The Colour of Business

By Martin Tothill

Martin lives to help and grow others to be the best leaders they can and in turn inspire a future generation of followers to do the very same.

What’s the colour of your business?

That’s to say, what’s your work like? Ever wished it could be different – perhaps tick just a few more boxes? I think we all have.

But change the place you work?

I recently read Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux and took a deep dive into some fascinating thoughts about the historical development of organisations, particularly how they’ve evolved and adapted over time.

Laloux identifies five key developments and assigned each a colour – red, amber, orange, green and teal – to denote a style of organisation based on power, leadership and modes of production. He goes on to offer a guiding metaphor for each of the different organisations.

  • Red = Wolf Pack
  • Amber = Army
  • Orange = Machine
  • Green = Family
  • Teal = Community

In differentiating the types of organisations, Laloux highlights how key breakthroughs have been made and subsequently replaced – from their early development, surviving chaotic environments, to hierarchical pyramids of organisation, and the division of labour through to working cultures driven by values.  

Each development is described in ways that clearly demark one from the next. The transition from red to green indicates not only a shift in power but also a reminder that organisations continue to evolve.

So what’s the colour of your business?  

The chances are you have strong feelings about what your business is like. Run like an army? Feels a bit like a school? Or more like a community centre?

When individuals think about their place of work, perceptions are formed based on lived experiences that can resonate across an entire organisation. It’s a kind of business DNA, even a magnetic field around the company, attracting and repelling people.

Whether it’s the perceptions of employees or customers – their sense of what that business stands for is largely determined by its leadership.

Jim Colllins talks about this in his book Good to Great and demonstrates, of all the businesses he researched, those run by leaders with personal humility and professional will display outstanding results. We must include leaders in this debate and help them contribute positively to an organisation’s identity.

Laloux finally proposes a new colour of business – teal.

His research points to a number of pioneering organisations (such as Southwest Airlines and Ben & Jerry’s) who are creating a new species of organisation, one that re-thinks how businesses are. Integrity, identity, values, warmth, development and community are just a few terms he uses to describe them, as they actively eschew old working practices in favour of better ones. They point to a future where organisations can be measured by their wholeness and purpose.

We need visionary leaders to continue this work, to step up and make a difference.

We need a new colour of organisation that inspires people by achieving greater things and continues to embrace the future.


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