3 Giant Questions Giant Sequoias Can Make Us Ask About Organizational Culture – Earth Day 2020

Have you ever encountered a life form so that it is simply humbling to be around? Perhaps it was a whale shark, an elephant, or maybe a giant tree. All have fascinated me over the years. They have caused me to ask: “Can these giants give us any giant lessons on organizational culture?”   

It turns out the Giant Sequoias have Giant (pun intended) lessons for us, that I learned unintentionally after a hike last summer.  The experience led to 4 key questions about organizational culture that may be helpful for all leaders to think about and discuss.

To be Excellent, Study Excellence!  

The Giant Sequoias are among the largest tree species on the planet, growing up to 400 feet high and living past 3000 years according to Life science.  Their trunks have been large enough to drive cars through.  Their soft bark is serves as a fire retardant (although the super fires of recent in California have put them to the test). Although leaving behind scars, for thousands of years that bark has protected many of these trees from lower temperature, lower intensity forest fires (more to come on this in a moment).  Their branches alone are larger than many fully grown trees, and seem to be ecosystems on their own.  To experience one is breathtaking and truly an experience of the excellence born in nature.

As a fair warning…it may involve a visit to a masseuse after gazing upward over and over in these breathtaking groves, if you have never seen them before.  

From Potential To Majesty: The 3000 Year Old Oat Grain 

Here is where it gets fascinating…They start from a seed that is about as large as an oat grain.  In fact, 91,000 of them add up to a single pound.  I was personally blown away when I first learned this on a hike in Big Tree State Park from a Ranger sharing this with one my kids at the visitor center.  She then went on to explain how the trees starting point in life is actually the epitome of resiliency.  The trees DEPEND ON FOREST FIRES TO REGENERATE.  The blaze opens up the cones releasing the seeds, and eats up the dead brush that has accumulated on the forest floor, which leaves behind a nutrient rich ash in which saplings can flourish.   

Think for a moment about the process of this oat grain sized seed…

That oat grain has to embed in the soil, grow a root system, break through the soil, weather the seasons, survive fires, rain, snow, massive winds, droughts, floods, AND it cannot move at all.  It just has to work with whatever comes at it.  As such, many of these seeds never see the light of day.  Others take root, break through, only to be destroyed by one of the forces before becoming strong enough to truly thrive and rise above the forest floor.  The ones that stay, have risen and grown, despite the often unforgiving, harsh, and relentlessly unpredictable environment.  Because of a high concentration of tannin, these trees become immune to most diseases including fungus and many insect attacks.  In many ways, because of their challenges out of the gate, the ones that make it actually fortify their strengths significantly as they grow…  

But Why…AND What Can They Teach Us About Culture? 

In our organizations…we face proverbial storms, droughts, fire drills, floods and so much more.  They feel relentless and crushing at times.  Individuals and organizations that can stay resilient, are much like the sequoias…the ones who can become beacons of sustained strength and excellence.  Despite this, somehow, we must keep moving on…some organizations do that better than others despite the environmental conditions faced.  We have spoken about the Sequoias on a singular basis…but when looking up at them, we must ask the question…how do they stay standing?  

The answer is found looking down at what we cannot see below ground and examining the whole Sequoia grove.  The roots beneath the soil gives rise to their above ground majesty.  Most importantly…it is not simply the single roots of a tree that makes it strong…it is actually the inter-connectivity of the root system that allows the giants to integrate and thrive, despite what the environment brings at them. As noted by Giant-Sequoia.com…They have no deep taproot, but instead a matting, shallow and widespread root system.

Their roots become incredibly intertwined and connected with the grove as they grow outward.  When the forces of nature hit…it is the collective of intertwined roots that keeps them standing together.  On their own, they would be massively limited in strength.  Without the interconnection of roots with the other Giant Sequoias, survival for a single tree on its own becomes much more difficult.  Their calibration and commitment to serving each other, through the roughest environments is what allows them to grow massive, strong, and sustain for thousands of years.  They also cannot pick up shop and move…they must take whatever comes at them.  Can you name a company that has been around for thousands of years?

Your Culture IS Your Root System

We cannot always control what our environments will bring to us, but we can focus on being intentional about nurturing our roots.  Cultures are the roots and the unseen lifeblood that will give rise or fall to our organizations through the best and worst of environments.  At the hall mark of culture?  PEOPLE!  

As a leader, I can only imagine that you want your organization to thrive like the three thousand-year-old Giant Sequoia trees…but if you aren’t looking after the roots, then who will?

Somehow, perhaps unbeknownst to us, The Giant Sequoia’s are incredibly intentional in focusing on designing and developing their unseen roots, as the key to their long-term growth and sustenance.  

“What we do in Life echoes in eternity.” 


Shift the Questions

In our productivity, deadline obsessed cultures of today, it is easy to let the importance of their lessons slip away, so here are some questions to consider…  

  1. Are you building an organization to thrive for simply the next project, or an organization built to last for one thousand years and beyond?  
  2. What would happen if you operated today under the lens of building an organization that will be around 1000 years from now?  What would you do differently starting tomorrow?  
  3. Does your current culture support thriving to get to 1000 years (or even 100), or are you barely surviving the next project?  

Bonus Question:

When you realize that you are only currently holding the baton, but it will be passed several times well beyond your time here…what does your long-term focus become within your organization?

It is amazing how a chance encounter with a ranger in the Giant Sequoias can provide a shift in how we can look at creating long term strong, engaged culture in our organizations.       

If you are ready to develop the best managers in your organization, and equip them with exactly what is needed to focus on strengths, cultivate and sustain employee engagement, enroll your managers in a Best Manager Academy.  The real question is: how can you afford not to send invest in a culture of best managers? For more information, visit https://www.bestmanageracademy.com/

Darren Virassammy is the Co-Founder and COO/CFO of 34 Strong Inc. Darren’s top five strengths are: Achiever, Arranger, Relator, Learner and Responsibility.