There is no way you can buy psychological safety and trust. These things can only be planted as seeds and very carefully cultivated so that they can grow. And the process is very like planting a garden. The initial seeds are sown, and you cannot know whether or not they will germinate, nothing is visible on the surface, you just have to wait and see. With patience, and the right nutrients, the new shoots will push through the ground, full of bright, youthful energy — and extremely vulnerable to predators. But with the right care, this new life can grow into a garden of incredible richness and creativity.
Creating an organization that can allow life to flourish is no different to creating a garden. Unfortunately, so many of organizations are barren desserts, or worse, parking lots that have attempted to control the unruliness of humanity with concrete. There is very little chance for an individual or a team to grow in an environment hostile to life.
But here is the problem with my metaphor. There is no gardener. There is only the garden, and we, the plants must cultivate ourselves — just like nature. So, instead of believing that there is some guiding hand that knows what we need, we must realize that we are both the content and the context, that it is our own growth that makes it possible for those around us to grow too.
When that first brave seed sprouts in desolation, it changes the environment. The great effort and bravery of the first seeds, if they survive those first few moments, will hold the soil just a little tighter, will create a tiny bit more shade, and allow a few others to lift their heads. As these new lives provide each other with just enough protection and support to grow just a little more, and so it continues. The garden grows together, with different plants playing their part at different stages of it’s development, and eventually, when it is ready, it will bear fruit.
It’s time for us to leave behind a mechanical vision of the organization. The days of the assembly line are over. No longer can humans be seen as “resources” to be plugged into a machine. In order to create a group of people that can face down extremely complex problems, make use of all the resources at their disposal, and keep doing it sustainably — we must model our collaboration on ecosystems. We must learn to create environments that nurture life, allow it to prosper and bear fruit. If we can do this, we will have changed the nature of work.