Positive Transformation (5) - What is Positive Transformation?

The Science of Happiness will have a huge impact on business

Positive Psychology and Self-Organization go Hand-in-Hand

Every time that a new idea becomes popular, some people emerge as “evangelists” or “gurus” and preach the word. At the moment, the prevailing evangelists’ opinion is that only startups are able to adopt “teal”, as such organizations are agile per se. Moreover, they suggest that large organizations would be too rigid and thus would soon completely vanish. Is this just another dogma or is it wishful thinking?

I have seen rigidly static, unorganized “flat hierarchy” startups and I have also worked with managers of management hierarchies willing to ring in a new era.


The success of a transformation depends much more on mindsets rather than the company’s age or existing organizational structure.


Who says that traditional organizations would not be able to start to iterate, play, learn and make mistakes? Perhaps a look at the evolution of organizational models can help: an “orange” organization on its way to “green” may be more willingly agile than a startup ruled by a high-handed autocrat. The journey to “teal” may be easily taken by green organizations, namely those that show all the signs of letting traditional hierarchies go but still have difficulties in embracing the full range of “teal”.

The way for organizations to become fully “teal” - with all of its positive and negative implications for managers and co-workers - is best described in “Reinventing Organizations” (Laloux, 2014)

Nonetheless, how can companies that need to master the current innovator’s dilemma – aligning innovation and well-being – but cannot immediately become entirely “teal” due to many reasons - e.g. stakeholders or time restrictions - proceed?

This chapter refers to the adoption of some core “teal” habits by parts of an organization, a single department or so-called lighthouses - e.g. innovation labs or hubs – whereby the difficult role of (middle) managers during the transition can be neglected. Remember the three core “teal” characteristics, self-organization, purpose and wholeness.

If a team wants to become more flexible to create innovative ideas for a long-term project, it is often sufficient to adopt a few principles of self-organization, e.g. adopting roles with clear responsibilities and creating a more disciplined meeting culture. Furthermore, during the transformation process, the external facilitators can observe how purpose and wholeness are growing within the team, offering respective support, e.g. through purpose assessments, etc.

Start with the Habits

Changing the organizational design or even only parts of it requires a shift in mindsets. Even becoming only partially “teal” means unlearning strategies and behaviors that were useful in management hierarchies in a first step, including:

  • Having power over people. Instead: Letting go of power.
  • Searching for consensus, seeing that anyone is buying in to one’s ideas. Instead: Accepting consent.
  • Telling other people what to do. Instead: Subordinating to a clear decision-making process.
  • Being a hero by solving other people’s problems. Instead: Subordinating to the boundaries and rules.

It is like exercising: the simple repetition of new habits within new processes will help to change learned strategies and behaviors.


In their daily routines, teal organizations not only fuel creativity but also instinctively follow the basics of modern Positive Psychology by enabling people’s ability to flourish, namely

Virtue, Meaning, Resilience and Well-Being (Wong, 2011)

Nonetheless, only a few pioneers have abandoned management hierarchies. It is harmful to the economy how the fear of change among corporate leaders does not yet reflect the necessity of change. Change is difficult, of course, and we all know that traditional re-organization projects are time-, resource- and energy-consuming. Achieving a high innovation level and a high level of well-being is difficult with management hierarchies. The traditional change management can thus only heal the symptoms of organizational malaises.

As teal organizations embrace virtue, meaning, resilience and well-being – all indicators of happiness – there is reason to believe that positive psychology and “teal” go hand-in-hand very well in terms of transforming existing organizations into soulful and evolutionary ones.

Positive Psychology helps people to develop virtue, meaning, resilience, and well-being

I wonder whether the combination of interventions of positive psychology and teal components - applied from the very beginning of a transformation process - even multiply the positive effects of both.

For example, if a company wants to become self-organized, a possible way to introduce self-organization in a first step is to implement dynamic roles for the work to be done. Each team member holds different roles with clear authorities. Positive Psychology comes in the game during the role definition and role-people matching process: focusing on each colleague’s strengths by applying strength-boosting interventions not only helps to match the right talent to each role, but also to build up positive emotions and optimism.

Moreover, the example of holacracy points to the idea that the transition from management hierarchy towards “teal” can bear positive effects already at a very early stage: the move to holacracy usually happens in iterative steps, team by team, without holding back the rest of the organization from their work routines.

Accordingly, why not apply trademark parts of “teal” to traditional management hierarchies and fuel them into the organization by making use of interventions of positive psychology to foster positive emotions already in the transition process?


“Positive Transformation”

is a combination of self-organization principles underpinned by interventions of Positive Psychology that can be applied by facilitators and coaches to support organizations in becoming healthy and soulful workplaces in an energy-saving and optimistic way.


Positive transformation can be applied to introduce innovation processes to teams or departments, as well as introducing the “full teal” to entire organizations. The case study at the end of the article describes the introduction of some teal trademarks to a department.

How can positive psychology specifically support transformation processes? Remember, a change of mindsets starts with a change of habits. The mind can be trained in self-organization, purpose-orientation and trust, as well as happiness. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • The self-determination theory (Deci, E., Ryan, R., 2002), which enables employees to find a balance between the three basic motivations of “competence” (the need to be effective in dealing with the environment), “relatedness” (the need to have a close, affectionate relationship with others) and “autonomy” (the need to control the course of one’s life). Interventions can also reduce learned helplessness.

Strengths-based interventions:


“People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job. Teams that focus on their strengths are 12.5% more productive.” (www.gallupstrengthscenter.com">http://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com" id="Gallup strenghts assessment" style="color:#5f5f5f; text-decoration:underline" target="_blank" title="strengths test Gallup" type="stengths boost productivity">www.gallupstrengthscenter.com)


Using strengths at work can boost productivity

Strengths can be assessed through online assessments of Gallup, VIA or R2 profiler, (www.viacharacter.org">http://www.viacharacter.org" id="VIA character strengths assessment" style="color:#5f5f5f; text-decoration:underline" target="_blank" title="VIA strengths test" type="VIA">www.viacharacter.org, https://assessment.r2profiler.com" id="R2 strengths assessment" style="color:#5f5f5f; text-decoration:underline" target="_blank" title="R2 strengths test" type="Positive Transformation">https://assessment.r2profiler.com)


  • as well as by using a simple questionnaire. Strengths of individuals and even teams can be further developed with coaching.
  • Interventions to build up resilience and develop strategies for coping.
  • Interventions to build up and cultivate optimism.
  • Interventions to create a positive communication culture.
  • Interventions to nurture social relationships.
  • Interventions to increase flow experiences.

The advantages of the positive transformation framework in comparison to the usual re-organization procedures lie in its:

  • adaptability towards the needs of each single organization (“only parts of teal” versus “whole teal” covered);
  • easy alignment with any self-organizing framework or concept, e.g. “agile” or holacracy;
  • iterative implementation mode, while the rest of the organization can do business as usual; and
  • potential to multiply happiness.


A few preparatory steps have to be undertaken if a transformation to “teal” is to become successful.

  • Start with a Transformation Assessment

Every transformation to “teal” starts with a leader declaring the organizational model to be changed. Before taking the first step into “teal” with any other part of the organization, there are a few things to examine:

  • top-level involvement, reflecting the leader’s willingness to change;
  • leaders’ willingness to step back and give away authority;
  • the organization’s maturity level regarding self-organization; and
  • the organization’s stage of consciousness (orange, green, etc.).

Most of the items can be assessed in a face-to-face encounter with representatives of the organization and of course its leader, to assess the maturity level, HolacracyOne’ s organization maturity map may be helpful.

  • Define Pain Points and Priorities

Does the organization desire a more flexible and dynamic structure for a team, or does it want rules leading to a more effective meeting culture or experiencing their purpose? Alternatively, does it want to transform into the “full teal”?

  • Define and Visualize “Goals”

What is a good outcome of a transition and how can we see when we are done? These questions should be discussed with the leader and captured on a whiteboard. Ensure that the leader understands the importance of “learning to learn”: the outcome may possibly vary during the transition, which is why the persons involved need to understand that learning quickly and adapting to a new situation is preferred to perfection.

  • Set Metrics

Define a rough metric for each defined process outcome - e.g. “satisfaction with the new process” - or long-term metrics like “number of marketed innovations”.

Furthermore, set metrics for people’s well-being, e.g. measure people’s well-being with the subjective happiness scale (Lyubomirsky, 2007)

  • Define a Pilot

Pick out one team or department: choosing only one team at the start increases the probability of attracting followers in the organization once the transition is successful.

Coach the team lead on expectations and the implications of change. Kick-off with the team and team lead. Immediately start with interventions of positive psychology to raise optimism and unleash creative potential.

Set up regular team workshops and selectively coach individuals and the team lead.