Below the Green Line - Theory to Practice

By Steve Zuieback · Posted Saturday, December 15, 2012

What is Below the Green Line?

Below the Green Line is much, much more than a model or theory – it is a way of being as a leader in an organization. This blog post provides a quick overview of the first chapter of an emerging book about, "Below the Green Line - Theory into Practice." You can find the whole article on my website under Free Resources - Below the Green Line. 

Before jumping into my evolving understanding of “below the green line” lets first explore what is generally meant by “Below the Green Line” or the 6 Circle Model. The model comes out of the initial work by Margaret Wheatley and then significantly evolved through the work of Tim Dalmau, Richard Knowles, myself and many, many others. Click here to see a quick summary video of the Below the Green Line in an actual training setting.

Simply put, the genesis of the original model was an attempt to describe the nature of work or the components of work involved in creating successful change in organizations that sticks  (sustainable).  As originally described the six areas of focus include three areas that are part of the system infrastructure and three areas that have more to do with the human infrastructure. These latter three areas can loosely be talked about as culture. 

Top 3 areas Above the Green Line

The top areas are Structure, Process (operations) and Patterns (strategy). Structure describes the ways in which a system organizes itself to conduct business.  Operations describe the standard business processes that are used to build consistency and efficiency. Pattern describes the systematic ways in which a system focuses its key strategies to accomplish its mission and goals. These three areas are absolutely essential but not sufficient to bring about and sustain change. Unfortunately many leaders believe and operate as if these are the only components of work to bring about and support organizations and change efforts.

Below the Green Line

The three areas “below the green line” are essential to organizational health and sustainability. The three areas are Information, Relationships and Identity. Information reflects the nature of how information is shared, how it is utilized in decision-making and how transparent the critical information is to all stakeholders in the system.

Relationships has a far more expansive meaning than is generally thought. It has to do with how a team or organization values its people – their emotional, physical and spiritual well-being; the level of connectivity among people across the system; the value place upon collaboration and high functioning teams; and the level of connectivity of and the type of relationship between key teams, programs and operational systems. It is not just the traditional understanding about a focus on people getting along and liking each other.

Identity refers to the level of shared purpose, meaning, passion, beliefs, values and principles of people in teams and the organization as a whole.

All three areas are completely interconnected. In some ways information is like the vital nutrients for the living system, relationships are the conduits to infuse nutrition throughout the system and the identity is concept or framework (mind) that organizes the system into a unique entity. All three are essential to the well being of the whole.

The relationship of the six circles as a whole system

Just as the top circles are essential but not sufficient, the bottom three circles can’t stand by themselves in a healthy system. A system focus solely on the bottom three circles would be like a social club or a book group where the only purpose is about sharing time together around a common purpose.

“Below the green line” always exists in a team or organization. The question is not about forming “below the green line”, but shaping the below the green line to be most conducive and effective to realize the mission and vision of the organization.  As an example, in a highly bureaucratic organization the “below the green line” might we described by the following statements:

  • The sharing of information is related to the hierarchy of leadership. In a formal way, the amount of information you have is directly related to your position on the organizational chart. Higher formal power – more access to the critical information. In an informal sense information is widely distributed through informal leadership and informal connections and the information is often based on stories and rumors.
  • In bureaucratic organizations relationships are king. The only way to get any work accomplished is based on whom you know or whom you can go to in order to get something done. In some countries of the world, whole industries are based upon such information relationship networks. Somebody who is not part of such a network or who is not willing to pay someone in the network can wait forever to get the most basic needs met through formal government.
  • Identity also exists in bureaucratic organizations but is often completely detached from the stated mission or vision of the organization. People identify with small groups, their union affiliations, or cliques. The system is highly fragmented, disconnected and inefficient.

For more information about Below the Green Line - Theory into practice you are invited to read more of this article....


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