Do you have a team of wood gatherers?


I get my inspiration for what to write from a variety of sources and today it was something I saw on LinkedIn.

A colleague in my network shared the following quote:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, and give the orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” [Antonine De-Saint-Exupery]

This is such a fantastic quote and very relevant to anyone leading a team of people.  From my work with business owners and team leaders over the years; one of the single biggest challenges and frustrations is getting a team to do what they need to do; when they need to do it; in a collaborative way; without constant supervision.

So, what does this have to do with this quote?

Well typically, what I have found when digging into this challenge with business owners is 3 things:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, and give the orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

The big picture is not clearly understood by the team

That is, to the team, their job is gathering wood.  They come to work every day and gather wood with no understanding of the bigger picture as to the purpose of the wood; and no understanding as to the importance of the wood.  Faced with the need for more wood, the leader makes the team work harder; faster; longer…

How long do you think it will be before someone in the team starts to rebel?

How much supervision and encouragement do you think this team needs in order to gather enough wood?

How easy a decision would it be for someone in the team to think “hhmmm, I might go and gather wood for that person over there…they will pay me more”?


The team is actually a group of individuals there for their own purpose

Whether we realise it or not, everything we do, we do for a reason.  As human beings we each have core needs that need to be met and we therefore spend our days making decisions and undertaking actions to do just that.

If we are not given a purpose for doing something, we will create one.  So, in this case that might be “it gives me something to do;” “it pays the bills;” “it keeps me fit;” “it allows me to hang out with my mates…”

Not exactly reasons that are going to result in high performance and collaboration!

The expectations of the leader are either unrealistic or worse still; in their head

This is a 2-fold problem, but the outcome is the same.  Either the expectations of the leader are so outrageous they are laughable; or the leader keeps their expectations of the team to themselves, only allowing them to come to the surface to let everyone know how dissatisfied with the amount wood collected they are.

In both cases, this leader will have lost the trust and respect of their team.  What will be present will be an attitude of “why bother, whatever we do won’t be good enough anyway…” and any hope of bringing a team together to work without constant supervision will be lost.

So, what is the moral of today’s story?  Well, if you are leading a team and find yourself frustrated with the results you are experiencing, take a moment to ask yourself this:

“Are my team connected with my big vision for exploring unchartered waters; or are they gathering wood?”

 If you find you have a team of wood gatherers, what might you, as the leader of that team need to change?