New ways of organizing work are emerging, as Frederic Laloux explains in Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness.

A look at the course of history shows that humankind has repeatedly reinvented how people come together to get work done, each time creating a new, vastly superior organizational model.

The traditional organization forms a strict hierarchy of power with rules and roles clearly defined, as in Conformist-Amber Organizations. This way of organizing work exists in government agencies, public schools, religious institutions and the military.

However, the traditional Amber Paradigm doesn’t work well for interdependent teams, knowledge workers who need to make their own decisions, and the demands for innovation and efficiency of the 21st century.

  1. Achievement-Orange Paradigm: As consciousness evolves, people can handle greater complexity. They move beyond absolute right-or-wrong reasoning, weighing relevant variables. Effectiveness replaces morals as the decision-making yardstick.

Orange thinking emerged with the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It was adopted by most Western societies after the Second World War. Orange is the dominating worldview of most modern businesses and political leaders.

Orange thinking has spurred scientific investigation, innovation and entrepreneurship, bringing unprecedented prosperity in just two centuries. Yet, every paradigm has its dark side.

Driven by materialism and individual egos, the Achievement-Orange Paradigm has also yielded corporate greed, short-term thinking, over-consumption, and reckless exploitation of resources and ecosystems.

Orange-and-Green

Orange Organizations: The global corporation is the embodiment of this paradigm. Orange organizations have achieved more than any of their brethren, primarily through three breakthroughs:

  1. Innovation
  2. Accountability
  3. Meritocracy

Orange organizations are process- and project-driven, retaining the pyramid as their basic structure, but with project groups, teams and cross-functional initiatives that enable faster innovation.

They aim to predict and control, inventing tactics like management by objectives, key performance indicators, strategic planning, budget cycles and scoreboards to track progress. The reigning metaphor is the machine; people are resources managed with incentives.

With meritocracy, in principle, anyone can move up the ladder. Individual success is highly valued. Leadership is goal-oriented, focused on solving tangible problems, putting tasks over relationships. Dispassionate rationality is favored over emotions.

A downside of the Orange paradigm is “innovation gone mad,” or growth pursued for growth’s sake. When the bottom line is all that counts, collective greed may triumph.

When there’s a lack of shared values and purpose—when success is driven year after year by numbers and targets, milestones and deadlines—people may end up bereft of meaning and fulfillment.

Achievement-Orange is clearly the dominant paradigm of today’s corporations, but not all organizations are satisfied with the bottom line as their sole focus.

2. Pluralistic-Green Paradigm: The Pluralistic-Green worldview attempts to fill the void of individual success by being sensitive to everyone’s feelings. In the Green stage, the emphasis is on social equality and community. All people deserve respect, fairness and harmony through cooperation and consensus.

The Green Paradigm brought about the abolition of slavery and equality for women and minorities in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and it continues to make inroads today. While Orange is predominant in business and politics, Green largely prevails in postmodern academic thinking, nonprofits and community activism.

Green Organizations: Green strives for bottom-up processes, gathering input from all levels to achieve consensus. The Green perspective is uneasy with power and hierarchy. But consensus among large groups of people is inherently difficult.

Green Organizations have contributed three breakthroughs:

  1. Empowerment: Although they retain the pyramidal hierarchical structure, Green leaders push a majority of decisions down to frontline workers. Top and middle managers share power.
  2. Shared Values and Purpose: Research shows that values-driven organizations can outperform others by wide margins.
  3. Multiple-Stakeholder Perspective: While Orange companies strive to increase shareholder value, Green looks to benefit all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.

If Orange businesses use a machine metaphor, the metaphor for Green is the family. Examples of Green organizations include Southwest Airlines, Zappos and Ben & Jerry’s.

What’s been your experience working in businesses that were organized according to Achievement-Orange principles? Have you encountered Pluralistic-Green Organizations? I’d love to hear what you think. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.