The Best Day to Plant a Tree is…

Published: January 24, 2024

…twenty years ago, right? And the second best day is…drumroll… today. This well-worn adage applies to almost anything we wish we’d known or done in hindsight. It’s the very nature of an epiphany – the sudden flush of clarity only lasts until you realize how obvious it should have been. Very few teams enjoy the gifts of launching their culture from scratch and building the right norms and values from day one. In reality, most teams are stuck fixing something that someone else broke.

The tree metaphor is about foresight and maturity. If the goal is to reforest a plot of land, you need both. If the destination is a thriving organization that attracts and retains the most engaged talent, the journey will require planning and it won’t happen overnight. Let’s think about the challenge in phases.

Prepare the soil. Is our mission clear? Do we have the right people? Are we moving at the right pace? Have we enabled sufficient biodiversity to sustain a long lifespan?

Ensure proper sunlight and nutrients. Are roles and responsibilities interconnected? Have we invested sufficient time and resources to support our foundation? Is our ecosystem defined by trust and collaboration?

Empower growth. Can we keep our collective cool under pressure? Are we willing to harness our differences as fuel for creativity? Can we stay focused if the outcome needs recalibration? Are we willing to learn from failure and deliver those lessons forward?

Adapt to environmental changes. Are we stepping back far enough to see the whole picture? Does the wide-angle perspective provide valuable context outside the range of the telephoto lens? Do we have the strength to regroup when our energy is depleted? Can we activate the benefits of a reboot?

While not nearly as long as our arbor friends in the forest, teams have extended lifespans. Cycle after cycle, we cultivate, nurture, expand, and adjust. Every stage matters. The magic happens when everyone understands which phase we’re in, why we’re there, and what we need to do next to stay healthy and growing.

And if we are lucky, we won’t have to wait twenty years to measure our success.   

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.