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Want To Foster A Thriving Workplace? Think Like A Rhizome!

Ginger pic 122

Photograph: Frank C. Müller

When we help leaders figure out how to foster workplaces where people can thrive, we frequently find they have a clear vision of wellbeing yet lack ways to make that vision have staying power. When they ask for advice, one thing we tell them is: think like a rhizome!

Let me explain.

A rhizome is a creeping rootstalk from which plants grow. Rhizomes are plentiful in nature and come in diverse shapes and sizes – rhubarb, turmeric, calla lilies, shamrocks, lotus, and bamboo are but a few. In fact, one of the largest and oldest living organisms on the planet is a rhizome, the 80,000-year-old Pando colony of quaking aspens in Utah. (Now that is staying power!)

Given the rhizome’s power to propagate and endure, its qualities have something to teach us. (Philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari outline these qualities in their book, On The Line.) For me, a particular rhizomic feature stands out: the principle of asignifying rupture.

A-signify- …. WHAT?!? A strange phrase to be sure, but before you stop reading, here’s what it means: a rhizome can be broken apart and then start up again. Every part of the rhizome is connected to every other – the information contained in one part is essentially within all the rest – giving each part the capacity to regenerate. You put this principle into practice every time you stick the finger-bump of a ginger root into soil to produce a whole new batch of ginger, or when you repurpose a hops vine to grow your own hops (and make your own beer or herbal brew).

What new questions does this rhizomic quality spark to help turn your organizational wellbeing commitments into a bona fide wellbeing culture? Try out these:

How could our wellbeing approaches tap in and give life to employees’ innate capacities to grow and thrive?

How could we inspire employees to make our wellbeing efforts truly their own (rather than asking them to follow company definitions or mandates)?

How could we encourage employees to remix our wellbeing commitments and resources into new forms to adapt to their aspirations and circumstances?

How could our employees spread the impact of our wellbeing efforts inside and outside our organization in innovative ways we could have never imagined?

A rhizome-inspired strategy to a wellbeing culture radically differs from top-down, directive approaches many organizations still use. It matches the “anywhere, anytime, with anyone” way employees are already evolving how they work. And it means that instead of passively consuming one-stop or risk-oriented wellness programs, employees actively create personalized approaches for making wellbeing a priority in their own lives and come to know themselves as a walking invitation for the wellbeing of others.

It also means cultivating a culture of wellbeing is no longer up to a company’s senior leadership team – that tactic is outdated. Nor is it just about reinforcing health and wellness in corporate training or measurement systems. Leadership support, training, and measurement may still be important, but they are insufficient. Today every employee – as whole, fully-engaged human beings – has the power to live, lead, and contribute to a culture of vitality for themselves, their workplaces, and communities.

I wonder what else we can learn from a ginger root!