Social and business communities thrive in close proximity. Yet, as Robert Caro explained long ago in The Power Broker, Robert Moses had a bias to build things like parkways and bridges that enabled cars and their passengers in and around New York and especially on Long Island. This led to community-destroying urban sprawl. The better approach is to create higher density, better functioning city centers where people and communities can thrive – infilling. Good for towns. Good for teams.


The Power of Infilling for Urban Development

Domus Development’s Meea Kang described to me how freeways and sprawl have “Wreaked havoc on the environment and people”, producing “food deserts in some urban areas where no fresh produce can be found”. These freeways and sprawl have created a clear divide between “haves” and “have-nots”.

One example of this is unfolding in Lake Tahoe. When most of us hear “Lake Tahoe” we think of mountains and trees and lakes and nature in all its glory. We think of the very rich and their mansions hanging over mountain edges. In truth, all of that is there. Further, the local planning commission has done its best over a long period of time to preserve that glory. On the one hand, they’ve done well. No new apartment structures had been built in Lake Tahoe in 70 years.

While this made all the sense in the world for the elite in the area, Kang explained to me that it was an ongoing disaster for the less fortunate workers in the area. For some of them housing conditions were sub-human with families of 5 sharing 200 square foot apartments where they had to take turns sleeping in “submarine style bunks”.

Kang was able to overcome the obstacles presented by the planning commission and county and state authorities to build new units that house 400 people in dramatically better conditions. She did this by showing critical stakeholders the way people were living and educating them about the real conditions in their areas. Her approach is part of urban “infilling” or “smart growth”, tackling blighted areas by creating walkable communities that get people out of their cars and lead to all sorts of synergies.


The Power of Infilling for Team Development

Some work teams have the same sprawl problem. In teams, this shows up when geography or functional silos separate people. Less interaction and less communication directly correlate with poorer team performance. In many cases, the “team” splits into the old guard, sitting around remembering the good old days and the new crusaders, trying desperately to get loose from the gravitational pull of the old guard. It’s as though their city center was decaying and the team was listening to the Siren song of the suburbs.

One of our PrimeGenesis partners, Mary Vonnegut, has solved this in numerous organizations with what she calls “Operation Eclipse.” She says, “Don’t try to fight the old culture. Instead, bring in some extraordinary people and let what they do eclipse the old ways. It’s the only way to change things.”

That’s infilling team development. That’s tackling team blight by replacing the rotting core with communities that get people out of their offices and emails and lead to all sorts of synergies. Infilling is a tool to use as you deal with contributors, watchers and detractors on the way to migrating your organization’s culture, the only sustainable competitive advantage. First prize is turning some of the contributors into champions. If you can’t do that, infill with “Operation Eclipse”.

English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. *...

Solar Eclipse Photo credit: Wikipedia



Implications for you

  1. Invest in culture. You must tackle this. You must migrate your people in the right direction (even if it involves a trek through the desert).
  2. Focus on the core. Don’t waste your time on the edges in suburban or satellite team cul-de-sacs. Go right after the city or team center where positive changes can gain momentum quickly.
  3. Eclipse the old ways. Don’t fight the old guard, detractors, or the entrenched planning commission. Instead, strengthen your contributors and infill with extraordinary people to seed the future.


Click here for an overall executive summary of the New Leader’s Playbook and links to each of its individual articles organized by category.