What we can learn from trees for transformation

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Healthy relationships and psychological safety are a prerequisite for good collaboration. This creates a high degree of mutual trust, within and across teams. And trust is important for teams to develop a positive, future-oriented way of working. From the moment these new ways of working turn into routines or habits, people thrive and achieve optimal results. Especially in uncertain and volatile times, it is important for organizations that they can build on this trust.

Pay attention to the roots of the tree, not to the crown!

When I was looking for a new Corona walk with the kids a few weeks ago, I came across the Stokkemanroute at the Kattevennen forest. Along the walk, we found quite interesting facts and learnings about trees, some of which provide interesting metaphors for organizations. One of the facts is that the many old trees withstood the test of time, not only storms but also fires due to plane crashes during world war II. And the reason is even more interesting. The many tall trees stand very close to each other and in sandy soil, which allows their strong roots to intertwine and even fuse together. The merged roots give them tremendous strength against the forces of nature and also meet their needs for nurture. The entire system relies on their rooted connections...

Let’s see what we can learn from nature!

A team resembles a tree with a network of roots (i.e. relations), a trunk with branches (i.e. routines) and the fruits (results). It is through interaction with each other and through daily routines that they contribute to the organization goals. Too often people look at the crown (the visible part) to understand how the tree is doing. But the network of roots (invisible part) is much more important than the crown.

In organizations, the real work is done through the (often) invisible informal network of interactions amongst colleagues. And in this social network, it is very important how people interact with each other on a day by day basis. Do you feel supported by each other, also if your thoughts deviate from the norm? Do you feel you can be critical without being labeled a negativist? Do you feel you can show uncertainty when changes are announced without being seen as weak. This safety leads to a positive way of collaboration in which employees dare to take social risk and complement each other.

The trust this brings creates a solid root network. If something is wrong with the roots, the tree withers. The same is true for team members if they don’t trust each other.

Building resilience through connection

Research shows that also resilience is not purely an individual characteristic, but is heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks. Resilience can be nurtured and built through a wide variety of interactions with people. These interactions can help alter the magnitude of the challenge they’re facing. They can help crystallize the meaningful purpose or help them see a path forward to overcome a setback. Hence the importance of rooted connections in volatile and uncertain times.

Leaders can foster change resilience through being readily available and helping employees give meaning to a change. They can also help connect people to the organization and to one another and can create space where it is safe to voice opinions, share ideas and make mistakes. Equally important for building resilience are the informal relations people have within the organization: the breaks at the water cooler, the unexpected encounters in the aisle, the chat with a former colleague,.... whether you value his opinion, want to get more information or feel at ease discussing a concern.... These connections are invaluable for colleagues but often invisible or neglected by managers.

Do you mostly look at the crown?

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