Teal people in an Amber world

In the summer I was privileged to spend some time with one of our members, Cornerstone, which runs Shared Lives services and a large number of supported living services across Scotland. Cornerstone has been attracting a lot of interest, having taken the incredibly bold decision to restructure its work around self-managing teams, as part of a wider cultural change. It has learned from Buurtzorg amongst other proponents of the self-management model, which involves creating cultures and systems within which front line workers can use structured collective decision-making to take all the decisions which are usually taken by managers on their behalf, from buying new equipment, through changing their priorities or even their whole roles.

Cornerstone’s CEO Edel Harris now sees her role and her colleagues’ in the central office, not as holding the decision-making power, but as supporting small, self-managing teams across the country to take decisions, and responsibility. This has seen local teams decide to change services, start new activities and even acquire new buildings. Edel says, “self-management isn’t the end result but rather a vehicle to ensure more personalised services are provided and is just one (important) part of the Local Cornerstone model” (See picture.) I met the team of people who use Shared Lives support, and their colleagues who cooked us a wonderful lunch at the New Beginnings café in Irvine, which they have developed together. There was a striking fit between their Shared Lives support, which combines independence and connection, and the social enterprise ethos, as the team run, develop and embed their business within their community.

Local Cornerstone model
Local cornerstone model

For a while, I’ve instinctively felt that we need to see the emergence of local Shared Lives schemes in which ownership is shared between Shared Lives carers, local coordinators and disabled people and their families. We’ve been talking with a couple of local groups and potential partners about trialling this, but found considerable barriers. Although the Cornerstone model currently focuses on self-management amongst its staff team, rather than amongst the wider Shared Lives carer community, the organisation sees self-management as one part of a much broader cultural change, in which increasing local ownership is a key part. And it was interesting to hear Cornerstone’s Shared Lives team saying that for them, the new self-management ethos had not felt like a huge change: they were used to working as an autonomous but mutually supportive small team.

The cultural theorist Frederick Laloux would see Cornerstone as becoming ‘Teal’, in the colour-coded theoretical framework which suggests that organisations and human culture have evolved through a number of stages, from hierarchies based on raw power (Red), through the development of bureaucracies which have fixed hierarchies and are good at stability but poor at innovation and change (Amber), then meritocratic, profit-driven, innovative, but often voracious organisations (Orange), like many profit-making corporations. Some organisations strive for more social value, shared decision-making and shared ownership through co-op models (Green). Now, just emerging ‘evolutionary’ Teal organisations are removing traditional head offices, management hierarchies and centralised functions, and instead creating cultures and systems within which front line workers can (and must) use structured collective decision-making to take all the decisions which are usually taken by managers on their behalf, from buying new equipment, through changing their priorities or their whole roles, to hiring and even firing their peers. For these self-managing organisations to work, people need to be able to behave and communicate with each other in much less hierarchical and competitive, and with much more emotional intelligence.

In my book, I used the framework of asset-based thinking to contrast Shared Lives and emerging asset-based support models, which create meaningful and reciprocal relationships between individuals who are both valued, with traditional support approaches, where systems and hierarchies too often force people to focus on risks, deficits and attempts to ‘fix’ people which are doomed to failure. But thinking of Shared Lives carers as essentially ‘Teal’ people operating within hierarchical / Amber organisations, helps to illuminate both the success of the model and the need for us as sector to rethink the management and governance structures we continue to impose upon Shared Lives carers. Regulatory regimes tend to be ‘Amber’, but the Shared Lives regulatory and practice framework has created space for people to embody many ‘Teal’ characteristics: Shared Lives carers bring their whole selves to work, by bringing their support role, family role, home and workplace together. They are largely autonomous within the national practice framework, and this allows them to take decisions, and risks, which people working in conventional support organisations feel unable to. But that space can shrink very rapidly when there is a problem or crisis such as a professional practice or safeguarding concern. At these points the system attempts to impose hierarchical thinking, which can destroy longstanding households very quickly, sometimes entirely unnecessarily.

I don’t think that self-management or the ‘Teal’ concept holds the whole solution. Laloux applies his ideas only to the workforce of his exemplary organisations, many of which are for-profit organisations which have customers rather than people whose lives they intimately impact upon and control. Shared Lives carers perhaps hint at a further stage of evolution, occupying a space between workforce and community. Laloux is sceptical of the family as the organising principle for an organisation, pointing out that families can be dysfunctional, preferring the image of the organisation as a living organism or ecosystem, depending for its health on the interaction of its living parts. This puts the organisation’s health and success as the primary objective, but that idea has the potential to be sinister when applied to support organisations (and echoes attempts in the US to give corporations greater rights than people, by designing them as ‘persons’). To put the organisation’s wider stakeholders at the centre, would not be compatible with LaLoux’s sector-neutral model but for me that would be the next stage of evolution.

When a charity or public service organisation sees itself as more important than the people and lives it touches, it loses the compassion which is fundamental to its success. Models like Shared Lives, Buurtzorg and Cornerstone all address this in different ways through creating frameworks in which large numbers of people can consistently build much more equal and human relationships. But if we can combine asset-based thinking, which insists on the greater value of individuals than the organisations which seek to help them, and self-management ideas, I wonder if we could imagine a stage of organisational evolution which goes beyond even ‘Teal’? Where current distinctions between professionals and their clients or customers break down, and we can give and receive support from each other more freely and equally? Such organisations would need to be places where both people who seek and people who offer support can safely and productively bring their whole selves: their capacity, potential, challenges and their trauma. Ironically, this new way of living would also be a return to ideas of community which pre-date the professionalisation of public support.

As I’ve noted here before, Shared Lives is an incredibly radical idea…. from the 14th Century.

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