The “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise is a team-building activity that encourages vulnerability. (Credit: Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash)
The “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise is a team-building activity that encourages vulnerability. (Credit: Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash)

For the past year, we have seen the insides of one another’s homes via Zoom, complete with barking dogs, shrieking kiddos, and the sounds of the next-door neighbor’s yard work in progress. 

The silly, sometimes embarrassing, moments we experience while working from home are human and have brought many people closer to their colleagues. 

So what happens when we head back to the office?

[Related: 1 Year Later, These 4 Leadership Qualities Are Getting Us Through the Pandemic]

As more people get vaccinated and prepare to return to the workplace, we cannot forget about the vulnerable moments that transpired while working remote. In fact, the best business leaders will want to encourage teams to practice that same emotional transparency in the new workplace.

Here are three ways to do that.

1. Practice the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise

Looking for a group activity to kick off returning to the office? Consider practicing the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise. 

Saba Harouni Lurie, the founder of Take Root Therapy, uses this exercise as a team building activity. Here’s how it works:

  • The Rose: Talk about something that has happened that you’re happy about or are celebrating.
  • The Bud: Share something you are looking forward to.
  • The Thorn: What is currently challenging you? Thoughtfully talk about it.

Lurie recommends using this exercise as part of a structured check-in with the team. The exercise may cover professional topics, or your team may disclose personal items if they feel comfortable and it is encouraged by leadership. 

2. Talk openly about state of business.

Eropa Stein is the founder of Hyre, an employee scheduling software company for the shift-based workforce. Within 48 hours of the World Health Organization announcing COVID-19 was a pandemic, Hyre’s sales dropped to zero dollars. 

Everyone on the team knew about it — and Stein says leadership didn’t try to hide the company’s situation from employees.

“I needed to be vulnerable in that situation, explain our situation, and at the same time, stand up and take action,” Stein says. 

Stein led the team to pivot into healthcare. She created a space for everyone to be honest about their expectations while brainstorming ideas. Their team started holding weekly meetings to discuss blockers and successes. The relaxed nature of the environment has allowed team members to learn more about one another, build trust, and bond as a team. 

No matter what is currently happening in the world, it’s important to be transparent about the state of business with your team members. 

[Related: 5 Home-Based Small Business Ideas for Starting Up in 2021]

“If you put up a false persona or project numbers that are untrue, that sets an example to your team that they should do the same,” Stein explains. 

Leadership that takes the time to explain what is going on with their team often receive great feedback. Your employees may have ideas for initiatives that can help get business back on track.

“If there are problems that are being hidden, how can you improve your product?” Stein asks. “Holding weekly meetings is useful. Being vulnerable about our flaws in a safe environment helps a team communicate problems and solutions better.”

3. Carefully model vulnerability in yourself

One characteristic often associated with a strong leader is their ability to lead by example in the workplace. 

Kristin Horowitz, the CEO of The Pad Climbing, a climbing gym in San Luis Obispo, California, considers her team of employees to be like her family. She tells them what is going on, makes decisions collaboratively, and shares her insecurities with everyone. Expressing vulnerability has allowed her team to build trust in her and encourages team members to share their vulnerabilities.

Despite emerging data that being vulnerable allows businesses to succeed, some traditional work environments regard vulnerability as a weakness. While Horowitz advises leaders to model vulnerability in themselves, she cautions protecting yourself when it comes to this philosophy. 

“Vulnerability comes when it is earned,” Horowitz says. “Otherwise, people can take advantage, whether knowingly or not. Remembering to remain objective about the work done goes a long way.”

The End Result Is Growth 

Over time, leaders that model vulnerability will find they are better able to hold themselves accountable. If a leader makes a mistake, for instance, they will acknowledge it, apologize, and do the work necessary to improve. 

The more we strive towards vulnerability, instead of shying away from it, the more opportunities there are to learn, grow, and create a culture of change.

“Being vulnerable allows us to recognize limitations, and strengths, within ourselves and make space for others to do the same,” Lurie says. “I think that is really important while building a team — to not be ashamed of our areas where we’d like to grow, but to acknowledge our mistakes as we continue to work towards our goals.”

In the next normal, leaders must be authentic. They must create a space that allows others to show up authentically, too. 

“We can ask how people are doing and really hear their answer, and we can also answer honestly about how we are doing,” Lurie says. “We can look for opportunities to allow our employees to see us as whole people, in hopes that it helps them feel free to show up as their whole self, too.”

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.