The Power of Mutually Beneficial Work Relationships
Ways the relationship between a squid and its bacteria buddy can teach us how to build stronger, more mutually beneficial work relationships.
In my work with corporations and non-profits we look to nature as a muse for smarter, more successful organizational business models. By mapping to some of nature’s most successful frameworks, we can build companies that are sustainable, purposeful while boosting profits and donations.
When it comes to figuring out the beneficial professional relationship models, Nature is filled with examples. Unfortunately, however, our historical view of the relationships found in nature has been built on the perception of competition. In other words, we’ve all bought into the idea that it’s a “dog eat dog” “survival of the fittest” world. I’m happy to report that for the most part, the idea of competitive relationships being the natural state of things is actually a fallacy.
The more deeply we investigate into nature’s inner workings, the more we see that it is literally filled with mutually beneficial relationships. The Hawaiian bobtail squid, for example, has a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium called Vibrio fischeri. This microbe is embedded in the squid’s ink sac and emits light at night that actually matches the illumination of the moon. This mechanism acts like an invisibility cloak for the squid that would otherwise be vulnerable to other sea life due to its small size. In return for this protection, the microbe receives needed nutrients from the squid to live creating a mutually beneficial relationship between bacteria and cephalopod.
Our story about the squid and the microbe is an example of a symbiotic relationship where two different species mutually benefit each other, working together to increase the chances of survival for both parties. On the flip side,
Parasitic relationships also exist in nature. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species – the host- and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense. In this relationship, one species benefits but the other doesn’t. Where I’m based here in Minnesota, the common wood tick living underneath a dog’s fur would be the best example of that type of relationship. While symbiotic relationships are considered “++” parasitic are often termed “+-” in the natural world.
The Power of Organizational Symbiosis
Organizations also have mutually beneficial relationships, but we don’t always give them the respect they deserve. If we wanted to learn from nature, we would look at our relationships as having the potential of becoming or being mutually beneficial, rather than viewing everything through a distorted, competitive lens. One that often seems more parasitic in nature. This view can be detrimental to organizations.
Functions like IT, HR, finance and R&D are often seen as cost centers or “back office” functions that don’t produce revenue like manufacturing, sales, and service. Sometimes people who work on the revenue side of our enterprise see these functions as “less valuable” because they aren’t generating income. This kind of thinking is more like a parasitic relationship found in nature. The backroom functions …read more
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