Growing Deep Roots Through Collaboration
When you think about a tree in Colorado, it might not sound like a model for running a business, but nature always has lessons to offer us. One of these is growing deep roots through collaboration.
Last fall, I was in the Rocky Mountains when I noticed something amazing. Across the slopes, the aspens were changing color in unison, as if they followed a single pattern. As I saw the trees turn from green to gold, I wondered how they did it.
At the same time, I was pondering a challenge many organizations I work with face – how to collaborate better. Today’s organizations are complex, many times comprising multiple, decentralized business units that are interdependent upon each other as well as functional areas that complete the matrix. This disconnect can cause collaboration to fall off. Without an effort to coordinate, our work becomes fragmented and contradictory. Opportunities are lost and relationships soured.
It turns out that the answer to both issues lies in looking at the roots.
When we see a group of aspens, we’re actually looking at a single organism, hundreds of trees that have grown from each other, connected below the ground by their roots. This is how they are able to bloom in unison and to turn from green to gold together in the fall – they recognize their connection.
To work effectively, a complex modern organization needs to nurture its root system, to strengthen the connections that might not show in an organizational chart but that grow beneath the surface.
How can you do that?
There are a lot of small changes that can make a big difference.
- Use video conferencing instead of the phone. Seeing someone face to face creates a more personal connection. It’s easier to judge their mood, understand their tone, and respond appropriately. You get those little visual cues that are available in person and that helps conversation flow.
- Take the time to understand other people’s priorities. This is partly about cultivating empathy, learning to recognize others’ perspectives. But it also comes from learning about other people’s work. Take the time to understand the goals and methods of the people you’re working with, so that you don’t make the mistake of assuming that their view matches yours.
- Make yourself accessible for meaningful time with all members of your team. It’s not enough to just announce that your door is always open. You need to spend time connecting and chatting with people informally. This creates a setting in which you seem truly approachable.
- Provide opportunities for other people to communicate in an informal setting. This makes them get more comfortable with each other and helps develop stronger networks. It might mean creating shared spaces within an office, setting up an online chat system, or even arranging social events that bring colleagues together.
- Be clear about the purpose and limits of each person’s role. This might sound like the opposite of collaboration and having each other’s backs, but it’s actually one of its roots. Uncertainty over who does what creates conflict, as people extend their authority or misunderstand expectations. Knowing what to expect makes it easier to collaborate.
Taking these sorts of steps won’t just improve the way your organization works. It will reshape the way external stakeholders see you.
Since I learned how the aspens connect, my experience of skiing through them has been transformed. Now, as I move through these beautiful glades in their green summer glory, I can feel the connection between the trees around me. Their bond creates a magical atmosphere, one in which I feel embraced and supported by nature.
That’s how a stakeholder will feel when they encounter a truly collaborative organization. Connectedness creates a supportive experience, a sense of sharing in something larger than yourself without the friction of parts in conflict. It’s the spirit of a single organism.
That’s the magic of the aspens and their deep connective roots. It’s truly how growing deep roots through collaboration will benefit your business.
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