I’ve always called them tulip trees, but I later learned that they are actually Magnolia trees. But as a kid growing up in Portland, the blossoming of these trees meant spring had arrived. And I swore, when I was little, that some magical power had put tulips on branches. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, there is a blossoming tree that grows in the Northwest, which literally has large single tulip shaped pink and white flowers, that open up and blossom over a two week period. They are stunning, exotic, and magical and just make me feel happy. Who wouldn’t like to look out their window, and see at eye level, tulips tightly closed, that over time begin to open up and blossom? And then once fully opened they begin to drop their petals, creating a beautiful pink carpet below.
It made me think about how people open up over time. In the case of the Magnolia, sun, warmth, nurturing care from a gardener, and the right timing, provide the ideal environment for the blossom to emerge and create its beauty. So taking this metaphor, I bet we all have stories of a fellow worker, who just needed the right mix of warmth, encouragement, caring and trust, before they opened up and really became a colleague -- productive and positive.
So in spite of the movement toward working from home in this digital age, I’m not always that enamored of working in physical isolation of others. Many do it successfully, but there is a special formula that is created within the dynamic of a team environment, with people sharing common space and stories, that leads to individuals opening up . Trust, camaraderie, laughter are important ingredients in any workplace – and I’ve seen even the most timid open up and blossom in this situation.
Here are few ideas to help people blossom in the workplace:*
1. Each person has their own comfort level with sharing and opening up. Honor that and respect the time schedule of when people begin to trust and share more.
2. Even if people work from home, provide opportunities, even informally, for employees to get together physically. I recommend at least once a week, e.g. improvement suggestions, new ideas for products or services, "venting" sessions, etc.
3. If you are a manager, don’t only interact when you need something or to give assignments and monitor the work. Employees are people with lives outside of the office. Show an interest.
4. People open up when you think of them not just as an employee but someone with a career path. Spend time on development. You may be surprised at how people will blossom when they get some encouragement.
5. Allow employees to work on projects that may be outside of their usual scope or work. You may notice a new passion and energy obvious signs they are blossoming.
*These are not new or revolutionary ideas, but sometimes we all need a reminder, like the “Tulip Tree” to jog our memory.