Reinventing Patriarchal Organisations
When Frederick Laloux wrote Reinventing Organizations, he described the historical modus operandi of organisational structures well. The only thing missing was that he didn’t connect it with patriarchy.
In his brilliant and inspiring book, Laloux describes eloquently how our organisational structures are directly related to the development of the people that create them. Taking us on a colour coded journey of different organisational models, he describes the evolution of organisational structures from the beginning of human kind, until today. But I argue that what we also see on this tour is a history of patriarchal organisational ideology. As he identifies, ‘the types of organisation we have invented were tied to the prevailing worldview and consciousness’ (p.14), and of course, for a significant chunk of our organisational past, the prevailing worldview has been patriarchal.
Following his ‘reactive-infrared’ and ‘magic-magenta’ paradigms, (which I depict differently), he explains a series of organisational models from 10,000 years ago to the present day, which from ‘impulsive-red’, to ‘conformist-amber’, to ‘achievement-orange’ clearly outline the essential tenants of patriarchal organisations. He ends with ‘pluralistic-green’ and the rest of his work is concentrated on the achievement of ‘evolutionary-teal’, the most developed form of organisational consciousness to date.
Patriarchal organisations were born, with what Laloux describes as red, ‘wolf-pack’ like, organisational models. Glorifying an aggressive masculinity, their goal was a constant exercise of dominance by the chief to keep the rest in line. Fear, threat and violence was the glue in these organisations. They once dominated, but red organisations today are mainly confined to mafias or street gangs. They are highly reactive, chaotic, and macho environments (p. 18).
Then, with the dawn of agriculture, grew amber organisations, run to military efficiency. These organisations originate from the time of a more ‘civilised’ patriarchal formation.They have formal levels within a hierarchical pyramid. The central motivation for these organisations was control, order, stability and predictability, and they had clearly defined roles and identities for workers and for genders (p.20). Management within these organisations relies on command and control, with critical thinking and self-expression discouraged. LaLoux explains that this type of hierarchy is that which operates today in the Catholic Church, the military, most government agencies, and fee-paying schools (p.23).
One of the central pillars of patriarchy is the need to control. Whereas red organisations controlled through the threat or use of violence, amber organisations controlled through command and hierarchy. Then, as patriarchy evolved, so too did the organisations it created: the new form, orange, was about ‘predict and control’ (p.26). Explicit fear was gradually replaced with a more implicit fear to drive obedience, and an attempt to overcome any uncertainty, even of the future.
This achievement orientated orange, or ‘machine’, organisational model is the dominating worldview of most businesses today. Orange organisations value innovation, accountability and meritocracy. However, their overarching goal is to beat the competition, and achieve profit and growth. It is important to predict in order to stay ahead, and management is by objectives: ‘command and control on what, freedom on how,’ (p.36). Masculinity in this context is about winning as the goal, and the need to be the best at all costs, no matter what that represents. Whilst it allowed greater accountability and scepticism of authority, in these orange organisations control is still key, and the fear of the leaders to give up control trumps their ability to trust. Staff are replaceable resources like cogs in the machine (p.28).
As Laloux identifies, every paradigm has a leadership style that suits its worldview, and organisations ‘cannot evolve beyond its leadership’s stage of development’ (p.41). Impulsive red’s predatory leaders, conformist amber’s paternalistic authoritarians, and achievement orange’s engineers, all embody the idea that success is the man, and it is measured solely by having status and recognition in the world (p. 29). They rest on the preservation of a masculine ego.
This began to be challenged as minority rights and women’s liberation movements of the late 18th and 19th century influenced a new green organisational model. Seen in cooperatives, non-profits, and among social workers and community activists today, these organisations valued relationships over outcomes and place an important emphasis on familial culture. Green is more empathetic and seeks fairness, equality, harmony, and cooperation. It strives for bottom up processes and consensus, and servant leadership. Laloux writes that whilst green is powerful as a paradigm for breaking down old structures, it is often less effective at formulating practical alternatives, and can become stuck when others abuse its tolerance (p.31).
And so from green we evolve to teal, the organisational model that Laloux espouses, and that I define as feminist. Its philosophy is in antithesis to the shades of patriarchal organisation that have gone before it. As Laloux writes, teal is the organisational version of self-actualisation. It demands that we dis-identify from our ego, breaking down rigid structures, gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity. In so doing, we make room to listen to the wisdom of other deeper, and truer, parts of ourselves (p.44). The underlying assumption to feminist teal is that people are reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy, intelligent and creative adults, capable of making important decisions.
As LaLoux shows, from red controlling through the fear of violence, amber using rigid roles and judgement, and orange demanding a constant struggle to stay ahead of the game, we see the pain and fear of what it is to live in patriarchal organisations. Most of us no longer want organisational cultures of fear and control.
With evolutionary teal we counter this with cultures of trust. It is always harder to trust than to control. It is why feminist teal takes guts and strength to achieve. Yet those who embody it know that when trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return, and that emulation and a higher purpose regulates a system far better than patriarchy ever could.
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Marianne is an entrepreneur, business and leadership specialist. She is on a mission to de-legitimise the structures and values of traditional business, helping the world to see that a new way is possible. Marianne set up her first company Justice Studio in 2011.