Unmasking the Hidden Heartwood: Building Resilient Teams from the Inside Out

A picture of a Jamun Tree that is used as an inspiration for the blog

In our journey through life, we often encounter seemingly healthy and thriving entities, only to realize that all may not be as it appears on the surface. For years, the trusty Jamun tree had gifted us deliciously sweet Jamuns. Reflecting back when I came to Breakthrough as participant in 2004, I fondly recall those moments when we devoured these sweet and healthy nature’s treats. Even when I joined Breakthrough as a facilitator in 2013, the Jamun tree continued to provide shade, lending a calming ambiance near Breakthrough’s front gate.

However, the year 2022 brought the Jamun tree ceased to bear fruit as it once did, leaving us perplexed. It was the discerning eyes of Linda, Jack, and Robby, our resident tree enthusiasts, that unearthed the hidden truth – the tree was silently withering away from the inside out. To the untrained eye, the tree still appeared robust and verdant. There were visible symptoms of decay in the tree.

T​he Jamun Tree being felled by arborists from Tree Care India, Auroville

T​he Jamun Tree at Breakthrough’s entrance being felled by arborists from Tree Care India, Auroville

When arborists from Tree Care India Auroville, came to prune the trees in
Breakthrough, they reinforced that the tree had to be taken down. Some of us, however, held onto a glimmer of hope, advocating for a ‘stay of execution,’ believing the tree still looked too good to be felled. The skilled tree surgeons from Tree Care proceeded with precision, working tirelessly to ensure that the tree’s removal did not damage the wall, gate, or other elements beneath it. It wasn’t until we examined the tree’s bark that we realized the grim truth – the tree had been dying from the inside out, its heartwood compromised.

Vinayak Jakati, a long-time friend of Breakthrough, came to do a workshop for us, he pointed at the big rotting hollow and said that it’s the heart of the tree that is affected. This thought triggered a powerful realization, drawing a parallel to Breakthrough’s long-used phrase – ‘Building teams inside out.’ Just as the Jamun tree’s heartwood had silently decayed, teams, too, can encounter hidden challenges within their core.

I​nternal decay seen in the heartwood of the Jamun Tree

I​nternal decay seen in the heartwood of the Jamun Tree

The key takeaway here is that the heart of a team, much like the heartwood of a tree, plays a pivotal role in shaping its strength, culture, communication, and cohesion. Just as the Jamun tree’s inner core had fallen prey to concealed rot, teams can grapple with concealed internal issues that may not be immediately evident. Teams may show a few symptoms of internal disruptions, which can only identified by a keen observant leader.

You see, it’s the inner workings of teams that exert the most influence outwardly and ensure their sustainability. When teams exhibit signs of trouble or a decline, it’s often rooted in their inner layers. Despite external functionality or results being achieved, it’s imperative to focus on nurturing the team’s core.

Hence, it’s not merely about the results that teams achieve; it’s about tending to their internal health, safeguarding against environmental stressors and external elements that could jeopardize the sustainability of results and relationships in teams.

Managers and leadership teams can internalize this valuable lesson and apply it to their team dynamics. Encourage teams to engage in introspection, to evaluate their core, and to reinforce their “heartwood.” Here’s how you can lead your teams to embrace the concept of building from the inside out

  1. Invest-in Team Culture: Encourage teams to establish a positive and inclusive culture where trust, open communication, and shared values can flourish. A healthy culture forms the bedrock for a team’s long-term sustainability. A culture where leadership and potential within the team is not devalued. It is crucial for a team’s long-term sustainability to have a healthy culture that supports them.
  2. Communication and Conflict Resolution: Address the internal dynamics of the team. Encourage effective communication and conflict resolution strategies, fostering open discussion and resolution of issues to prevent them from rotting and causing damage.
  3. Team Development: Focus on the personal and professional growth of team members, akin to nourishing a tree. Teams need training, skill-building, and continuous learning to remain healthy and robust. Leaders should consistently empower and delegate across the team so that everyone feels valued.
  4. Recognize Stressors: Help teams identify the “environmental stressors” that may impact their internal health, such as changes in leadership, external pressures, or shifting goals. Mitigate their effects and develop strategies for adaptation.
  5. Regular Check-Ins: Encourage teams to evaluate their internal health periodically. Regular evaluations and feedback sessions can help identify issues before they become critical.

By adopting the principle of building teams from the inside out, teams can ensure their endurance, adaptability, and enduring success. Ultimately, it’s not just about the results a team achieves, but about their ability to withstand the trials and tribulations of their journey. Teams that grow from the inside out are not only productive but also resilient, adaptable, and well-prepared to confront the challenges that come their way.

In conclusion, the Jamun tree imparts a valuable lesson that resonates not only with the natural world but also with teams in the corporate realm. Leaders need to watch out for symptoms of internal issues, which can only be identified by being observant. Just as the Jamun tree might have seemed vibrant on the surface, many teams may project functionality and productivity, while their true strength and sustainability lie within, concealed from plain view.

Blog written by Blessy Esther, Head – Marketing and Senior Facilitator, Breakthrough