Creative Interchange: The Unconscious Ingredient in Successful Teal Organizations

In 1983, Jean-François Zobrist was appointed CEO of FAVI, a family owned brass foundry in the north of France. Within 3 years, he transformed FAVI into a highly successful, self-managing organization. In a market that has been steamrolled by Chinese competition, FAVI is the only European producer standing. It generates double digits margins and commands a 50% market share in automotive gearbox forks in Europe.

When FAVI switched to self-management, and in the years that followed, Zobrist and his colleagues defined three new assumptions[i] that over time have become mantras inside the factory:

  • People are systematically considered to be good.(Reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy, intelligent)
  • There is no performance without happiness. (To be happy, we need to be motivated. To be motivated, we need to be responsible. To be responsible we must understand why and for whom we work, and be free to decide how)
  • Value is created on the shop floor. (Shop floor operators craft the products; the CEO and staff at best serve to support them, at worst are costly distractions)

These three assumptions can and have in a number of instances revolutionized the way work and productivity can be achieved and organized. Frederic Laloux has researched both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that operate from similar assumptions and have achieved similar results[ii]. Since the late 1940’s such organizations have been envisioned and attempted – few have succeeded.

This column website proposes to engage its contributors with a process that was identified nearly a hundred years ago by Dr. Henry Nelson Wieman[iii]. Even then this process was an articulation of even much older wisdom and understanding. The great question arises as to why something now being practiced by only a few has been resisted for so long by so many. We want to identify and explore that process which was so successful for Zobrist and others, as well as, understand it with greater precision and understand why it has caused so many to shy away from it.

We invite you to join us on a quest to understand what brings out the best in humankind and ways of organizing and utilizing more of that vast reservoir of human potential for collaboration, creativity, innovation and productivity.


[ii] Laloux, Frederic Reinventing organizations. A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker, Brussels, 2014

[iii] Wieman, Henry Nelson described this process in many articles and books: e.g. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. Carbondale,IL.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958

18 thoughts on “Creative Interchange: The Unconscious Ingredient in Successful Teal Organizations

  1. For those who want to learn more about the FAVI story (sorry, it’s in French):
    The question, why such experiences remain so seldom, remains unanswered… The answer is for sure (unconsciously and among other) related to Anxiety and to Power.
    Many start-up companies run in a comparable way during their early stage: after all, new entrepreneurs have no power to lose yet, and dealing with anxiety is natural to them. This is only one side – that of the “boss”; on the other side – that of the other workers – there is also Passion and Trust.
    This is merely a very reflection and I am eager to read what other colleagues will bring here!

    • Bruno,
      To me ‘Fear and Power’ are linked to the Vicious Circle and ‘Passion and Trust’ are fruits of Creative Interchange. I doubt that Jean François ever heard of Creative Interchange and I’m pretty sure he lived it at FAVI. That’s the reason why the Vicious Circle ‘slowed down’ within FAV, this had as a result that most of his people reconnected with their Intrinsic Worth and started to live themselves Creative Interchange from the inside out.

      That’s my interpretation of the story of FAVI and I’m looking forward to other comments.

      • Probably Johan!

        In the documentary from 2008 which I referred to in my previous (preliminary – I swallowed that word) reflection, Jean-François retires from the company. The financial crisis of that time strikes and the orderbooks shrinks dangerously. We don’t know what happened subsequently.

        Interestingly, you can see on FAVI’s corporate website how the story goes on: the spirit has survived the departure of the boss.
        I recommend downloading their story book, which is full of nice stories!

        • Bruno, thank you very much!

          The reason I started my column with the story of Jean-François Zobrist is that it continued to be successful beyond the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and also after he retired. This winter I read Frederic Laloux book ‘Reinventing Organizations’ (2014), where – amongst others – the FAVI saga is told, saw and downloaded the film you’ve mentioned (2008), read the documents on FAVI’s website (2015) and saw numerous talks JF Zobrist has been performed after his retirement.

          All this is indeed worthwhile to study AND for me the proof that Creative Interchange IS the Unconscious Ingredient of the success story of FAVI, who is – according to Laloux – a Teal Organization.

          This being said, I return to the last paragraph of my column:
          “We invite you (all the readers of this column) to join us on a quest to understand what brings out the best in humankind and ways of organizing and utilizing more of that vast reservoir of human potential for collaboration, creativity, innovation and productivity.”

  2. Thanks Johan and Bruno for your conversation in response to the article about “Teal Organizations”. I hope that the next “lead article” to this conversation can be a bit deeper description of what Laloux meant by “Teal Organizations”. I assume that the culture of such organizations is marked by the three qualities mentioned in the initial article, but from whence comes the word “Teal”? (I have not read Laloux’s book as yet.) Are there other virtues and qualities and values that go with “Teal”? I would also hope that a near-term contribution to this conversation might be a brief “un-packing” of what is meant by “The Vicious Circle” and how it relates to “fear and power”. It appears to me that we have taken on an “Elephant” here and we will have to consume it one bite at a time. It will be a lengthy and beneficial meal, I trust! Again, thanks.

    • Thanks Mike!
      Indeed it is our plan the have a series of columns (articles) on this website who is dedicated to the living process which we call ‘Creative Interchange’. And I won’t be the only person who will write them. I hope that once a month a new column will be added.
      The focus of this website is more on Creative Interchange than on ‘Teal Organizations’, Those organizations and why they are called “Teal” is very well described in Frederic Laloux’s book “Reinventing Organizations”. This being said, I will briefly answer some of your questions in my reply to Mr. John Shrerer (see below).
      Your assumption that the culture of such organizations is marked by the three qualities mentioned in this column is right! There are a lot of items in the description of these qualities to sparkle numerous columns to come. I agree that one of those columns should address what is meant by “The Vicious Circle” and how it relates to “fear and power”. So stay tuned!
      Thank you for reminding me the quote I first heard from an American Production Manager of a Copper plant in Bulgaria who hired me to help management in the transformation of their Safety Culture. After having introduced my approach to solve their problem, Bill Enrico asked his boss, the Bulgarian-Canadian CEO: “Do you know Kirko Kirko how you eat an elephant?” “Tell me”, was Kirko’s answer. “Well… bite by bite” was Enrico’s reply.
      This metaphor is exactly what I’d in mind when I proposed the “think tank” around Charlie Palmgren, AKA “Charlie’s Eagles”, to start to fly this website.
      Thanks again!

  3. Is ‘Teal’ from Spiral Dynamics? In that model, a color LIKE Teal represents an ‘advanced’ view of the world that integrates polarities and sees the unity in how things really are.
    Thanks, Mike, for turning me onto this article–and onto this group!

    • Thanks John for joining the dialogue!

      The use of “Teal” in “Teal Organizations” is of Frederic Laloux. In his book “Reinventing Organizations’ the color Teal represents the emerging organizational model. Indeed Laloux uses colors to ‘label’ the different stages in the evolution of the organizational models. In the choice of this labels he is influenced by Ken Wilber and Jenny Wade.
      He writes: “It turn out that throughout history, the types of organizations we have invented were tied to the prevailing worldview and consciousness.”
      Frederic Laloux has found evidence that with a new worldview and consciousness, a new organizational model is emerging: the Teal Organization. He underlines too that a lot of models are still alive in our world, depending the ‘worldview’ of those organizations. So, each model has a color and from ‘past’ to ‘near future’: Red Organizations (e.g. Mafia), Amber Organizations (e.g. Catholic Church, although Pope Francis is actually changing his organizational model), Orange Organizations (Multinational companies), Green organizations (Culture driven organizations: e.g. Southwest Airlines) and now Teal Organizations (e.g. FAVI, Buurtzorg, …)

  4. I’m new in this Group, but not new to Johan. He inspired me to have a look at the Zobrist-story and it is extremely interesting and encouraging the way I think companies must transform in order to remain succesful and competitive. It is even more remarkable to know that Zobrist installed this new culture in a French company, where hierarchy is well installed, where barriers between workers, employees and management are in place for years. I’m managing a small groupe of 90 people on a production site, in France, a few miles across the Belgian border. And already the difference is huge, without pretending that management styles in Belgium (read : Flanders) are optimized. But at least culture is more open, bosses are more accessible, staff on the floor is heard, participates, seems to be more happy, resulting in a first visible fact : less absenteism. I’m taking time to read the FAVI-story and will for sure be a big supporter of the Zobrist-management principles. Food for a few more meetings in the Creative Interchange Circle of Johan and looking forward to the next meetings and discussions.

    • Thank you Geert!
      I’m happy that you’ve asked me to join you in your quest.
      As Marcel Proust once rightly said: “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” That means that we first have to alter the mindset before we can transform the organization. That’s our task of the coming months, starting with the transformation of the mindset of those at the top (including us).
      The question Henry Nelson Wieman inquired into: “What changes the mind, since the mind cannot change itself?” found its answer … Creative Interchange!
      That’s why Creative Interchange is at the heart of everything I do (the WHAT), as the ‘mission’ statement of my one-man band says [the first two lines picture the WHY (cf. Simon Sinek), the last line the HOW]:
      “Helping People Create Organizations where they Love to Work; Creating their Lives while Making the Living
      Through Consistent Use of Creative Interchange”
      In my opinion Jean-François Zobrist had a similar WHY and used Creative Interchange consistently!
      So, Geert, thanks and let’s enjoy our voyage!

      • The Spiral Dynamics model mentioned above is rooted in the notion of developmental consciousness. Whether one is talking about a Red, Orange, Green or Teal organization, it assumes the participants and players have a certain level of consciousness development.

        They are able to share power, be authentic and appreciative of the thinking, ideas and behavior of others. They can be in touch with their creativity and work collaboratively. Teal and higher functioning organizations require more than conventional mindsets. The are optimized when participants have a mindset for continual transformation and development.

        Assuming form and function are inseparable it follows that form must be flexible, flulid and agile, while function must be both stable and transformational in order to sustain indefinite development and change. I believe creative interchange is the DNA of human consciousness development and transformation.
        Thanks to all of you for your insightful contributions. I hope this will continue to attract others and go ever deeper into the human mystery of consciousness and awareness.

        • Thank you Sir!

          Indeed members of Teal organizations have a mindset for continual transformation and development. BTW, as you know, one of my mantra’s is: (CI)² = Continuous Improvement through Creative Interchange.

          This leads me to the following deduction: “In order to transform an organization into a Teal organization, the mindset of all its members has to be transformed into a ‘Creative Interchange’ mindset.” Charlie, is this statement correct seen from your POV?


          • Johan, you asked if a Teal organization needs “all of its members” to have a creative interchange (CI) mindset. While that is ideal it is not highly probable. However, it needs the vast majority to have a CI mindset. The more the better.

            That means most of the members/ participants must engage in;
            Authentic interacting
            Appreciative understanding
            Creative integrating, and
            Transformative commitment.
            Then the various organizational structures and processes associated with Teal organizations can be efficiently, effectively and creatively executed.

  5. Thank you Charlie for your answer and indeed, we do not live in an ideal world.

    Living the four characteristics of Creative Interchange from the inside out is our challenge. The plan is to cover, in columns to come, not only each of those characteristics; the crucial question; “Why do we not always, or should I write seldom, live CI from the inside out?” will be answered too.

  6. In order to have a better understanding of the creative interchange (CI) process, I want to start with one of the assumptions used at FAVI, namely, “People are systematically considered to be good,” means they are “reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy and intelligent.” This is a powerful and important assumption. It is one many of us have difficulty living up to on a consistent basis.

    Reliable, along with trustworthy, are inseparble from authenticity and integrity. One of the four characteristics of CI is authentic interacting. Authentic interacting requires integrity, humility, faith, trustworthiness and courage. It is our capacity, as the old adege goes to “walk our talk” and talk our walk” and “say what we mean” and “mean what we say.”

    Integrity should not be understood as only honesty or socially and/or politically correct. Many of us are unaware of our “true” feelings and assumptions much of the time. One of the “deep” assumptions of CI is that we can be self-conscious without being very self-aware. We can be honest and self-conscious and not be authentic and self-aware. This distinction has many implications. And, self-awarness is critical for being authentic and trustworthy which are prerequisites for open, efficient and effective communication.

    We are all more self-motivated in an open, trusting and authentic work environment. Most of us are more productive, innovative and motivated in our work when we know what is expected, get accurate feedback when it is inspected and above all when we and our work are respected.

    One of the most critical aspects of CI is understanding what FAVI’s assumption means when it uses the word “good.” We’ll look at this in the next entry in this column.

    • Hi Charlie,

      I’m looking forward to your column on this column website. BTW great idea to start with one of the FAVI assumptions and to describe it in depth from a Creative Interchange mindset!

      • Zobrist moves to the heart of having better organizations with the assumption, “People are systematically considered to be good.(Reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy, intelligent). The critical operative word is “good.” Many people are suspicious of such a word. I would use the word to mean of having worth or value.

        Many corporations have written value statements. More often than not such statements become wall hangings and have little to do with how things are acutally done on a day to day basis. I believe, with Zobrist, that people are good, but I also believe there are two operative meanings for the word. I believe people are always “intrinsically” and often can be “extrinicallly” good. Unfortunately, most often extrinsic good or value is the only one that gets attention.

        Extrinsic value is an instrumental value. One is good if one is doing what others like, what is acceptable in the eyes of others, what is expected of one by others. In other words, extrinsic worth or value is bestowed by others or a corporation. It comes from the outside. Most people assume they are worthy or good when they are pleasing others and that such value has to be earned through performance and success. And, worst of all that that is the only source of their worth as a person.

        The primary threat or enemy of such value is failure and rejection. The fear of rejection and failure fills many a workplace. It is the major generator of fear, anger, guilt, shame, blame and stress in most organizations. It undermines productivity, confuses communication, obstructs creativity and innovation, wastes time and money. In short extrinsic value carries the seeds of much that is wrong with organizations and their leadership and managment.

        If what Zobrist means by good is intrinsic worth and value then a different outcome can be expected. Intrinic good, worth, respect or value is the basis for mental, emotional and behavioral health and wellness. It is the basis for healthy individuals, teams, marriages and organizations, Few leaders and managers even realize there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinic worth or good. Most organizations build their compensation, reward and promotion systems entirely on extrinsic good. No wonder so many employees in so many corporations are unhappy with their jobs.

        Unhappy employees reduces loyalty and contributes to absenteeiism and turnover. Effective leaders and managers must first accept and experience their own intrinsic worth before that will be able to express and enable such worth toward others. Talking about respect for others is one thing, actually living it with them is quite another.

  7. Gentlemen – thank you for this fascinating read. While I no longer find myself employed or engaged (by choice) within an organization or company, I am curious as to the ways in which one can both practice and seed the Creative Interchange concepts/process/essence/… within one’s own life and circle of influence. Organizations are composed of individuals – each individual has his/her own circle of influence – hence there exists a possibility for many gentle ripples of Creative Interchange on this pond we call life.

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