One definition for an ecosystem, according to dictionary.com, is any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts, as in a business. If you think of your business as an ecosystem, it compels you to make certain observations about your company and the impact of all of its parts. While different businesses are comprised of different parts, all have some components in common, most notably, culture.
The difference between a healthy and unhealthy ecosystem is surprisingly very little. Ecosystems are dynamic entities, constantly in the process of recovering from a past disturbance or bracing for an impending one. When you consider your team culture as its own ecosystem, it becomes rather easy to understand that it is perpetually changing and evolving. That also makes its overall health somewhat vulnerable. Simply acknowledging that culture is never static, but dynamic, will serve as a reminder of how to ensure it is trending in the right direction. Here are three ways to make sure:
1. Understand the power of the ripple effect.
The dynamic ecosystem/culture is subject to a never-ending deluge of new elements. Every time you sign a new client, hire a new teammate, promote someone or implement change of any sort, your culture changes, for better or worse. Not only does this impact your business today, it also has a ripple effect for the future. Considering your business as an ecosystem with interconnecting parts -- each part reacting to the energy of another -- nothing happens in your organization in a silo. One small ripple on one end can turn into a wave on the opposite end.
Related: How to Win on Company Culture
Understanding this emphasizes the need to be strategically oriented in how your decision-making process affects culture. You also should consider that at this present moment your organization is experiencing the "ripples" of previous decisions -- including mistakes. Of these past missteps, some may continue to affect your culture in an adverse fashion. As such, determine what you need to address today that is a byproduct of past mistakes. In some cases, the solution is to add to your "stop doing list," and in other cases, it's to publicly address a solution to an earlier transgression. Either action can help reverse prior negative culture ripples.
2. Use the ripple effect to your advantage.
The ripple effect is powerful. But when you first start to realize this, it also can be intimidating and daunting. It's easy to over analyze your mistakes and get fixated on them. Undoubtedly your organization has also made its fair share of great past decisions where the resulting positive ripples were significant. A powerful exercise to conduct is to list the positive ripples that have created strong wins for your team's culture. By modeling past, culture-strengthening success, you can replicate them in other areas to create intentional and more significant surges in your ecosystem.
3. Understand consistent attention and focus.
The strongest person in the gym or the fastest runner on the track will not remain so for long if they stop training. Likewise, a company that considers its culture strong today should not assume that it would always remain so without constant work.
The strongest cultures/ecosystems are those that are constantly being strengthened. If you recall that your culture is always moving, you want to do everything you can to ensure the direction is headed on a positive track. Often times this direction can be achieved not by radically altering the message, but by more consistently reinforcing it. Powerful cultures are built brick by brick, beginning with a strong foundation. In fact, it's critical to emphasize culture in the employment interview and to thoroughly cover it in the on-boarding process. Consistent reminders of your culture likewise are demonstrated by who gets retained, promoted or even fired. This kind of consistency breeds a type of familiarity that will create continuous positive ripples.
Thinking of your business as an ecosystem means you are vigilant against threats to your culture while simultaneously looking for ways to strengthen it. Keeping an ever-watchful eye on the prize, coupled with an understanding of how ripples build waves, will ensure you stay on the right track.