What Colour is Your Organization?

If you’re a senior leader, you’ve probably worked in several organizations that differ in terms of leadership, team performance and company culture. Some good, some not so good and some in the middle.

In the work we do across many organizations (and really almost every industry sector) we’ve seen that there’s a hierarchy in how organizations perform. And that hierarchy is much like a pyramid. (In many cases, organizations oscillate between more than one of these zones.)


The Red Zone

At the base of the pyramid, there are those few organizations that are stuck in a “Red Zone”, where, frankly, people are feeling a little hopeless. Perhaps leaders are dialing it in, teams are dysfunctional and from a culture point-of-view, it’s probably what we would call “toxic.” In short, it’s not a good place to be.

At some point in your career, you may have worked in an environment like this. (Haven’t we all?) While your organization most certainly isn’t like this, imagine how it is for the people that are in this space. It’s disempowering. People tend to throw up their arms and give up as they feel that nothing will ever change.

And here’s the sad, sad truth: As long as the leaders of organizations believe that nothing will change, nothing will. It’s only when people have the belief the better is possible that things start to shift.


The Amber Zone

Sitting just above the Red Zone is the Amber Zone. This is where we tend to see leaders saying, “We could be better than this!” However, there’s a lot of finger-pointing, and no one is quite sure where the problem lies and what prevents “better” from happening. We see a desire to figure out who’s at fault and what’s at fault, rather than focusing on we are going to do about it.

And at this level, we see leaders treading water, trying to stay on top of everything. From a performance perspective, it’s mediocre. And in terms of organizational culture, people are saying the company mantra, but not doing it.

The key to moving through this zone and moving up to the next level is to do away with the blame-game, and instead identify the problems and get clear about how to fix them.


The Light Green Zone

And as you tip over that Amber line, you start to get into the Light Green Zone. It’s a pretty nice place to be. In organizations that are in this zone, we see leaders taking ownership and more accountability throughout the organization. They are engaged and focused on achieving results. The organizational culture has shifted from “saying it” to “doing it.”

The Light Green Zone represents a healthy organization. And, because of that, a funny thing happens. People will hit what we call the “good enough” line. But is good enough really good enough? Sometimes one of the factors that keeps organizations here is the “myth of heroic leadership,” where leaders feel solely responsible and it’s up to them alone to make something happen.

One thing we’ve learned in our work with our clients is that the very best organizations, who get to the top of the pyramid, simply don’t buy into that myth. They recognize the truth that no one can’t do it alone. To achieve our goals, we must work as a collective.


The Dark Green Zone

For the organizations that simply refuse to accept that good enough is absolutely fine, and instead believe that we should all be striving for better, you reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy, the Dark Green Zone. In the Dark Green Zone , it ceases to be about “me” and becomes about “us.”

At this level, leaders are galvanizing others. Exceptional performance is a result of collective impact. And it’s a subtle change, but a significant one: Culture has shifted from “doing it” to “being it.”

And here’s the thing, organizations at this level never settle. They want to pursue potential, not just identified but realized, and they’re constantly seeking ways to take that even further.

Look for upcoming posts as we explore aspects of each of these organizational zones.


Get Into the Zone

Looking to get to the Dark Green Zone? If you’d like to learn more about how you can cultivate collective leadership in your organization, contact us to discuss your strategic priorities. Together we can break down silos, foster collaboration and create an exceptional place to work. 

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