What makes a functional ecosystem? In any context, in nature or business, the answer is the same: Diversity. In a natural ecosystem, it’s biodiversity that provides resistance and resilience in the face of disruptive events. In a corporate setting, it’s other types of diversity that become a businesses strength.

Workplace Ecosystems 101

  • An ecosystem is a community of organisms and their physical environment.
  • Ecosystems with higher biodiversity tend to be more stable.
  • Ecosystems are collaborative and based on relationships.
  • Ecosystems are efficient; it’s easy for energy to flow through the system.

The question is: How can we optimize our workplace ecosystems so they have diversity, strength, efficiency and resiliency?

“What is the key to survival in a rapidly changing business environment and what does the HR team need to do to deliver this transformation? The challenges facing the workplace of 2020 and beyond are so complex that they cannot be solved by people working in one function. What is needed are groups of subject matter experts working together in business ecosystems.”

– Trends for 2020 by Bruce Barclay, TheHRDirector.com

Creating your ecosystem begins with the environment

There are many ways to create a work environment, the physical environment being the most obvious. Our physical environment strongly affects our sense of well-being. In fact, there have been studies that show how much natural light improves energy, productivity, mood and even sense of humor (yet so few offices have natural light!). Strategic office design can boost employee well-being and office culture by providing convenient, comfortable places to focus, collaborate and socialize.

You can go to extremes with an open office plan and standing desks, or keep it simple by adding a couple of informal meeting spaces with comfortable chairs and a whiteboard. The important thing is to use your office environment to support your goals and your employees’ needs.

To read more about workplace design for engagement, check out Steelcase’s Designing for Engagement PDF.

But the physical environment is only half the battle. The other half is the emotional environment.

  • Do employees trust each other?
  • Do they respect each other?
  • Is an issue ‘poisoning the well’?
  • Are employees emotionally invested in their work?

If you answered “YES” to any of the questions above, read our previous post: Got Engagement? Great! Now for Conflict Management

These are the tough questions Engagement Multiplier seeks to answer as part of our employee engagement survey. Our regular benchmark survey, completely anonymous survey can unearth sources of discontent and distrust, paving the way for better communication and more trust all around.

One reason we begin our process by requiring our clients to draft an Engaged Purpose is that we’ve found it to be central to creating the kind of positive environment that leads to healthier work relationships.

When employees feel emotionally invested in their organization’s Engaged Purpose, it goes a long way towards creating that team spirit that makes work fun.

Diversity is key for resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties or spring back into shape – and also to stretch. Building resiliency into your business means that when a key employee leaves, financial losses are sustained, or something unexpected happens to disrupt ‘business as usual,’ the business itself doesn’t suffer critical damage.

Diversity in your workforce is the key to resilience, but not the kind of diversity we hear about most often. Race, gender, age, education and life experience are important factors in creating a diverse and innovative team, but there’s another kind of diversity that doesn’t get nearly as much attention.

Kolbe scores address diversity in how people perceive the world, their strengths, weaknesses and instincts.

Kolbe scores show instincts, inclinations, and natural desires that affect how you approach problem-solving, how you relate to people, and how you prefer to get things done. There are four “Action Modes”: Fact Finder, Follow Thru, Quick Start, Implementor.

  • The score for Fact Finder tells you how you instinctively gather and share information.
  • Follow Thru is the way you instinctively arrange and design.
  • Quick start is how you handle risk and uncertainty.
  • Implemetor is how you handle space and tangibles.

For example, our Global Operations Manager, Jayne Deakin, scores an 8832 in Kolbe. That means she’s phenomenal at creating structures to bring innovative ideas to life – but, as a 3 Quickstart, she’s probably not going to be the person coming up with those innovative ideas. Stefan, on the other hand, has a high score as a Quickstart (most entrepreneurs do!). When you put the two together, you get great, original ideas and the ability to practically make them happen.

We use Kolbe scores in our hiring process to make sure teams have a good balance. First we talk about what an ideal score would be for the open position – and our only stipulation is that the ideal score can’t be similar to any existing team members’ Kolbe scores. Why? Because we want team members to be able to support each other with complementary strengths.

This type of diversity builds respect between coworkers who learn to rely on, and play to, each other’s strengths – and understand that each person has different preferences and inclinations for how to do things. We’ve found that it opens up communication and understanding within our teams.

The Secret to Healthy Office Ecosystems

Trust, engagement and diversity of abilities are important, but there’s a throughline within each of these points that is the real key to a balanced, productive, healthy office ecosystem: Communication. Improving communication is the way to gain trust, increase engagement, and understand that diverse abilities is a strength – not a weakness. Our clients tell us how much our surveys help them open lines of communication between leadership and employees and how big a difference it makes to the office environment, and ecosystem.