Soils, Souls & Societies

By Cher Mereweather

What would it be like if our souls and our societies looked a little more like our soils - more interconnectedness and a truly regenerative approach to everything we do?

One of the most enjoyable parts of my work is meeting people who really push the envelope.


Today, I’d like to introduce to one such person, someone who shifted my worldview and who I know will do the same for you. I hope that as we enter a fresh new year, this fresh new thinking will be both inspiring and empowering.


Tre’ Cates is the founder of nRhythm, a rather different type of management consultancy born out of Boulder, Colorado.


Different, because Tre’ and his team believe that businesses, like all organizations, are living and continually evolving systems, that need managing accordingly.


This matters because most companies are not managed in this way.


Most companies are run as fixed, mechanical systems with fixed inputs and outputs and replaceable human beings that are trained not to think but to carry out tasks.


In our work, we often need to dig into cultures and management structures within our clients’ organizations. Circularity calls for companies to keep as much value in the system for as long as possible and that means creating regenerative cultures and working environments where the greatest asset of the business - its people - are given the chance to think, innovate and truly bloom.


This is not an easy thing to do in any organization, but is doubly challenging in an industry like ours that relies so heavily on labour-intensive work.


That’s why, in addition to presenting Tre’ to you today, I’m also delighted to announce that Provision has become a strategic partner of nRhythm and that we will be bringing their revolutionary management consultancy tools to our clients beginning this month.


I’ll get back to that at the end of the interview, but first let me introduce Tre’.


Tre’, it’s a huge pleasure to welcome you to Provision and to our fabulous community of food and beverage industry leaders. Will you explain a little more about nRhythm and the work you do?


Cher, it’s a real pleasure to be here, and thank you for the opportunity to chat with you and the thousands of companies that I know your blog goes out to. I really appreciate it.


nRhythm has some pretty eclectic origins!


I actually started my career by training to become a Pastor, believe it or not, but ended up moving into the tech world, creating a business that provided both software and hardware to people to help them have a better experience at work.


The reason I was interested in being a Pastor was that I wanted, simply put, to make a difference in people’s lives. Even though I realized that the ministry was not for me, I still had the same calling, so I looked at where people spend most of their lives and saw that it was at work.


I went into the tech business, creating hardware and software products that would help make life a little better for people at work. It was a bit of a different way of thinking - instead of starting with a product or service to sell, we started with the impact I wanted to make and then figured out what products we needed to sell them to do that.


Well, it turned out that it worked, and we were quite successful. I ended up selling that business and found myself spending quite a lot of time working and supporting many different organizations as an advisor and consultant especially in the agriculture and food space.


I was doing some strategic planning with a non-profit that worked on land and soil restoration and I was introduced to the idea that living and complex systems need a different kind of management.


Soils are living systems, complex and inter-related, where a change in one area creates ripples throughout other areas and where the success of the soil comes from its overall health as a system.


So are organizations.


They, too are living systems.


Companies, non-profits, governments….it doesn’t matter. Any human organization is a living, evolving, dynamic system, where a change in one area creates ripples and impacts in others – intended or not – and where the health of the system is the biggest single indicator as to its success and sustainability.


Then I started to look around, and I realized that most organizations are not designed to function as living systems. In fact, they are designed to function like machines.


Machines, where human beings are literally replaceable pieces that exist within the system to complete a specific task and that can be swapped out when they wear out and replaced with a new one.


And the more I looked the more it became clear to me that despite the fact that people are thinking, creative and hugely innovative beings, in most companies only a small percentage of people are being paid to think. The rest are paid to fulfil tasks – often repetitively. In fact, as crazy as it sounds, they are being paid not to think!


And this goes back hundreds of years. It’s a mindset that comes from the emergence of the very first companies, when the owners simply took the established principles of power and control – those practiced by Western European monarchies – and applied them to their emerging organizations. That in itself is not wholly surprising. What is surprising is that we are still using the same mindset, design and operating principles three hundred years later.


The problem is that it’s not actually that efficient.


Gallup estimates that just in the US the way we manage our companies costs the economy half a trillion dollars every year.


So, once I had made the connection between soils, living systems and human organizations it was clear to me that this was where I could make a real difference to people’s lives.


Fast-forward to today, nRhythm is a leader with helping other leaders see their companies as living, evolving and naturally functioning organisms. We help improve productivity and efficiency by focusing on the health of the company.


How do you help change the mindsets of leaders to embrace the kind of transformation that is required to help a company function as a living system?


There are several ways we partner with companies, but we have developed a specific series of “7-day Regenerative Challenges” where we take an individual or a team through a series of insights, questions & exercises to help shift their mindset.


In one Challenge, for example, we look at the idea of holism – this notion that everything in a company is holistic and not siloed and that when you make a change in one area it also has impact in another – whether intended or not.


To help people get connected to holism, we invite them to think about the idea of core strength, as it relates to their own body. We actually get them to do core workouts! The idea being that when you improve or change your core function, it effects the rest of your body. Your organs function better, you feel stronger and so on.


Then we draw the parallel with what core strength means in the context of their company, and how a change in the core effects the rest of the company – how one area can impact all the others – because they are fundamentally related or linked.


You know, the thing that excites me the most today, even after years of doing this work, is the a-ha moment when people take these challenges and they suddenly get the connection. Their world opens up – a whole new space of possibility and creativity shows up. When you see that shift on a team it’s inspiring, when you see it at an organizational level it’s transformational.


And it all comes back to the fact that human beings were designed to be able to think and use our unique skills, but we have built companies which actually discourage us from thinking, from doing this most fundamentally human thing.


Many of the people reading may be excited about the idea but struggling to see how it can apply to their operations – particularly ones that are highly dependent on line work. How can you apply this kind of approach to that environment?


It’s a great question, and of course this works in all environments. We haven’t met a company in all the years of doing this work that didn’t hugely benefit from it.


The first step is to do an Organizational Health Index to measure the current baseline health of the company as a system.


What we find in the firms that are highly mechanistic is that the baseline health is usually pretty low - which typically displays as high turnover, disengagement, an unhealthy operating environment and so on.


Then we look at how the lines are designed and ask some questions: what would it look like to design the line to still deliver the required productivity and efficiency but in a way that would improve the overall health of the people and the system?


Typically, when we ask these questions of both the leadership and the operational and frontline staff, it unlocks a lot of creativity and a whole load of new ideas. When you give people permission to be creative – they almost always are. When they are engaged in why they are there, rather than in just moving product from point A to point B, you almost always see increases in productivity and efficiency.


Then we look at the costs to the business of lost productivity, the costs of the low baseline health and the opportunity costs of low engagement, and build the business case for leadership to make the investments and changes in culture, process and technology, necessary to realize a higher baseline health score.


We also look at automation not just as a solution to efficiency but from a human perspective.


If you’ve been a line worker for 30 years, being told every day not to use your brain and then you get automated out of a job and put into a training course for a new role that requires you to use your brain, it’s going to take a lot to unlearn 30 years of conditioning. The truth is that there are consequences to how we design our companies and we have to take responsibility for that design and its impact on people.


Provision and nRhythm will be working together to bring these innovative tools and approaches to Canadian food and beverage companies. What does that partnership represent for you?


We know that pretty much every company is going to have to go through this transformation in the next decade or so. The current model is unsustainable and we just can’t keep wasting trillions of dollars of productivity every year.

But, we also know that we need to work collaboratively to achieve that objective.


We believe in the power of collaborating and partnering, particularly with other companies who recognize that this kind of transformation makes sense not just on a social level, but on a financial and environmental level as well.


Provision is recognized for its leadership in creating a more sustainable food system and has an excellent reputation, so we are really excited to officially launch our collaboration this month and to work together to bring real value to Canadian food and beverage companies.


Thank you, Tre’. We are equally excited about the possibility here. One final question – you will notice that we have titled this interview “soils, souls and societies”. That’s something I’ve heard you say often – so before we go, can you explain it to our readers?

Well, my aha moment was when I saw the interactions between the different organisms and functions in the soil, and connected that to us – the people who live on and because of the soil, and the complex societies that we live in. Soils, souls and societies really invites us to wonder what it would be like if people and our institutions looked a little more like our soils, by which I mean more interconnectedness and a truly regenerative approach to everything we do. There is no waste in nature, after all….



We are thrilled to be formally launching our partnership with nRhythm this month. To give you a preview, I am delighted to offer you the Thrive Index for Organizations, an exciting new tool to help you discover if your organization is truly Thriving!


Click here to get your Thrive Score – Is your Business Thriving?


If you are inspired, as I was, by hearing from Tre’, then the Thrive Index is the perfect place to start to find out how you score and to get some quick tips and recommendation to Thrive even more!


Have fun with this, and reach out if you have any questions!


Warm regards,




Cher Mereweather

President & CEO

P 519.822.2042 x1

C 519.803.6395

Tags: Sustainability, Regenerative, Culture

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