How looking to natural ecosystems can help leaders build better teams

Celine Pasula / June 2020 / Industry Perspectives

Celine Pasula is CEO of Fingersoft, a Finnish game studio. Forged by her biologist background, she has explored how company culture gets created by closely looking at the characteristics of the most successful teams. Here she shares what she’s learned.

With lockdown policies easing across Europe, most people are wondering what their future work experience might look like. In creating a cultural environment that fosters teams to succeed, leadership can not only help individuals navigate this new world, but they can help them thrive in it too.

As CEO of Fingersoft, a mobile game studio in Finland, I have spent years observing what successful teams look like, and what their key drivers are. And as a Finnish person living close to nature, I learned that there is more than one similarity that leaders can draw between natural ecosystems and team culture.

Creating a positive environment helps companies be dynamic, fosters a culture of innovation and constant learning, and provides a space in which employees feel comfortable enough to make decisions, even when working remotely. But how can this be achieved?

Survival of the most responsive

A natural ecosystem is a community of living organisms working in conjunction with the non-living components to produce an environment beneficial to all. For leaders, this means that ensuring all elements of their business interact and adapt is key to success — one misalignment and the entire system could collapse.

One of Charles Darwin’s key insights into the survival of the fittest is that it’s “not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. As leaders, we must task ourselves with creating environments that allow for constant change.

A large part of being responsive to change is a willingness to learn. But that willingness needs to be met with opportunity, which is why it’s key that teams are encouraged to continue learning and, most importantly, truly feel that they can carve out the time to do this.

Connection is the key to adaptability

Innovation and change often come from creating an ecosystem, or company culture, in which people can connect. And while it may be difficult to physically connect right now, there are many ways — from virtual coffee chats to weekly employee check-ins — in which you can continue to foster deep relationships that inspire change.

Consider the Amazon rainforest. The trees provide protection from changing weather, while the rain provides hydration for the plants to grow, which in turn allows for other animals to flourish from the nutrients they provide. One small change means that all other parts of the chain need to adapt.

Teams are similarly intertwined. Each member of a team and every team within the broader organisation has the ability to provide input that helps others grow. And if one person or one team is underperforming, it can have an impact on the entire business. Creating a true understanding of how different teams relate to each other, and what visions and values they share, makes it much easier for everyone to move in the same direction.

A positive culture is at the core of a great ecosystem

Leaders should use their company’s values to create a safe environment for teams to make decisions. One way to achieve this is by filling our teams with people who are experts in their field, maybe even smarter than we are. And these teams are the ones who need to make the decisions, not the leadership.

But for these teams to feel they are able to make these decisions, it’s imperative to give them psychological safety. In nature, certain stimuli trigger feelings of fight or flight. When employees feel rejected or ashamed, that same feeling can be evoked.

At a time when remote working is so prevalent, distance may make it harder to read or understand intentions. Ensuring psychological safety is kept at the core of your communication creates a culture that helps teams feel safe enough to try new things and know they will receive the right support to get back up if they fail.

3 tips for creating an ecosystem in which your teams can thrive

  1. Allow employees the opportunity of constant education and encourage them to share their findings with colleagues.
  2. Though people may not be physically able to connect, invest in virtual ways to foster deeper relationships.
  3. Create a company culture that supports employees even if they fail. This will inspire your teams to continue to try new things.

Interested in learning more? Watch Celine Pasula discuss leadership, people, culture, and evolution theory as part of the App Hub Live webinars. Other talks include ‘Building a better user experience’, ‘Systems for ecosystem integrity’, and ‘Global app trends and insights’.

How to lead your team in a time of chaos and complexity