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Bring Grasslands to Your Next Strategy Session

Whether you're a seasoned organization or a startup chances are high that you've sat through a strategy session with your team. Regardless of the complexity and phase of your organization, you and your team have likely pondered how to grow, expand, or increase revenue and impact. I'd like to invite you to layer on a few additional questions at your next session. Start with this one.

  • What phase of ecological succession are we in?

The intent is to allow your team time to reflect on the journey your organization has taken to get to where it is today. The best way to start this activity is to take a look at one of our most resilient ecosystems - grasslands.

Ecosystems such as grasslands may follow three stages of ecological succession - primary, secondary, and climax. Similar to organizations, ecosystems go through a start-up phase and depending on man-made or environmental disruptions may reach a more mature state - the climax phase.

Primary succession for ecosystems includes two phases. The first begins in an area where there was once no previous organic growth. The area can be rocks or even roofs on a house. The very first species (pioneers) such as lichens and mosses show up and function as soil builders.  

This initial phase of primary succession is akin to a start-up phase with a few 'soil builders' putting in their long hours and finances to bring an idea to market. It takes time to 'enrich the soil' and attract the right investors and talent to build the right customer base. For organizations in the initial phase of primary succession consider the following questions:

  • Are our vision and values able to withstand changes to the market?

  • What mentorship are we offering these initial pioneers of our organization to prevent a "this is the way we used to do it" mentality?  

An ecosystem's goal is one of survival and that depends on all species working together - it's essential to revisit both direction and utilization of human and financial resources.  

The second phase of primary succession includes the next wave of pioneers which are the grasses and weeds that provide food for small herbivores such as insects, rodents, and birds. This second wave of pioneers increases both diversity and subsequently productivity of the ecosystem. There are two critical questions to consider here.  

  • As we grow are we looking at diversity?  

  • More importantly, what are we doing about inclusion? 

Most organizations fail to transition from the founding or core member mentality to an expanded set of pioneers preventing a true culture of inclusion and thus not reaching optimal productivity.  

Secondary succession begins when a wildfire or overgrazing destroys the grassland ecosystem and rebuilding must start again. This is very similar to an organization that has lost it's cash cow revenue or discovers it's selling outdated technology, services, or products. The organization must reflect on the following questions:

  • Is there a place in the market for us again?

  • If so, who are the right pioneers for this new direction?

Grasslands may ultimately reach the climax stage when food rich shrubs arrive that provide food for larger herbivores and small carnivores. This final stage is a very stable stage that can endure for hundreds of years. The way both our environment and business is changing today it's unlikely that an ecosystem or an organization will reach true maturity.  Consider and embrace that at this time it's important to be flexible and adaptable. A few key questions to consider here for sustainable growth are the following:

  • What are we doing to create flexible processes and systems within our organization?

  • What are we doing to provide flexibility to our employees?

If you are interested in learning more about Nature-inspired techniques for your organization, connect with me at erica@followthesunflow.com or visit me at www.followthesunflow.com.

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Erica Medina Stanulis