Overheard: a conversation between two gardeners working in a local community. One weeds the flower beds by hand each week, and the other manages the meadows and grass areas within the community, mainly using ride-on mowers. This was clearly the first time they had met, and as they introduced themselves, they commiserated with each other on their jobs. Each clearly felt that the other had the ‘raw end’ of the gardening deal. Each also refuted the other’s assertion and was astonished to find that the other did not see things in the same light. 

Two people, and two similar, but very different jobs. However, this brief encounter points to some very important lessons for all of us to remember.

We are all individuals, and there is a place for us all

This is so obvious that it almost shouldn’t need to be said—but it does. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to jobs, work, or general approach to life. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and their own view of what works for them. You cannot assume that anyone else will react to anything, or feel things, in exactly the same way as you. You also cannot assume that you know others’ preferences or goals or objectives at work or in life. 

This insight is important for anyone, but especially for managers. When you are working with others, you cannot make assumptions. Instead, you need to talk to those around you to find out their preferences, needs and wants. You also need to be aware of how others are behaving and responding, and react to them appropriately. This is the basis of good management and strong cooperation and co-working in any situation.

Teams work best when you find individuals who love their role

We know that teams work best when they are diverse, and particularly when they contain people filling each of Belbin’s roles. However, they will also work much better when everyone is doing what they enjoy most. That goes for both the tasks that they are given, and the (Belbin-related) roles that they take on within the team. You need people who like to operate ride-on mowers, but you also need hand-weeders. You will get the best out of both when they are each doing the job they like best. Both probably could do the other job—but they are unlikely to give any discretionary effort if they’re not enjoying their work. 

It can take considerable effort to find an individual who fits each job. You may need to adapt and amend job descriptions and move work around within a team until you find the perfect fit—and the chances are that the moment you think you have finished, someone will move on. However, it is worth taking time and trouble over this, not least because the team will appreciate it.

You don’t always need to change and improve, sometimes it is enough to ‘be’

There is a pressure in the modern world, and particularly in the workplace, to be striving for more. You are led to believe that you always need to be looking for the next promotion, the next move, the next opportunity to improve your skills. Our gardeners tell us that this isn’t always essential. When you have found something you love, and that you do well, it is enough to just enjoy it and ‘be’ for a while. It also doesn’t matter to anyone except you if that ‘while’ becomes years, or even the rest of your working life. 

Neither the hand weeder nor the meadow manager had any desire to broaden their skillsets and learn how to do the other’s job. Neither of them indicated a wish to become the manager of the gardening team, or take on contracts and bidding. They were both happy with their jobs and their lives. 

Contentment is underrated in a world that values achievement. It is also a rare commodity. When you see it in someone else, especially someone you manage, it is worth stepping back and letting them dictate the pace of change. After all, if something is not broken, there is no need to fix it. This may be philosophical, but why should we strive to improve our situation when we are already doing our job well, and it gives us pleasure? We might want to get even better, perhaps, but there is no need to seek change for change’s sake.