Charting a Teal Future: Navigating Work’s Evolution with Vertical Development Theory

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, believes we are in a crucial point in history where the world is rapidly changing with seemingly opposite realities emerging at the same time.

“We are in a time of tremendous volatility, not just externally, but for many people internally as well. On a daily basis, it seems, the world is flipping from one timeline to another to another. The future looks dark; I blink my eyes, and all is bright. A blue sky fills with clouds in a minute, then they are gone again. Multiple realities coexist on a single planet. Multiple realities coexist in a single person.”

Eisenstein’s sentiments capture the roller coaster that many of us feel in our deepest core. The world is changing in fundamental ways, and sometimes it is hard to know whether we are going backward, or forward, as multiple realities converge in the global and national geopolitical landscape. It is my core belief that humanity is in the process of taking a monumental leap forward into a new level of consciousness, and we are experiencing the birthing pains of bringing about this new consciousness. It is this collective shift in consciousness that is the underlying root cause of the angst and dissatisfaction that so many employees are feeling, as well as students as they contemplate entering the workforce.

This shift in consciousness has been recognized and described in profound ways over the past few decades. Spiral dynamics and integral theory, which was first proposed by Ken Wilbur, describes our evolution in detail. From a work perspective, I find vertical development theory to be a useful model that translates those ideas into workplace behaviors. The chart below describes each of the stages of development and what they mean in terms of human collaboration.

Today, the industries where we have the greatest labor shortages tend to be the ones where there are a lot of Amber/Army attributes, as described in the second line in the chart above. This approach to life does not work well with most people anymore, and it disempowers people who want to make a difference and drive innovation.

For example, a significant number of purpose-driven educators that I’ve known over the past ten years have left education because they feel the school system has killed their soul in a way that leaves them feeling hopeless and powerless. The same is true for many people in the healthcare system, who want to heal people but become trapped in a system that dehumanizes them and destroys their spirit. People who operate at the Green and Teal levels of consciousness in the chart above find it excruciating to work in Amber organizations. 

Because Amber organizations think about human capital in outdated ways, the salaries they offer are not high enough to attract and retain top talent. The fact that as teachers grow in seniority they will never make as much as administrators, despite having the more impactful and challenging jobs, demonstrates this unfortunate side effect of Amber thinking.

Most of our modern, capitalistic companies are still in the Orange/Machine stage of development. These companies are still able to attract talent due to profit and innovation focus. However, many employees of these companies also end up feeling disengaged and disillusioned due to feeling a lack of connection and value as an individual. The pandemic accelerated these feelings of unrest as people began examining the level of meaning in their life.

Green/Family companies tend to have an easier time attracting and retaining top talent because their human collaboration practices are more aligned with our current level of consciousness. Supporting companies in shifting into a Green way of being will result in a more productive workforce and overall healthier state population.

Teal/Living Organism organizations are beginning to emerge. While it is my goal to run Indigo as a Teal company, it can be challenging because as a society are not yet at this stage of human consciousness. The book I wrote on Spiritual Entrepreneurship explores my personal experience in wrestling with Teal principals as an employer. Teal characteristics embody self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose, recognizing everyone as being intrinsically valuable and interconnected to all other individuals. A Teal organization values human choice and respects free will.

If we embrace workforce development goals that embody the Teal level of human collaboration, it will produce the best outcome for our employers, citizens, and communities. Approaching the future of work with a Teal lens puts the problem into a holistic and restorative perspective. It requires retraining our own hearts and minds, which is none other than the goal of life itself.

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