The concept of growing a team instead of building a team has been around for a long time. Author Frederick P. Brooks wrote about it in his book The Mythical Man-month, which was written over 30 years ago.

He believed that the “building metaphor has outlived its usefulness” and that “the conceptual structures we construct today are too complicated to be accurately specified in advance and too complex to be built faultlessly”. He recommended a “radically different approach”.

So, why do people continue to use the term “team building”? I believe it’s because it’s easier for many technical managers to deal with inanimate objects than it is to deal with people.

Building involves taking materials and logically turning them into something productive. You can determine in advance what you want to achieve and, with the right skills and equipment, reproduce an exact replica of a blueprint.

People aren’t like that. Just because someone has the skills to perform a role doesn’t mean he will perform it. Just because you give someone the title of manager doesn’t mean she can manage. Things get in the way — things like personalities, past experiences and perceptions.

From the industrial age and now to the information age, people are at the heart of most organisations. There is a need to stop treating people like pieces of wood you can build into a structure and start treating them like living beings who will naturally grow if given the right conditions.

Like a good garden, what makes a good team comes down to intangibles and most technical managers aren’t good at dealing with them. They want the black and white, right and wrong and one-size-fits-all solution.

Gardeners know that doesn’t work. They know you can put five plants in the same garden bed, four will thrive and one will die. Often there is no logic to it, just like with people. You can do all the right things: give them good soil, water them, give them regular fertiliser and protect them from pests and they will still die.

That’s nature. Just like you can’t command a plant to grow faster, you can’t command a person to work harder.

People are like plants

So, let’s stop talking about team building and start talking about team growing. Let’s look at what we can do to let people naturally develop rather than force them to fit neatly into a predetermined size and shape.

As a keen gardener and someone who advises managers on employee engagement, I can see that there are many similarities between creating a thriving garden and creating a thriving organisation. 

Whether you have one potted plant sitting on your desk (one employee) or a plot of land that would rival the botanic gardens (many employees), the basic rules are the same.

Get it right and your plants will thrive (your people will grow). Get it wrong and you will be left with a dead and dying garden (high turnover or, even worse, high disengagement).

Gardening can be a rewarding pursuit. There is nothing better than seeing plants grow. It’s the same with people — it can also be hard work and involve a long gap between effort and result. 

Get started with these 10 tips about leadership from Mother Nature:

1.  You can’t grow plants in bad soil and you can’t have engaged leaders in a poor culture.

2. Like people who put the wrong plant in the wrong location simply because they like the look of it, employers also tend to pick people for leadership roles for the wrong reasons.

3. Plants need help to get established; new leaders need assistance and support.

4. The wrong plant can potentially become a weed; a leader in the wrong position can do damage.

5. Like pests and disease moving from plant to plant, bad habits from leaders rub off on their people.

6. Like a tree shading smaller plants, the right leaders provide staff with shelter from the organisational elements.

7. Plants grow better when you give them space. You need to remove the barriers to help leaders grow

8. Sometimes, plants need to be relocated to thrive. Similarly, leaders outgrow their role and need to move on.

9. You need plants in all stages of development to keep your garden healthy. Similarly, you always need to be cultivating new leaders.

10. The law of nature, especially when it comes to plants, applies to leaders too. If they are not growing, they are dying.

I believe that those organisations that will thrive into the future are the ones that embrace the concept of helping their people grow rather than sticking with the outdated model of trying to build a team.

Are you going to be one of those organisations that are forging ahead or are you going to be left behind as others around you learn the secrets to thriving in changing times? Make an investment now in the future of your people. Become a workplace gardener and watch your organisation bloom.