Earlier this month my family and I had a fantastic vacation in Colorado. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. But we were a little disappointed with the weather. They were still experiencing a late winter. In fact, we had snow one day, in June! Because of this, we did not get to experience much of the beauty that the Rocky’s have to offer. In particular, we did not get to see the Aspens in all their beauty. But I learned some interesting tidbits about the Aspens. And so I wrote this blog because if you want great teamwork, learn from the aspens.
Learn from the Aspens
Have you ever seen a beautiful grove of Aspens? One of my favorite sites in the Rockies is the beautiful mountainsides filled with these trees. The beautiful yellow leaves and their straight, starch white staves pepper the landscape. But did you know that the true beauty of the Aspen exists beneath the surface? The Aspen clusters are actually called “clones”. And Aspens are not considered individual organisms, but actually, the entire “clone” of Aspens is considered one organism. That makes Aspen clones not only very complicated organisms but also among the largest and oldest organisms on the earth.
Aspens don’t live as individual trees. They live as a community. They share nourishment.
The beauty of the network is that the entire clone of trees is dependent on each other. No individual tree can succeed separate and apart from the network of trees. Likewise, as the network is productive, so are the individual trees. Collectively the trees absorb sunshine and other nutrients needed to sustain themselves. Likewise, collectively the root system ensures that the trees receive the nourishment they need to succeed.
When I learned this, I thought about the great lesson this gives us regarding teamwork. Effective teams should operate like this organism.
How Teams Should Operate
There is no “I” in “team”. We’ve heard that a thousand times, right?
Have you ever worked on a team where one person liked to stand out on their own? I’m sure you have. If you’ve worked with human beings at all, you have run across this person. They are not interested in how the team functions as a whole, they are just out to make sure that they get their part of the work done (and receive the appropriate credit, of course).
If a team operated like Aspens, how much different would it be? Each individual would be looking out for the other. If one was slipping behind, others would give them the encouragement and support they needed to move forward. If one wasn’t pulling its weight, others would check to see what is wrong and work to improve the situation.
I have worked with teams that operated this way, and it is truly a blessing when it happens. I’m part of a leadership team at church that functions much like this. I have never known any member of the team that sought credit over one another. And we always have each others’ back. When one is down, others rally around them. A few years ago I was in a tough spot. I’ve never felt more encouragement and support than I did at that particular time.
This is how teams should operate, but many do not.
A Network of Teams
Businesses and organizations can also learn from the aspens. Think of them as a “network of teams”. Think of each Aspen tree as an individual team, and the organization as the entire group (aka “clone”).
The actions of the Aspen clone is very similar to a successful organization that works as a network of teams. Each team works individually to perform its function but cooperatively functions within the entire network
When you understand your organization is no longer a hierarchical organizational structure, but yet a network of teams dedicated to helping each other succeed, you recognize the different leadership patterns that come into play. Hierarchical organizations require a level of “command and control” structure that drives efficiencies. Team networks require leaders who seek not to better themselves but to drive success for the entire team.
Team networks require a different model of leadership. The leaders of these networks are essentially dedicated to the success of the team. And if the team’s success is dependent on the success of the entire network, then individual power struggles and power plays take the back seat. The success of the overall network is paramount. The role of the team leader becomes that of a collaborator and encourager.
Can this work in your organization?
What do you think? Can the “Aspen model” work in your company or organization? I bet it could. And I bet the individual aspens (aka “people”) on your teams would benefit from it. You will see greater involvement, a higher level of employee engagement, and a more successful organization when the team collectively supports each other.