From DEI to Teal

I recently participated in a lively discussion about the teal movement in North America sponsored by Semco Style, one of the organizations advocating for teal ways of operating globally.

Among the issues we discussed was how the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) discussion so common in business today intersects with teal. I see that intersection as quite fertile. And I’m hopeful that the DEI movement will deepen and eventually help us mature toward more soulful organizations characterized by self-management, holism and evolving purpose. 

How do the teal-DEI dots connect? For one thing, teal as a mindset and organizational philosophy tends toward inclusion. Self-management and holism are inherently about equity and honoring people’s full identities. 

I also think the teal movement can advance DEI by speaking about how to share power in more deeply inclusive, sustainable ways. 

DEI has largely been about squeezing more and more underrepresented folks into the same few spots at the top. Working within the traditional pyramid organizational structure becomes something of a zero-sum game. People remain pitted against each other.  One person’s gain becomes another’s loss. No wonder many white men resist DEI efforts. As unfair as their advantages may be, they perceive DEI as a threat to what power they have.

Another aspect of DEI today is the creation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These are designed to be havens for employees with different identities and affinities to support each other and surface concerns. ERGs are often very important for employees to feel a greater sense of belonging within an organization. But they have a shadow side. Leaders of ERGs can feel unsupported by the organization overall. And critical discussions within these groups can remain marginal–not elevated to the true centers of power at the top of the company hierarchy. 

Teal invites us to move from pyramids to pancakes–where everyone enjoys the sweet taste of power. Teal organizations enable all people to have some decision-making authority. Through the advice process and other systems of distributed power, teal works against the concentration of leadership in the hands of a few. No matter their race, gender or other forms of identity. 

We’re basically talking about the evolution from Green to Teal. About moving from inviting the input of different stakeholders and “empowerment” that is often lip service to actually enabling individuals and teams to manage themselves. About flattening organizations and decentralizing real power.

We in the teal community ought to champion DEI. And we ought to help it evolve towards teal.

2 thoughts on “From DEI to Teal”

  1. This is fascinating. As a CIS white male and CEO of a teal organisation, I have often wondered how teal would impact DEI. For a season, I suspected that it would simply transcend the dialogue to one where we have removed the instruments of extrinsic power and thus negated the need. But I understood that the underpinnings of the hierarchies, or the patriarchy itself of which they reflect, will not go away simply with new organisational structures or even with improved inclusion. It is not enough to promote people, you must love them at their most authentic expression. Paternalism and inequity have a multi-faceted legacy that will take generations to dismantle. The more subtle underpinnings of teal (humanism, nonviolent communication, trust, equality and egalitarianism) are much better suited to do the work of DEI. DEI is not replaced by teal but the infrastructure of teal will better suit the mission.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Robert. I appreciate you weaving in the importance of love and the deep underpinnings of paternalism/patriarchy and inequity. Well-put that the “infrastructure of teal will better suit the mission” of DEI.

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