Today is Global Community Engagement Day. At our organization, No Worker Left Behind, we often discuss the importance of community and how to build a healthy work community. Last week, I shared my recent visit to Puerto Rico with my team and the splendid time spent visiting the equatorial forest. I was amazed at the diversity, harmony, and health of the forest that regularly faces hurricanes and other natural disasters. The canopy layers of trees and wildlife resemble a large complex organization with a healthy culture and community. This reminded me of a book I had read a long time back – The hidden lives of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and the lessons I had learned from that reading regarding the importance of community and ecosystem for any organization.
Organizations could learn many lessons on building resilient excellence culture from how a healthy forest grows, sustains, and supports itself. And how leaders and organizations can encourage characteristics of a forest in its organizational culture to strengthen, engage and grow its community. I am sharing a few of the characteristics that I try to follow and spread when leading an organization –
Build strong connections: Trees though immobile, have dense networks with each other to communicate. They are purposefully open to connection with other trees, other kinds of plants, and other types of life in the forest. Trees that are not a part of a forest and don’t have the same level of connectivity don’t always lead the same healthy life that a connected tree in a forest gets. This also applies to people. Connections and community can enrich your life by opening you up to newer ideas. And, Breaking the silos can help you see outside the box and help you build a more fruitful life. Strong connections in an organization help learning to flow from one part to another, drive innovation and reuse, and bring in newer perspectives that drive better results.
Spread equity: Wohlleben says, “When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be.”. This is an important principle, as trees understand their needs and are not hoarders. They know that sharing will help everyone thrive. A healthy forest creates an ecosystem that benefits everyone in the long run. This also applies to human communities, where equitable societies progress more than those with extreme inequities and social unrest. The same is the case with corporates, where an organization’s equitable division of profits and success helps build motivation, comraderies, and goodwill.
Encourage continuous learning: Wohlleben talks about tree etiquette and how trees learn how to behave and what to do. Trees learn from their parents, their environment, and their experiences. Their behavior is shaped by their environment, some things are rewarded, and other things are curbed for the benefit of their survival. Humans are also continuous learners, and our success depends on how we learn and adapt to the changes in our lives. This is true for an organization that needs to continuously learn and unlearn to grow and evolve. This is particularly true in today’s world, where the nature of work, workers, and the workforce is changing, and a growth mindset is needed to learn new ways and unlearn what doesn’t work to continue progressing.
Build committed team players – Trees hugely depend on community life for their growth and survival. Trees form communities in which they support one another. Trees are committed team players that support each other in distress, protect each other and work together to get through tough times. In this hybrid or remote world, team members need the same commitment, if not more, to excel. High-performing teams have trust, purpose, and motivation that builds the team spirit needed to achieve challenging and ambitious goals. There is an ever-growing need to build commitment and connectedness in remote teams, where people can rely on each other and have each other’s back.
Reward joint ownership – Trees can teach us much about cooperation and solidarity. Trees teach us about the value of society and community. They seem to understand that supporting the whole forest is in their best interests. The tree knows that it is simply better together. It relies on its immediate neighbors and the whole forest’s ecosystem for its own survival. Living in the woods protects it from storms and other extreme weather conditions and secures the precise microclimate it needs to thrive. Organizations and teams are part of the bigger community they live in, and there is a mutually symbiotic relationship for us to support each other and have a joint responsibility to grow together. The current movement around ESG is supported both within the walls of an organization and outside and is an excellent example of joint ownership. Though more needs to be done in this space faster, we are moving in the right direction. Similarly, joint ownership in the projects from various teams is the only key to success. If people are looking at succeeding in their small part to the disadvantage of the other or indifferent to the other parts, the organization and the team will not be able to bear the fruits of all the hard work.
Nature has so many lessons for us to learn from that we seem to miss out. An empowered community where people are engaged, respected, and valued is a simple rule that builds a win-win formula for a healthy and growing organization. I would want all to take away three things to build a healthy and successful work community for themselves: to invest in the connections, continuous learning and build joint ownerships. These principles inspire me to bring more kindness, collaboration, and courage into our lives and to create more situations where everyone is a winner.