Planting Seeds to Cultivate Stronger Teams

I spent the better part of the last decade working in community conservation; cultivating growth both in the ground and in communities. It instilled an appreciation of the intertwined relationships of individuals and the larger ecosystem. It taught me to listen better, to nature and to people. And, it crystallized my personal ethos that whenever you’re planting something new, whether it’s seeds or habits, it helps to lead with humility, cautious optimism, and no attachment whatsoever to a particular outcome. It’s a matter of simultaneously maintaining hope while managing expectations.

The most elegant description of this process in nature came from a dear friend and partner who boiled it down to “Sleep, Creep, Leap.” It beautifully captures the trajectory of a new planting from patience in the early days to appropriate expectations as nature’s work gets underway to the feeling of elation when it all comes together. And, the same logic applies to people. In fact, the approach to encouraging a garden to flourish is remarkably similar to that of cultivating high-functioning teams.

Better Meetings Yield Better Growth

Effective teams, much like garden ecosystems, rely on our ability to balance the uniqueness of each member with the shared purpose of the whole. Success results from fostering optimal conditions for each team member to do their best individual work and offer their support to the larger team.

But, when it comes to meetings, we have a tendency to opt for a one-size-fits-all proposition: agenda (if you’re lucky), feedback, and reports. It’s not a bad model, but it lacks the nuance needed to engage your full team and encourage those optimal conditions for really good work and true collaboration. Multiply that by the exponential increase in workplace meetings and you have a recipe for disengagement.

Perhaps there’s room at the conference table for the “Sleep, Creep, Leap” philosophy. With just a few small adjustments, we can incorporate “Empathy, Inclusivity, Conversation” into our meetings and watch our colleagues grow together toward a healthier team.

The Sleep, Creep Leap Method for Better Meetings

Empathy: Get to know your team. This is a quiet practice, much like allowing seeds to take root, that doesn’t cater to our fast-paced, hyper-focused workplaces. But, it’s vital to building real connection. In an episode of her Dare to Lead podcast, social sciences icon BrenĂ© Brown, highlights the two-word check-in as a means of sharing space together in a way that offers meaningful insight, unearths potential for deeper dialogue, and won’t send the introverts running for the door. Create opportunities for you and your team to have genuine moments of candor and you strengthen the very fibers of connection that allow us to care for each other in the workplace and beyond. Show up to your one-on-ones with openness and vulnerability and begin to see that honesty reflected back in thoughtful discussions that get to the root of the challenges that inhibit growth.

Inclusivity: Discovering what blend of factors work best as plants are settling in is crucial for optimal growth. Yet, we often do the opposite with our teams. When we consistently engage colleagues in a typical question and answer format, the same voices will routinely drown out participation from the rest of the group. Intentionally or not, some folks simply take up more “space” at the table, crowding out the rest of the team. Encouraging more participation opens the door to more ideas which, as organizational psychologist Adam Grant puts it in his book, Think Again, allows us to “embrace the joy of being wrong.” What if instead of meetings-as-usual, we offer a spectrum of engagement that aims to vary the way we talk and, consequently, the way we listen? What if we made room in the conversation for thoughtful processing time and the potential for more ideas? What perspectives have we been missing out on? Consider offering a question or a challenge before the meeting. Or, build a few minutes of quiet reflection into the agenda. Utilize the wealth of digital tools that foster participation such as polls, virtual whiteboards, brainstorming apps, etc. Changing the way you conduct meetings changes everything about them, diverting from the traditional path of “first and loudest” voices to one of true collaboration.

Conversation: Which brings us to the leap phase of growth. In the garden, this is the moment when things sprout and bloom without much influence from us because the conditions were nurtured over time. When your team begins to leap, you’ll see interactive dialogue that focuses on collaboration. Gone are the days of active disengagement due to boredom, frustration, and disinterest. In their place, are authentic conversations. Colleagues seek to genuinely understand each other, resulting in organic moments of praise, support, respectful disagreement, and shared expertise. In short, your team is in bloom.

Your Leadership Landscape

This path is not for the instant gratification crowd. Nor is it a match for leaders who engage in surface-level collaboration and only to the extent where they are still in complete control.

It’s a leadership lifestyle. A root system of actionable guidance that grows steadily beneath the surface and blossoms over time. How does your leadership garden look? What needs tending and what needs space to grow?

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