There are some trees in my street that are an example of how working together can give us hope for the future. It's led to ideas for how you can build a stronger and more resilient organisation and business, says Nigel Berman
There’s a line of elm trees across the street from my flat.
I love those trees. Their branches are directly opposite my lounge window, and I sometimes watch as birds and the odd squirrel hop about in them.
They turn an otherwise ordinary urban street into something more alive and positive. Especially now, after the pandemic.
So I was very upset a few years ago when the council cut one of them in half.
A tree further down the road had fallen over in a big storm, and one opposite me was leaning in at a rakish angle - I guess they were worried it might also fall over at some point.
When the tree surgeons had finished their job of cutting off all the branches, all they’d left standing was the 20ft high trunk, from my window I could see a big hole running through the centre of it.
I thought they’d killed it.
How wrong I was. I’ve watched over the years as life has slowly returned. There’s now a cascade of thin, but long and bushy branches in full leaf growing out of the top.
It's not the same as it was, but it's flourishing.
For a long while I wondered how this could be.
After the tree surgeons pruned it down, it had no leaves left, no branches at all. It looked a goner. How could it grow into a thriving tree again?
I thought I knew... but now I'm sure.
For the last few weeks my reading has been The Hidden Life of Trees - an amazing book by German forester, Peter Wohlleben.
And I’m now convinced: its neighbour trees have helped it out.
This struck me as a great metaphor for now - it's helped me reflect on the post-pandemic situation we're all in - and speaks to me of hope, and the way forward.
Reading Wohlleben's book and thinking about all this has given me some ideas we can all apply to build stronger and more resilient organisations and businesses, by learning from nature.
If you have a business, a team, or a life that's been 'cut in half' during the Covid-19 crisis, there's a way you can revive and thrive in the future.
You may not emerge the same as before, but you can come back from this.
What trees can teach us about resilience and teamwork
Here are a several things about trees that you can apply to build better teams, better businesses, and a better society:
1. Trees don’t just look out for themselves, they support each other
A tree is only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. Many trees together create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores water, and slows down the wind. Like this they can live to be very old. If they are only looking out for themselves, most trees would never reach old age. So they do not hesitate to help each other out, and sick individuals are supported and nourished.
2. Loner trees might look healthy but they have no idea what is going on around them
Trees communicate with each other through an underground network of small fungi - the wood wide web. Trees standing alone either can’t or don’t know how to do this, and are more open to danger from pests and the elements.
3. Trees in the forest synchronise performance so that they are all equally successful despite different locations and different conditions
(If you don’t believe that, next time you go into a wood, check out the condition of the trees at the edge - where there’s more exposure to the elements - compared to the trees in the middle which are more protected.)
4. Trees that cooperate and collaborate with fungal partners do much much better
Trees that work with the fungal network can suck up twice the nutrients and water than those who trap the soil with their own roots alone, even with the 20% cost in sugar and nutrients that the fungi require in exchange.
Despite how it looks to us, trees work best as a community. As do we.
What these ideas conjure up for me is some thinking for the current time on resilience and the importance of working together.
If we're to lay the foundations for a fairer society and for a new way to emerge out of the crisis, we must work together like never before for the planet and the greater good.
And extending the ideas from how trees work into thinking about your organisation, your business, your team, here’s three things you could be doing:
1. Check in on weaker members and make sure they're okay
2. Reach out, keep in touch with people, and bring any loners into the fold
3. Keep your supplier ecosystem alive - especially smaller and local companies - you’ll do better because of it.
I’d love to hear any reflections that you have.
ps if you're looking for ways for your teams to connect, at School of the Wild, we bring leaders and teams outside to help you reconnect and think differently, so that you are inspired to change the way you work.
We incorporate activities like making fires, creating a team symbol from forest materials, and connecting with nature as part of creating space for meaningful conversations that build belonging and align your workforce with your values. Have a look at our team building programmes or get in touch for more information.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.