Architect your Greenhouse


Architect your Greenhouse

The purpose of a greenhouse is to magnify the light of the sun while preventing plants from freezing temperatures

What has this got to do with workplace conditions and culture? Well, I enjoy what this quote from Tony Hsieh the American internet entrepreneur, famous for founding Zappos evokes.

" This place is like a greenhouse. In some greenhouses, the leader plays the role of the plant that every other plant aspires to. But that's not me. I'm not the plant that everyone aspires to be. My job is to architect the greenhouse".

This is about creating the right conditions to enable people to thrive.

Everything ConnectUp does is based on the premise that we all want to work well. We seek meaning (does what I do matter?) and connection (how does what I do ‘fit’ with the big picture, and who is around me) at work.

It’s no more grand than that. Gethin Nadin who is an author and the Director of Wellbeing at Benefex talks about employees as being an ‘Appreciating Asset’ – worth more to the organisation over time. Studies consistently show that engaged employees bring clear commercial benefit to the organisation they work for. So setting conditions to allow them to be at their best makes financial sense as well as being ‘nice’.

Goals and Priorities are a Lighthouse for teams

“This is why we work; this is what we are striving for”.

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Culture Code (a personal favourite) talks about goals and priorities as being a ‘Lighthouse’ for teams.

I’m a Formula 1 fan and this article about the Mercedes team was fascinating. A team known for technical excellence and a no-nonsense approach to racing who puts people and culture at the centre of what they do. They credit this as the key to their success.

“Culture’s everything” as Mercedes Chief Designer John Owens says.

This quote from Toto Woolf (Team Principal and CEO of Mercedes F1) about leadership resonated:

“It’s all about hiring and developing the right individuals, forming a culture and the team spirit around them, and then defining the core objective […] once that is defined, we leave it to each other in our respective fields to deliver on the core objective”.

Toto Woolf

There is a model I use with teams that always helps us get to the nub of what’s going on. It sparks meaningful conversation and diagnoses the issues. It’s the GRPI model, created by Dick Beckhard. He talks of Goals, Roles, Processes and Interpersonal Relationships.

Here is a link to find out more.

The premise is that often the ‘issue’ is seen at the ‘I’ stage – interpersonal relationships – but if you work back ‘up’ these interactions are actually being effected by other foundational elements. You move ‘up’ to diagnose, but start at the top and move down to build the foundations you need. This picture might describe things better..!

Visual courtesy of

Once you have done that diagnostic work together, and clarity around What, Who and How is reached, then the architect really needs to come into play. The greenhouse has been designed, but it needs to be built. James Allison, in his role as Technical Director for Mercedes, talks about it in this way:

“You put a lot of effort self-consciously into trying to say what your values are, but culture is a sticky thing. And it only really sticks if you’re prepared to, having made that intellectual effort, go out and do it” […]

“If you have a critical mass of people on the leadership side of the team, that are telling and retelling that story, and acting in a way that backs up the claim, then boy oh boy is it a weapon by the time the whole organisation buys into that”.

Culture is a Sticky Thing

How are you designing your greenhouse?

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