The room was silent to a painful point. We were discussing topics for our December blog at GreenSeed. The idea hopper was empty. The smell of stale coffee mixed with fear of a blank page wafted in the air. The mood matched the stormy blue on our conference room walls.

We agreed on one thing: We got nothin’.

Then someone said: “Well, we learned a lot of things this year.” That got us off and running. Literally. We polled people throughout GreenSeed — on the plant floor, in the hallways and the break room, by email, in offices far and wide. We asked GreenSeeders what they learned in 2017.

While five main lessons raced to the top, they all shared one thing in common. Like a good story where the main character evolves, we have changed over the past year. We’ve become better people because of the lessons we learned.

That’s why we thought you could benefit (and grow) from these lessons too. Maybe it will nudge you and your team toward a little self-reflection as well.

Lesson #1: Team is everything.

Not to get sappy here, but the lesson that relationships matter was a big one. Many people said that working as a team, getting people involved, listening to concerns, encouraging accountability all produces a healthy work environment where people trust each other.

From this, we saw real outcomes. Efficiencies and morale increased. Turnover is the lowest it has ever been. Everyone here got behind our customer visits and audits — even asking how they were going (cool!). Customers noticed people smiled more (super cool!). Our cost of quality, defect quality rate and consumer complaints decreased.

Listening was a biggie. We have modernized our facilities. We’ve implemented ideas from team members. People seem happier. Perhaps there’s no quantifiable number to measure what someone feels inside, but most people know if something brings them joy or not. Growing happiness across our team is very important to GreenSeed.

Lesson #2: Technology innovation = ubiquitous thinking.

A lot of people talk about being technology innovators. But what does that mean?

Technology, we learned, is an everywhere kind of thinking. By asking how technology can increase quality touch points, we employed new pouch master machines to increase capacity, broaden our capabilities, minimize changeover and reduce waste when changing packaging sizes. In other words, technology helped us do what we do better.

Of course, our quality department embraced new FSMA regulations and continued to sharpen tractability from customers’ suppliers. There, technology strengthened accountability across the value chain.

The overarching lesson was to have clarity about our business goals and use technology to help achieve them.

Lesson #3: Culture isn’t a thing. It’s people.

Let’s be truthful, not every family dinner is a picnic. People sit around the dinner table with different viewpoints, experiences and temperaments. Sometimes, these forces clash.

It’s no surprise, then, that we learned people are sometimes the best part of our job and the hardest part of our job.

The exciting part of this lesson was that we realized our culture had grown around our people. This is exactly what we had hoped. We’ve got a long way to go, but we want GreenSeed to be a place where everyone matters. Two or three people can’t drive ideas. We all bring uniqueness to the table. The “we” behind us is our greatest strength.

Culture extends to everyone in the value chain too. Our growth is rooted in our emotional connection with people. We know what a 21st century manufacturing company looks like — it’s a complete group effort. When like-minded industry partners work together, we support, feed and nourish people more wholly. Here are other lessons we learned from our people-centered culture:

  • Being self-reflective is critical
  • Looking at ourselves to see what we can do challenges us to achieve more
  • You can’t do it all alone
  • Workplace atmosphere makes a difference in people’s attitudes
  • Relationships are important in our business and in our jobs

Lesson #4: Healthy snacking is CRAZY BIG.

Holy schmolly, healthy snacking is what people do! We’ve seen significant growth with single serve, healthy snacking products (dragon fruit chips, anyone?). This lesson comes straight from our customers who bring attention-grabbing new products to the marketplace.

The food industry is moving at hyper speed right along with technology and people’s lives. The 80/20 rule in retail is in play — from consumer expectations to logistics to costs to the mechanics of how food is made and tracked. Big companies are positioning themselves to be bigger players (like Amazon and other e-commerce behemoths), which will reshape how the supply chain does its business.

As a packaging operations company, GreenSeed is smack in the middle of the food industry. The way we handle secondary packaging is changing. As we expand our production lines and grow our team, we’ve learned the importance of being an ideation partner to healthy food manufacturers.

Lesson #5: Growth is hard, messy and awesome.

Dr. Seuss’ first book — “And to Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street” — was rejected 27 times. Walt Disney was told he lacked “imagination” by his newspaper editor. Comedic actor Jim Carrey was once homeless. Richard Branson has dyslexia. It’s unanimous: These runaway stars plowed through challenges to build dreams.

Growth is messy. It tests you. Trust us, we know. Our team pounded out GreenSeed’s new website this past year (yes, we are all still talking to each other). The experience led us to explore our culture, appreciate other’s opinions, compromise, open up our minds to new possibilities, and, unequivocally, get to understand better the makers and buyers of healthy foods.

Growth keeps us from standing still. Growth, and the lessons born from it, expands our thinking and helps us make our mark in the world. Growth helps us become better people.

What did you learn in 2017?