All Problems Are Not Created Equal

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
Humor me. To see Levels of Work (Requisite Organization), as a hierarchy based on problem solving complexity (rather than power), opens up a different texture of organizational structure. Let me quickly sport a reference chart below to demonstrate the discontinuous complexity underpinning Levels of Work. I assume you agree, some problems are more complex than others, all problems are not created equal.

Level-I (S-I) – Declarative problem solving. This is the world of opinion, without the necessity of supporting evidence. The world is the way it is, simply because it is declared to be so. Problem solving methodology at this level of work is trial and error. Trial and error is a valid problem solving method, it just has a high error rate in the face of increasing complexity. If S-I was a computer, its computer code would be the Boolean operator “or-or.” S-I is a disjunctive (disconnected) way of seeing the world.

Level-II (S-II) – Cumulative problem solving. If S-I struggles to connect the dots, S-II succeeds in making those connections. Cumulative means connection by successive addition. Problem solving occurs by connecting the pattern in a problem with a documented solution. Best-practices is an S-II problem solving method. If S-II was a computer, its computer code would be the Boolean operator “and-and.” S-II is a conjunctive (connected) way of seeing the world.

Level-III (S-III) – Serial problem solving. This is where Elliott observed the first instance of cause and effect. Problem solving occurs through a process of root cause analysis. If S-III was a computer, its computer code would be the Boolean operator “if-then,” cause and effect. This problem solving method is required in the construction of a system (sequence of steps in a process yielding consistent and predictable results, a critical path).

Level-IV (S-IV) – Parallel problem solving acknowledges the existence of multiple simultaneous systems that co-exist in proximity. In the same proximity, each critical path may not intersect, but each system’s capacity has an impact on neighboring systems. Problem solving multi-system impact requires systems analysis, specifically – capacity, constraints, delay and throughput. If S-IV was a computer, its computer code would be the Boolean operator “if-and-only-if, then.” This level of work manages problems with multiple simultaneous variables and increasing ambiguity of outcomes.

So, what does this problem-complexity have to do with Laloux and Teal?

You have to read carefully (Reinventing Organizations), but Laloux identifies these specific levels of problem solving quite clearly – Another cognitive breakthrough is the ability to reason in paradox, transcending the simple either-or with more complex both-and thinking.

As he describes the organizational period of magenta, he makes the following observation –
Cause and effect are poorly understood, and so the universe is full of spirits and magic.

Cause and effect finally comes of age in Laloux’s description – At the Conformist-Amber stage, reality is perceived through Newtonian eyes. Cause and effect are understood, people can grasp linear time (past, present, future) and project into the future. Laloux’s observation is quite consistent with the timespan schema in Levels of Work, that a measure of problem solving is based on a person’s capability to operate in the ambiguity of the future.

So, Laloux clearly observes problem solving through the first three Levels of Work, without realizing how close he came to solving the puzzle of hierarchy. These nested relationships** replace the power hierarchy with an accountability hierarchy. Indeed, Elliott described this organizational form with the acronym MAH (Management Accountability Hierarchy).

I think the issue of accountability will be next on our agenda.

I welcome comments. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will be posted in real time. If you are receiving this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.

**Nested relationships was brilliantly described in this article by Richard Bartlett

3 thoughts on “All Problems Are Not Created Equal

  1. Bruce Peters

    Thanks so much for following up and through with our conversation last week related to the intersection of Teal and Requisite. Your explorations and posts are a welcome and thoughtful addition and continuation. As we discussed in my work in what I’ve described as the “Ground Game of Teal” the sense of the intersection of these concepts and the importance of acknowledging the intersection is a significant contribution to “transforming life and work”.
    The phrase that resonated or described perfectly my intuition.. is “Teal works until it doesn’t”.
    Intuitively and without complete understanding or language for it our “ground game” is an attempt to integrate the what works in both Teal and Requisite ( Timespan primarily).
    Candidly as you know my background or experience with Requisite could be best described as just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Thankfully, armed with even this limited perspective the results in the lives and organizations adopting these concepts have been nothing short of spectacular.
    I return from family holiday next week and with your permission will continue the conversation. Thanks.

    1. Becky Halvorsen

      I have come to realize that “hierarchy” is all about the Levels of Thinking. We had a situation recently where one of our levels was missing (Level II) in a department, thus the Level I team members were making the best decisions they could based on their time framework. They were recommending a solution that would have been very beneficial to them in the day to day work, but detrimental to us in the long term. When the recommendation was made to the Level III thinkers, that group was able to explain what some of the longer term goals were for the whole organization, and why the proposed solution would be contrary to reaching those goals. Together, we worked on a solution that tried to meet both the day to day issues without compromising the overall strategy. Part of that solution was hiring a Level II thinker for the department, to help the team think beyond today.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.