Recent science suggests that trees aren't lone rangers, they communicate to survive - supporting one another to grow. See how something as simple human as a human check-in can give you valuable insight, build trust and supercharge your growth
Since Darwinian times it has been thought that trees were disconnected and in constant competition for nutrients, water and light, with survivors shading out weaker trees and sucking them dry. Now, in contrast to this older theory of survival of the fittest, there is a large body of evidence that suggests trees of the same species are communal, and will on many occasions form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to insect colonies.
What happens beneath a forest is similar to what happens in a meeting...
There is a powerful parallel between the shift that is taking place in our understanding of how trees flourish and grow, and a similar shift in our understanding of team performance. These huge columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet, in what some refer to as the ‘wood-wide web'.
New evidence suggests that trees in a forest are connected through underground fungal networks, sharing water and nutrients through networks, and using them to communicate. This includes sending distress signals about drought and disease, or insect attacks, and other trees altering their behaviour when they receive these messages.
If you've ever run a team meeting and noticed attendees seem more focused on what's next on their schedule (the equivalent of their bit of light/water/nutrients), you are likely to be witnessing the human equivalent of a tree failing to connect to the life-blood that is so important for the forest's, and the individual tree's survival.
The human need for connection
The human need for connection explains why so many people living alone struggled during the pandemic and on the flip side why so many people felt motivated to volunteer or maintain distancing and protective behaviours in the interest of others. It is in this natural state of connectedness that we flourish and grow. Fewer connections result in less presence, and in a team meeting that means a lack of access to the best thinking ideas and insights when a team is together.
Accessing the life-blood of business growth
The old wisdom would argue - who cares whether the 'roots' of the team are connected if there's still a lot of sunlight and water (or the job is getting done), right?
Connectedness builds presence: and human presence is like gold dust in business. As technology gets increasingly cleverer, one of the most important ways in which humans contribute value to the growth of a business is in their presence, because it's from here that we collaborate, solve problems, create, and grow.
The best leaders use the unique talents of each of the humans they lead to create growth, which by virtue of their human need for connectedness, means creating an environment in which those humans can connect and help one another get from A to B - in the interest of a flourishing, sustainable forest.
Your role as a leader in connecting the roots of your people
All too often as humans who are historically hard-wired to mitigate danger and risk, something keeps us in the past (that meeting that didn't go well last week), or the future (that project with the tricky stakeholders we need to manage), and we aren't able to bring our whole self to bear in the context of something as simple as a meeting that is happening right now.
If you're experiencing some of these signs when you're hosting a meeting, that's your cue as a leader to interrupt the unconscious habit in yourself and your team and help raise your collective game. By starting with something as simple as a human check-in at the beginning of your team meetings, taking as little as 30 seconds per person, you can start to change the team dynamic and your potential for sustainable future growth.
A human check-in doesn't have to take more than a few minutes, and yet it can set the tone for a fruitful, productive meeting that is easier to run, whilst also supporting a high-trust, high-performance culture. So maybe try experimenting in your next team meeting and see what difference it makes. You might be surprised what a difference a bit of thought and a few precious minutes can make not just to the remainder of your meeting but also to yours and your teams' weeks.
More support and tools
BLOG - 1 min
Taking a leaf from a tree's book: How human check-ins help leaders grow
How this simple technique can make your role as a leader easier - creating focus, valuable insight and building trust
TOOL - 2 min
Running a human check-in: a step-by-step guide
- how to introduce it
- what happens step-by-step
- important things to remember
- making it a regular practice
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