Volume 22: Relationships in Nature and Business

RoyAs I enjoyed my family’s Christmas and New Year’s Celebrations a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but reflect on the relationships I have with those around me. There’s the constant flow of family, as well as the friends I’ve picked up along the way.

There are plenty of business relationships too that I thought about and value highly from my over 30 years of working with Corrugated. These are, of course, the foundation of our business at Oberg and Associates, LLC (though, that’s a sales pitch for another time,) and these relationships are my focus every day, so I thought the topic of relationships warranted a little discussion.

In nature, the study of relationships is termed Symbiosis. This term describes any persistent interaction between two organisms. Symbiosis is further broken down into three terms: mutualistic relationships, commensalistic relationships and parasitic relationships.

I think these terms can be used to describe the types of relationships we encounter every day in our professional lives too.


In nature, a mutualistic relationship is a relationship from which both parties reap benefits. For example, bees and flowers constitute a mutualistic relationship. Bees take nectar to make honey from flowers, and at the same time take pollen from one plant to another causing pollination. Both parties benefit greatly from the relationship.

We all have relationships like this. The relationship between my Director of Operations and myself is the mutualistic relationship that immediately comes to my mind.  My Director of Operations is 25 years old, still a pup. From my company, he receives a learning opportunity, a chance to build a great foundation of business knowledge, and a chance to build a career, as well as financial compensation, obviously.

From my Director of Operations, I receive innovation on projects ranging from recruiting protocols to budget formation, as well as the constant flow of well-timed sports references to keep things light in the office.

We both benefit from the relationship.


Commensalism is a relationship in which one party receives benefit from the relationship, but the other isn’t impacted negatively or positively.

Commensalism would probably best describe the relationship a tenant has with the raccoons that live in his apartment complex dumpsters. The raccoon reaps the benefit of food scraps and other trash that the tenant throws away, but the tenant isn’t impacted at all by the raccoon.

Volunteering around the community could be considered a commensalistic relationship as well. You give your time and effort to help others, while receiving no tangible benefit or harm in return. (Good feelings are great, but don’t change bottom line.)

One party receives benefit, while the other party neither receives benefit or harm as a result of the relationship.


Parasitic relationships are defined as any relationship in which one party receives benefits while the other is harmed as a result.

For instance, the relationship between my children and I can best be defined as… just kidding.

A quick example of a parasitic relationship is that one coworker that eats other people’s lunch out of the break-room fridge. They receive the obvious benefit of a delicious lunch, while you are harmed by not having a lunch to eat.

One party has benefited and one party has been harmed.


Now that we’ve completed the biology lesson for today: these three types of relationships can be found in all areas of our lives. Family members, friends, coworkers, the lady at the deli you visit all the time, you have a relationship with all of them and they all fall into one of these categories.

So, for the next few months, Outside the Box will dive into the nature of the professional and personal relationships we all have and how to determine what relationships are mutualistic, towards the benefit of all, and what relationships are parasitic, benefiting others at your expense.

Buckle up.

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