Workplace Ecosystems

Published: February 1, 2012

To the left of my usual blog-writing desk is an aquarium. It has been evolving as an ecosystem for a decade. The fish have changed but their environment has remained largely stable. Something protects it from changing so that its inhabitants can grow.

Homeostasis is a fascinating phenomenon. When the world outside of the organism becomes unstable, all of the forces of nature rally at once to create internal stability. Homeostasis, however, doesn’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy. It protects the status quo. Its job is to ensure the perpetuation of survival and sameness – not to improve the organism. Much like the aquarium in my office, the ecosystem creates a culture that demands certain conditions all encoded to empower stability and fend off difference. The actual fish tank that lives to my left is the classic unhealthy stable environment. It houses one fish. Despite my efforts to introduce friends over the years, the master of this ecosystem will tolerate no partners. They all eventually die. Rather than continuing to aid and abet my aquatic pet’s obsession with solitude, I acquiesced to the rules of the ecosystem. He lives in solitude.

Back in the world of humans, I would never acquiesce to an ecosystem that refused to embrace change. Whether in my own business or the businesses with whom I have been entrusted to shepherd healthy organizational culture, shaping and steering a healthy workplace environment are non-negotiable requirements of my partnerships. The rules of engagement that define the way we invite conflict, celebrate diversity, thank mistakes, and dare change are the most deeply rooted investments anchoring the foundations of our professional relationships. Each day provides opportunities to propel these values into actions.

Workplace culture is not a force that imposes its wrath upon our teams. It is the expression of our power to choose the norms and outcomes of our ecosystem.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.