The Power of Towers

John Ryan

Would you climb to the top if your people made a human tower? How confident are you in the belief that the foundations and supports for your organisation's success are in place? On a recent trip to Tarragona, I had the opportunity to wonder about what we can learn from castells.

A castell is a traditional human tower, which appear during festivals throughout Catalonia. They've been recognised by UNESCO as part of the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and date as far back as 1712. Those who create these towers are known as colles castelleres, and the structures been known to reach an incredible eight levels tall!

As you can see, they're wonderful spectacles of music and colour, with fantastic rhythms driving the process as teams of all ages in a multitude of bright uniforms compete against each other for height and speed. As well as being an impressive display of culture and human ingenuity, there are some clear lessons that we can take from this collaborative effort:

Trust Those That Support You To Reach New Heights

The most clear lesson I see here is that if you're relying on people to support your position at the top: you'd better be able to trust them! Any structure begins to get increasingly fragile as you add more and more layers of complexity to it, and your organisation is no exception. If you're not embedding a culture of trust in your organisation, it won't be long until the structural integrity of your business begins to suffer.

Command and Control Is Gone

These towers don't work by one person at the top shouting instructions at everyone else. They're collaborative efforts, built from the ground up, in a mutually dependent interlinked network structure. The organisations that will succeed in the modern world are the same: they're modular and adaptive with responsibility distributed throughout the structure to where it most needs to be.

Trust Can Soften Risk

The higher these towers go, the more precarious the position of those at the top. But since these teams are built on structures of trust, the risk is softened by the knowledge that if you fall, there are people in place willing to support you however they can. This leads the teams to even greater heights!

Share Your Vision

Given the heights that they reach, the views from the top of the castells are incredible: the top member can see much further than those at lower levels. But why do those at the lower level persist? Because they're inspired by the collective achievement. Likewise, if you're at the top levels of your organisation, you have clear sight of your strategy and the context for your decisions: but if you're not communicating your vision and inspiring those throughout the company, they have no reason to strive toward that goal.

Everybody In Their Best Place

The efforts put in place to build these towers can only pay off if the teams put the right people in the right place. Each member has a key role to play in making the tower a success. In the video above, the smallest child caps the tower. A tower that placed them on a level midway through would never reach the same levels!

Small Shifts, Big Impact

If someone slightly twitches at the bottom of the tower or becomes disengaged and distracted, that magnifies as it moves up each level, and members towards the top could be shaken off completely. Similarly, the smallest shifts in an organisation can become amplified as they pass through various levels, and by the time those on the top are aware of them they've become huge issues. A culture of trust will empower those at the lower levels to self-correct and adjust any small concerns before they threaten the organisation, and supports for employee engagement keeps teams focused.

Exit Strategies

Getting to the top of the tower is one thing; but getting back down again is another thing entirely! Your organisation needs to ensure it can account for the loss of people who want or need to leave. Structures need to be in place to support their absence, and their exit. Is there sufficient pension provision? Are there supports for retirement and training to ensure knowledge and experience isn't lost forever?

Of course, I could be wrong: maybe the lesson of these towers is that you can only get to the top by walking all over everyone else: but I don't think so! What do you think? 

John Ryan is CEO of Great Place to Work® Ireland.



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