Professional Symbiosis

I’ve had dogs as companions for nearly two decades. The lessons our Border Collie Tommy taught me were priceless and will long outlive his 13 years on this earth.  I’m realizing lately that the other species with which we share our lives never stop teaching us lessons regardless of their IQs or English vocabularies.  While Tommy was a professor among dogs – an Einstein – and our other Border Collie Polly was brilliant in her own right, our two Beagles and our two terriers (while much less adept at deductive reasoning) have had just as many invaluable lessons for us.

For example: symbiosis.

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(Left to right) Red, Jessie, Zena Sharing the Sofa

Systems or people working together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is usually referred to as synergy when discussing organizations.  I prefer to think of this phenomenon as symbiosis because we can’t ignore the human element — that very unpredictable blend of history, emotional baggage, and education (from both the book-learning and hard knocks schools) we each bring to our organizations.

Any organization experiences growth and attrition at the same time with the balance hopefully tipping toward stability if not expansion. Staff are hired, staff retire, people evolve. Look around you and you’ll see a slightly different team than you saw last year, even if they are the same people as last year. That is inevitable. That is progress. That is life.

In dealing with colleagues, it’s good to follow the example set by our companion animals.  They don’t always get along; they sometimes compete for attention or resources, but they do recognize each others’ value in the whole.  They embrace their differences or perhaps they don’t consider differences as divisive as you and I might.  I’ll never forget the first time I took 7-pound Jessie to a pet supply store.  We came around the end of an aisle and she came face-to-face with a 120-pound Great Dane puppy.  No fear. No flinch.  Size didn’t matter.  Tiny dog and huge dog were complements, not competitors.

Recognize the value of each individual member of your team.  Consider that they, like you, are probably there to contribute.  Even if they aren’t, professional symbiosis and your own positive perspective will carry you – and the team – much farther than you could imagine.

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