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We are optimistic in the medium term that organisational culture is advancing.

Business bosses are starting to get it, that work and management can be better than the conventional ways. Word is getting through, on several levels:
– the impossibility of managing knowledge workers in conventional ways
– the need for organisational agility as a survival strategy as the world becomes increasingly VUCA
– the demand for stakeholder values over shareholder or customer value.

All three drivers lead us to the same conclusion: Human Systems Adaptability, as we call it at Teal Unicorn:
– Bringing more humanity to work.
– Improving holistic systems.
– Optimising for change.

[We are training ourselves to say “better ways of working” instead of “new”. “New ways of working” has been captured by remote work. Even more importantly, most of the ideas are not new, they’re just not widely adopted.  We know they’re better. Better results, better lives,  better society. So you will find both words used interchangeably on this site: new/better. We now think “better” is better.]

For the practical application of these ideas, see our articles on S&T Happens

It is easy to be impatient, but this kind of shift takes decades. We must unwind the damage of the last fifty years of Friedmanism first. It’s happening.

As everybody is surely aware by now, big things are afoot in how we think about work and management. There are at least two fundamental drivers:

1) Big changes in thinking about society and culture are transforming IT, enterprises, government, and society.

We sum up the impact on work as “values over value”: the idea that an organisation exists only as a system to create value (shareholder capitalism, Friedmanism) has been displaced by the idea that an organisation must reflect the values of its customers, partners, and staff; and make a positive contribution to the society in which it exists (stakeholder capitalism, Drucker, Keynes).

Before the era of shareholder obsession, companies were multistakeholder by nature. For example, in 1943 Johnson & Johnson published its Credo, which put patients, doctors, and nurses first, followed by mothers and fathers, business partners, employees, and communities—and only then would the company serve stockholders, whom J&J said should earn a ‘fair return’ (note that it wasn’t promising the maximum return possible).” HBR

Friedman’s view of the purpose of an organisation – to create value for shareholders – was toxic, and we will be cleaning up the mess for decades.

Drucker’s definition – to create a customer – was better. But both are relevant only in commerce. If we look for a purpose, a value  of all organisations, whether business, not-for-profit, or government, then a much better one is to get the best from people.

  • “To enable everyone … to develop as far and in as diversified a manner as possible” (Sociocracy) 
  • “To maximise human contribution” (Humanocracy)

Together we are better than apart.

“the classic Talcott-Parsons model of an ‘integrated’ organisation imposing its will on the world no longer applies. Rather, an ‘organisation’ is now a dynamic pattern of relationships between its own members and between them and an ever-changing world of competing loyalties and different value systems. It is a human system, a ‘human being’. Albrow calls this an ‘integrity’ – an organisational form that maintains a moral purpose over time.”

International Futures Forum


If you think:
….people should leave their social issues at the door when they come to work …
…your profits can be weighed against somebody else’s life….
…the purpose of a company is to make money….
….society’s problem is not my organisation’s problem …

…the you are doomed. The world will no longer accept that greed is good, that work is separate from life, that money is an end rather than a means, that success can come at the cost of others.

New Zealand Government’s Living Standards Framework and the wellbeing focus of government policy recognises a common wealth that is made up of four capitals: ecological, economic, social and cultural.  Organisations must find ways forward that are socially and environmentally sustainable, are ethically sound, that draw all stakeholders together to collaborate, that reflect our common humanity.

2) The pace of change is accelerating. We cannot ignore the volatile, uncertain, complex nature of our world.

Treating  the world as made up of defined repeatable work (Taylorism, CMMI, Lean Six Sigma,  ITIL…) or made up of flowing left-to-right streams  (Lean, ToC, DevOps CD…) are approximations of reality that only have acceptable levels of error when the world is sufficiently stable over time.  It’s not now. The rate of change makes it impossible to ignore the real VUCA nature of people, work, economy, and organisations. 

Adaptability is the essential survival skill going forward, not efficiency (McChrystal, Hamel, Denning…). 

“The 21st Century is a different game with different rules… The pursuit of efficiency was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competence.” – Gen. Stanley McChrystal

The separation between transactional work and knowledge work is fading. To put it in terms from another modern military thinker, David Marquet, we can talk of red work  (doing) and blue work (thinking). In an increasingly VUCA world, the distinction  fails. Work struggles to get to be red work. The system isn’t stable long enough. Everybody is in blue mode all the time. Agility isn’t only about constantly adjusting what we are making, its even more about adjusting how we do it. There is no stable process with episodes of change. Change is the state. Optimising red work is of ever decreasing relevance.

New Ways Of Managing is a book! The agile Manager, New Ways of Managing . Yes, small “a”.

and the latest: Open Management , which is more about the Why of better work.


So we must advance to embrace modern values, and we must respond constantly to changes in conditions that are imperfectly understood. The organisations that succeed at this have a higher culture (the highest aspiration is called Teal) and a better way of working (those who look like magic are called a Unicorn).

In order to achieve adaptability, we need two related capabilities: agility and resilience.

To get agility and resilience we need to influence five levels: the governance, executive leadership, management, systems of work, and the people doing the work. At Teal Unicorn, we believe that – although all five levels are important – the key level to unlock advancement is the management layer. For an organisation to change, the managers must change how they manage. That is the primary focus of this course. Why do we focus on management? Because we see it often neglected, and because it is the key. We look at the impact of these new ways on management in the modern enterprise – how to change your ways of managing.

We see the resulting shifts in many areas of work. Agile has spilled out of IT into the enterprise. Complex systems theory is finally shifting how we think. Safety culture is revealing the value in failure. Less widely known (yet), Open culture is flipping the hierarchy. As well there’s ideas like servant manager, transformational leader, open space, invitational leadership, promise theory, sustainability, and more… They all aim for “better value sooner, safer, happier” as Jon Smart put it. The world seems to still lump it all under the term “Agile Enterprise”.

This is what we know about (and continue to study):

Better ways of management to make work better: Lean, Agile, Open, Servant, Invitational, Business Agility: we combine them in our Unicorn Management Model™.

Better ways of working that management enables: collaborative, agile, empowered knowledge work; iterative, incremental, experimenting, exploring complex systems. Especially (but not only) within IT. 

We try to embrace all the new concepts in the umbrella term Human Systems Adaptability:

Human: people, values, humanity, wholeness, culture, sharing, empathy, diversity, inclusiveness, egality, trust, integrity, authenticity, open, transparency, curiosity, learning, mastery, pride, empowerment, freedom, authorisation, servant manager, safety, wellbeing, flourishing, health. [states]

Systems: customer, value, flow, feedback, quality, lean, streams, iteration, networks, complexity, chaos, emergence, antifragile, shift left, teams, organisation, collaboration, ritual, sharing, resilience, human error, holistic, data, science. [artefacts]

Adaptability: ambiguous, uncertain, iterate, increment, experiment, explore, observe, adjust, agile, fluid, organic, improve, curious, embrace failure, fail fast, small, granular, simplify, flexible, pragmatic, resilient. [actions/adjectives]

(from our book)

Building humanity at work, understanding systems, and adapting constantly to change are the strategies to make work better: better results, better lives at work, better society around us.
The low-risk way forward is to advance in increments, experimenting at every step, embracing failure, learning always.

Our clients have tested these ideas and enjoyed great success with them. They have tried tactics such as

  • understanding value streams and identifying the main issue or constraint
  • removing excessive approvals from processes
  • empowering managers with discretionary budgets and distributed authority
  • moving from big-bang to incremental opening of new services
  • empowering young keen junior employees to have a voice and take responsibility
  • building teamwork in leadership
  • pursuing higher culture
  • identifying waste and inefficiency
  • building team identities
  • visualisation of work
  • changing reward systems to allow all to share in the success (creating more transparency and collaboration).
There is always a J-curve when we change any work system. Our clients have soldiered through theirs, and enjoyed the fruits of their commitment to new ways of working and managing with happier clients, a healthier culture, and more reliable success.


Several groups exist to spread this message of better ways, including

Some of the bastions of capitalist media are strong proponents too;

  • MIT Sloan Management Review
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Forbes

These ways are displacing the ideas of big-bang projects; zero risk; certainty and accuracy; plan once execute perfectly; failure is not an option.  The move is towards “product over project”: managing work over the lifetime of a product not the duration of a project. At its heart, the agile way is about being able to adjust and change in a constantly changing world. Faster, more efficient, higher quality work is a by-product of agility, not the goal. The goal is to meet the changing needs of our organisation faster, though iteration, increment, experimentation, and exploration. We help you build this culture, through attention to leadership, happiness, space, empowerment, community, and communications.  

At least as important, though, is Better Ways Of Managing. Too often, management views the transformationadvancement to Better Ways as something done to improve the practitioner workforce, not to management. This can’t be. For an organisation to change, the management must change. So we combine the two into the phrase New[Better] Ways Of Managing and Working or vice versa (we’ve used both ways). It is cumbersome but we leave it like that to make a point. This is one of the biggest issues facing organisations moving to agile ways of working. Managers must understand and focus on empowerment, collaboration, agility, and flow. So we make NWOM a special focus for Teal Unicorn. We provide coaching and training to get there.  We like using games.  Including in Vietnam, in Vietnamese.

We see some common patterns :

Enlightenment: society really does advance, although it might not seem like it right now *cough*Trump*cough*.  Many better ways are more enlightened ways.

Inversion: flip any conventional work principle and the inverse is often a better idea.  There are many examples:

  • Managers are servants not masters. The hierarchy goes down from the workers to the CEO, not up.
  • Failure is the path to success. Take it.
  • If it hurts, do it more. Repetition leads to mastery.
  • Be thankful and supportive when people resign. In fact, pay people to quit. Both parties benefit.
  • Whatever you ask a job candidate, tell them the same about yourself.
  • If you’re doing them a favour giving them a job, they’re equally doing you a favour working for you. Act like it.

In terms of what all this means in practice, our clients have tested tactics such as:

  • going to the gemba: moving around, observing, leapfrogging management layers
  • removing hierarchical management (moving to servant managers)
  • separate work management from personnel management
  • removing excessive reporting
  • tightening policy and reducing constraints
  • allowing fluid team structures chosen by those doing the work
  • listening to those doing the work instead of telling (or yelling)
  • acknowledging when they don’t know
  • embracing failure as a learning asset
  • moving away from blame culture, and generally being more humane
  • look to the system for causes of error, not the individual
  • removing (very few) toxic individuals
  • let people focus on their strengths not their weaknesses
  • getting out of the way and letting the work flow

See some of our Vietnamese clients talk about this (in English)

See our client case studies here.



  • A story to help visualise how this might look (3 pages, PDF)
  • Case study Mayekawa (pdf). A Japanese heavy industrial “holonic” company made up of hundreds of entities emulating an organic organism.
  • Case study: Michelin . Half a billion dollars’ worth of manufacturing improvements by pushing empowerment to the frontlines.
  • Case study: Sterimed . An altruistic medical company that puts values first, and pivoted fast for COVID.
  • Case study: Haier  and more recent analysis. Thousands of micro-companies make up this whiteware giant.
  • Case study Unilever. This giant has baked in agility. As result they went from idea to market in 6 weeks in 7 formats in response to COVID.
  • Also “Unilever is widely acknowledged as a leader in the shift to net positive: For 11 years straight, sustainability experts have ranked it number one in the world. That success was not at odds with financial performance; in fact, it drove profits and growth… [Over a decade] Unilever’s total shareholder return was close to 300%—well above that of its peers.”
  • Case study Anheuser-Busch (audio with transcript). Another global giant with a culture of adaptability and customer centricity , responding quickly to COVID.
  • Case study: Gravity might have the most altruistic boss ever, and the company thrives as a result. He pays everyone a minimum $70k.
  • Case study: Volvo scaling Agile to the whole company, to make “computers on wheels”.
  • Case study: Toyota (today). Their the Toyota Flow System (TFS) take shtem from Lean to Agile.
  • Case study: Roche pharma adopts Agile across the company.
  • Case study: Siemens. A success story from one digital team, using Competing Values Framework (CVF).
  • Case study: 10Pines is a small consultancy with no bosses.
  • Case study Abelton. Scaling a company bottom up, to retain agility.
  • Cases study: Decathlon
  • Case study SpaceX vs Boeing. Hardware agility is whipping the old school butt.
  • Case study: Boeing (how not to do it). Boeing destroyed their fine enginerring cultuite in pursuit of Friedmanism. This is what happens when men in expensive suits regress how you manage.
  • Case study: ANZ (how not to do it). The banking giant thought they could push culture change. This is what happens when you don’t change how you manage.
  • A bunch of companies studied by McKinsey
  • There are extended case studies in Reinventing Organizations, Brave New Work, the Age of Agile, and Humanocracy.

We have developed the Unicorn Management Model to capture our ideas. For much more information, see our new book, The agile Manager.  Our favourite reading on NWOWAM is listed here . Watch our videos. Come to our training.

For many more resources, visit our agile Managers’ Club. We would love you to be in our tribe of agile managers.

Rob and Cherry