose, they don't need pep talks or stretch targets."

  • What might it look like for your team (including yourself) to be tapped into motivation?

  • What piece of trust might be missing in your organization or team to tap into individuals' best version of themselves?

  • Without the levers or authority, intimidation, or ambitious target setting to pull, how might leaders get the best out of their teams?

  • "People who are new to the idea of self-management sometimes mistakenly assume that it simply means taking the hierarchy out of an organization and running everything democratically based on consensus...Self-management, just like the traditional pyramidal model it replaces, works with an interlocking set of structures, processes, and practices; these inform how teams are set up, how decisions get made, how roles are defined and distributed, how salaries are set, how people are recruited or dismissed, and so on."

  • This has nuance. How might someone who has operated for years in an earlier color paradigm feel resistance towards such a new way of doing things?

  • What might help someone feeling resistance get on board with a new way of management?

  • Status and Affiliation are two primary human drivers that Seth Godin talks about when it comes to our individual decision-making. Given the Teal lack of hierarchy, how might someone from a previous color resist losing their perceived status or rank in the hierarchy?

  • Consider this from the Misperception # 3 section--It's about empowerment: "If employees need to be empowered, it is because the system's very design concentrates power at the top and makes people at the lower rungs essentially powerless, unless leaders are generous enough to share some of their power. In Teal organizations, people are not empowered by the good graces of other people. Empowerment is backed into the very fabric of the organization, into its structure, processes, and practices. Individuals need not fight for power. They simply have it." (p137 paperback edition)

  • How did this section land for you?

  • "We have this idea about business--everything we do has to help us make more money, be more productive or whatever. But that's not my view of business. My view of business is that we are coming together as a community to fill a human need and actualize our lives." --Tami Simon, CEO of Sounds True

  • It is possible to have a successful business that doesn't grow. This allows the business to focus on a set of engaged clients, perhaps the clients that are best for the people managing the business. How does this shift in thinking land for you?

  • Did the descriptions of a Teal Organization align with the type of organization you would like to work for (or build)? Why or why not?

  • What will you do with what you learned in this book?

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