Spiral Dynamics Theory: Stages of Development and Examples

Origins of the theory

Spiral Dynamics Theory originates from studying stages of adult development. It implies that the stages of societal development alternate between individualistic and collective steps. In team management, it implies teams grow from one stage to the next stage and develop an identity based on values, and consistently expand their outlook.

Understanding spiral dynamics helps adapt to changes, keep sustainable growth, and diminish low-value work.

Minimizing low-value work is a matter of life and death in team management:

  • for success in project management
  • for building trust in teamwork
  • for burnout prevention
Why it is important: It makes an impact on business efficiency in an environment that is constantly evolving into more complex structures.

What is Spiral Dynamics?

The Spiral Dynamics model is a theory of development introduced by Clare W. Graves, an American developmental psychologist, who considered the way we think and act is shaped by our values and beliefs.

Main ideas of the theory of Spiral Dynamics

Values and beliefs are formed by an individual's or group's state of mind and determine how individuals, groups, teams, and societies react to life's challenges.

If a person or group has a lower state of mind, they will respond to these challenges with a lower-level value system.

If they have a higher state of mind, they will respond with a higher-level value system

The stages of the Spiral Dynamics model include:

  • survival (archetype)
  • security (tradition)
  • energy and strength (power)
  • order (conformism)
  • success (science)
  • community (sensitivity)

Throughout the stages, the keystones are survival, security, power, achievement, community, synergy, holistic life support, and, finally, self-actualization.

At each level, we can observe a unique worldview. People and businesses experience these levels at different times of their life cycles but tend to be most comfortable in one or two.

The level determines:

  • how teams perceive the environment
  • what factors will be major contributors to decision-making

Spiral Dynamics Model

The theory is based on the idea that human beings develop through stages.
Each stage represents a different level of consciousness or awareness about the world around us and what we can do within it.

The stages are also referred to as "spiral" because they are not necessarily linear; people can move from one stage to another at any time in their lives. Each stage is color-labeled for the convenience of differentiation.

Important Note: There are stages that are individually driven (beige, red, orange, yellow) and stages that are collectively driven (purple, blue, green, turquoise)

Beige: Survival

The beige stage is the first stage of development driven by survival instincts and characterized by:

  • a lack of self-awareness
  • reaching goals of immediacy.

Groups and individuals at the beige stage show a limited ability to differentiate between their own drives and those of others.

Businesses and teams in this stage are primarily concerned with achieving their basic goals: searching for relevant business niches, stating their mission, thinking in the short-term perspective, and responding to market conditions without trying to forecast trends.

Bottom Line: At this stage, teams are characterized by a lack of identity, priorities set in a short-term perspective, and goal achievement based on urgency rather than importance.

Purple: Security

Purple stands for security. It is the color marking belonging to clan-like organizations that provide comfort and security in a turbulent environment.

The teams at the purple level operate with a focus on safety and fulfilling tasks evolving in the actual moment.
On the structural level, one example of Purple businesses is startups, which are not aimed at upscaling yet. Mostly, they shape close-knit organizations that value:

  • safety
  • tradition.

In team management, it reflects on:

  • choosing time-tested strategies
  • the absence of a rigid hierarchy
  • favoring informal communication
  • putting the interests of the team above personal goals.

Bottom Line: the Purple teams are loyal to traditional tried and true ways of solving problems, exercising horizontal communication for reaching goals.

Red: Energy and Power

The outlook stems from seeing this world as a wild jungle in which the strong dominate
and the weak serve. Exploitative impulses play a major role.

Motivation is driven by self-serving needs, interests around claiming power,
and the urge to upscale through competition.

Therefore, the ability to foresee the long-term consequences of actions is little or non-existent. Organizations built on a rigid hierarchy are an illustrative example of the Red stage.

Bottom Line: This part of the spiral advances pursuing short-term specific goals with a focus on the present.

On the forefront, there is a fight-flight-freeze mode of operation, which implies:

  • focusing on the strengths of the business
  • making expansion the fundamental goal
  • assertiveness in defending business decisions
  • pursuit of competitive advantage.

Blue: Order, Authority, Conformism

Stability, belonging, righteousness, and future rewards are the principal drivers of this stage. Being good equals being self-disciplined. Thus, the Blue level features:

  • duty
  • self-control
  • stability.

Group identity builds around opposing us vs. them and announcing collective goals above personal ones. To gain rewards, group members must act in accordance with the strict codes of conduct set by an authority.

Since large-scale cooperation requires rigid roles, the Blue level teams favor strict social norms and a high level of professional training. At this stage, teams adhering to values of duty are to attend to the wellbeing of their own group.

Bottom Line: Blue-spectrum business strategy involves the creation of a system and the establishment
of a transparent structure.

Orange: Success, Rational Thinking, Achievement

Orange stage values and beliefs are driven by a desire for personal freedom and success. The primary motivation is self-reliance.
Empowerment by science and the evolvement of markets gives a comprehensive explanation of business expansion and allows instant rewarding individual effort in the achievement of:

  • material progress
  • acceleration of business growth
  • individual prosperity.

This drives teams and businesses to be rational — they operate on knowledge that comes from scientific laws and the application of facilitating tools.
It is celebrating practical opportunists who are interested in understanding why certain things happen so they can conquer nature's challenges and prosper as individuals.

Bottom Line: The Orange worldview is one that values self-reliance, freedom, and individualism. In team management, it means that managers deal with a group of high performers with the capability of successful autonomous work. Hence, the role of leadership shifts from control and coping to collaboration.

Green: Harmony, Connection

At the Green stage, teams believe that once you have mastered the art of connection, there's nothing stopping you from achieving your goals. The most important thing is to be authentic and strive to be your best within a chosen community.

The main business metrics grow along with the development of the career development of employees during this stage.

Company characteristics and values at the Green level include:

  • unification of globalized markets
  • self-expression through creative pursuits
  • respecting diversity and inclusivity
  • equal distribution of resources.

Green-centered teams strive for maintaining balance and reaching altruistic goals.

Bottom Line: By ensuring the common good and equality of team members, this stage departs from hierarchy and highlights less of individualistic thinking and more of an ecosystem.

Yellow: Synergy, Integration

In the Yellow stage, teams use synergy to develop capabilities for achieving short-term and long-term goals. The goal is taking care of one's own interests but being as harmless as possible.
Yellow-spectrum organizations rely on:

  • exploring the mechanisms of productive coexistence.
  • valuing cooperation and partnership over competitiveness.
  • building strategies around innovative solutions.

In this stage, innovations include sustainability and corporate social responsibility, within the development of social networks and new methods of business operations.

Bottom Line: The key to reaching goals at this stage is to accept the intrinsic uncertainty of the environment, which requires concentrating on building teamwork around resilience, functionality, flexibility, and improvisation.

Turquoise: Support, Awareness, Service

To embody this stage, teams and businesses need to lose egoistical drive and shift to a philanthropical scale. Such a need may result from devotion to service or realizing the limits of business expansion.

This stage is characterized by activating all cognitive and metacognitive sources and holistic thinking. Time is perceived in its global perspective, which actualizes business identity on a totally new level of thinking from a systemic perspective and a mindset of abundance.

One example of the Torquise stage system is eco-industrial parks.

Bottom Line: Being a supportive instrument of enlightenment inspires and enthuses teams and directs them to evolve further.

Spiral Dynamics Stages

Stages serve as a set of mental lenses that help teams:

  • basing on business values, to decide what must be prioritized
  • basing on identity, to formulate tactics and build strategies

Spiral Dynamics has three wave phases in each stage:

  • entry (teams act as beginners)
  • center (teams cement their views and gain knowledge and skills)
  • exit (as businesses realize their previous worldview is limited, they move to a new stage; the transition from stage to stage can make team members feel uncertain, doubtful, and anxious).

Side Note: Over the course of human history, the same Spiral Dynamics stages have evolved and developed in the same steady movement for all cultures.

There is no such thing as "pure" behavior at any one stage. People act differently depending on the situation they're in and who they're with at the time.

Six conditions for change

Spiral Dynamics posits that businesses have a range of stages through which they can evolve in order to reach their full potential. In business, positive outcomes can be achieved when changes are well-planned.

It's possible for people, groups, and organizations who have been stuck at one level during their entire cycle of existence
to change their perspective on reality by moving up a level at a time until they reach their desired destination.

The spiral dynamics model is based on six conditions for change: capacity assessment, search for solutions, creating dissonance, breaking down barriers, awakening understanding, and consolidating.

Capacity Assessment

Capacity Assessment

The goal is to determine where a team is on the developmental spectrum.

Search for solutions

Search for solutions

The goal is to identify the areas of improvement and find ways to upgrade.

Creating dissonance

Creating dissonance

The goal is to foster creativity by introducing new ideas.

Breaking down barriers

Breaking down barriers

The goal is to remove bottlenecks in communications and performance.

Awakening understanding

Awakening understanding

The goal is to help teams realize why they need changes and reset purposes if needed.

Consolidating

Consolidating

The developmental goal is to put everything into action.

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