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Keys to Growing Healthy Organizations

How healthy is your organization? 
How in-tune are you with your organizational identity?

No, not the identity displayed on social media. 

Not the slide deck message at your annual fundraiser.

Via National Equity Project and adapted from the Dalmau Network Group

The six-circle model illustrates six organizational components. First, components above the green line are structure, processes, and patterns; we love and value these in North American culture. The three circles below the green represent relationships, identity, and information. All six circles are present in all organizations; we tend to devalue and deemphasize the importance and power of the below-the-green-line factors.

Relationships, identity, and information flows are often considered “soft” and less critical.

The six-circle model, coined “above and below the green line,” was created by Margaret Wheatley and Dalmau Consulting and then modified by the National Equity Project by adding a seventh circle surrounding the six, representing the larger systems of advantage, oppression, and equity and social justice context.

Via National Equity Project.

Your organizational identity is your superpower. Or it's the elephant in the room.

How well do you know your organization's strengths and opportunities for growth? 

What do staff whisper about what it’s “really like to work here?”

How well do you listen to the people your organization serves, centering their "knowing" as experts, and setting up structures for them to make decisions about investment, programs, and outcomes?

How well aligned are what you write in your grant applications and reports to what is truly occurring?

How often do patterns of triangulation occur by people not going to the source of the challenge or conflict? Are there parking lot meetings after the meetings where the "real" work gets done?

Organizational change and flourishing are within reach. Intentionality and bravery help us identify current and aspirational patterns and ways of working, especially regarding relational components of our organizations as evidenced by relationships, identity, and who has access to what information.

Equity-centered leaders:

  1. Listen. Listen with curiosity and learn about how staff experience all six circles. Don’t shut down dissent. Hold curiosity and openness as you listen to your closest circle, and concentric circles out to those you serve. Who is closest to whom? Who do you trust, and why?
  2. Nurture relationships, especially across lines that divide us by power or hierarchy. At their worst, organizations are designed to commodify people. Is your leadership team aligned in valuing people over profit? How are you investing in relationships, growing identity, and sharing information?
  3. Value and invest in the components above and below the green line. Contextual factors (systems of advantage, systemic oppression, and equity and social justice) impact your organization. Intentionally learn about their impact. Grow practices to focus on all seven circles, intentionally acknowledging the impact of oppressive systems.
  4. Center healing. Invest in actual and aspirational organizational identity. Build the capacity to understand, nurture, and grow relationships, identity, and flow of information. Take time to be human together. Practice equity-based strategies of BE-ing and DO-ing together.

What would you add? In your experience, which components of the seven circles have led to the most flourishing? What are the growth opportunities?

Would you like to think together about your organization's growth and development? I’d love to connect with you to bring about equity-focused organizational health.

Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage, rest, and beloved community along the journey.
Together we catalyze a brave, bold, and liberatory future.
Dee Signature
Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
Post by Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
June 5, 2024
Deanna Rolffs (they/them) is a strategist, facilitator, coach, systems thinker, and Process Consultant who works with executive leaders and teams at the intersection of organizational theory, leadership development, justice, and equity. Their process consulting approach focuses on organizational transformation via thriving teams, brave leadership, equitable systems, and inclusive communities. Deanna served as a Senior Consultant with Design Group International since 2018, became a Senior Design Partner in 2021, and launched L3 Catalyst Group in 2023.