Company culture: a lesson from albizia trees — what happens when growth is “tall and fast”…

Nature can teach us a lesson about company culture

A fallen albizia tree, photo courtesy Sen. Russell Ruderman.

“Did you hear that noise?”

I was in Hawaii last week walking along the Manoa Falls Trail, when our guide who was taking us through stopped us.

We all shook our heads, “no.”

“Okay, well that’s good,” he said. “If we had, it would have been the sound of the albizia tree limb cracking. You have to be careful if you hear that noise, The albizia tree limb could be cracking above your head… and onto your head.”

Our guide went on to explain that albizias are one of the largest, fastest growing trees in the world. Yet the albizia tree has one big problem: Their wood is weak and brittle.

As a result, albizia trees often topple and split, causing damage to other plant life around them — and to people. In Hawaii, albizia trees have become such a hazard, there are active efforts to preemptively remove them before they get too big and dangerous.

Tall and fast on the outside, weak and brittle on the inside. Looking at these trees, it made me think of businesses too. How the companies I’ve seen that seem big, tall and fast-growing cripple and implode internally. Preoccupied with raising as much money as they can and spending as much money as they can, these companies operate without regard to profitability, how well they’re solving a real problem, and if their team’s culture is healthy. Without strong insides, they don’t last long. And like albizia trees, they leave a wake of damage for others to clean up when they fall.

Even in nature, the things that grow too fast don’t survive.

As we grow Know Your Team, I get a lot of questions from folks about why we intentionally stay small and bootstrapped. Why don’t we go out and raise a bunch of money? Why we don’t go hire a team of fifty people? Why not try to be big, tall, and fast-growing?

To them, I say: Look at the albizia tree. There’s a lesson from nature there.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.

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