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If you had entered the office of Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA)—a refugee rights NGO in Cairo, Egypt—at the organization’s peak, it probably wouldn’t have felt like anything special. Yes, it was a busy environment; it had committed staff and community facilitators, and a successful internship program, and it did quality work. But many social entrepreneurship organizations have these qualities.
Recently, however, after reading a fascinating book by Frederic Laloux called Reinventing Organizations, I found an explanation for what made AMERA different. The book tells the story of a unique form of organizational paradigm called teal. While terms like flat hierarchy and self-management describe parts of the teal model, based on human developmental theory, Laloux shows that teal is the latest and most advanced stage of organizational development.
Becoming teal does not come without challenges. Although self-management empowered and motivated AMERA’s staff, in some cases, higher-ranking staff had to develop a stronger sense of wholeness to overcome a feeling of being unprivileged. On the governance level, teal organizations require that boards take a more hands-on role—not by micro-managing but by becoming a neutral arbitrator. A number of times, team leaders needed to ask the board to intervene when there was deep disagreement over fundamental issues.
More importantly, we learned that organizations need to couple evolutionary purpose with delicate, realistic attention to the resources it needs to survive and continue to evolve.
Without documentation of successful and failed teal experiments, the nonprofit sector won’t be in a position to leverage the benefits of teal.