Ecology is the study of the environment and how each individual action impacts everything else. If you remember your time back to grade school, you’ll remember illustrations that show how ecosystems work.  You can use the illustration below and begin replacing pieces in it to reflect both your work environment and home environment. Everything that you can think of about your surroundings, and then some, is a part of this illustration. Big players include your co-workers, the company culture, the physical building you are in, the break area, and unseen items like motivation, buy-in, and engagement levels with others.

Everything is connected

The illustration drives home the point that everything is connected. The organisms in the water help sustain and balance one another and those resources help the land organisms grow as well. If you take away or add something new in the environment it can have a devastating impact. In the Southeast US we battle the kudzu plant. It’s a large leafy vine that can grow over a foot in length a day and kills all the undergrowth as it spreads. It actually originates in SE Asia and was brought over in the late 1800’s as an ornamental plant to shade porches. Now it covers 150,000 additional acres a year and costs over 6 million to fight its growth.  Even changes with good intentions can get out of hand if left unchecked.

I’ve seen employees playing jokes on each other eventually blow up to a level that the police are involved and how one person picking on a co-worker led to that person being picked on by everyone at the organization. Everything is connected and they don’t have to be outward changes. We’ve all seen leaders fall because what changed in their environment was their own internal integrity.

The environment can change quickly

I have a neighbor that highly values privacy and planted bamboo along the edge of his property. For most of the year, it’s fine and provides cover, but in mid-spring, it becomes extremely invasive and fast-growing. It’s not unusual for me to leave on a business trip in the spring and come home to over a dozen 6ft tall shoots of bamboo in the middle of my backyard.

Taking your attention away from the environments that you work and live in can have quick and lasting consequences.
Remember to check in regularly with those in your environment.
Take time to step back and take a bigger picture view of how your different environments are going.
Look for the subtle changes. The bamboo starts out as a very small cone-shaped plant that is hard to see in the grass. You have to actively search for it to stop it at this stage. Many large issues can be traced back to subtle changes.

Catch it early

If I catch the bamboo early enough it’s easy to cut down. It’s tall, yet it’s also soft. If I let it go for a few more weeks it hardens to the strength of a tree. There’s a reason by so many people use it for flooring! After cleaning out the first round of bamboo during the first year at the house, I decided to just let the rest grow in and get rid of it all at once. I thought it would save me time from constantly checking on it. When I finally went to clean out the invasive bamboo, it had hardened and it caused me so much more grief. I had severe blisters in my hands and had pulled a shoulder muscle. Similarly, you will pay a greater price if you let problems take root in your work and personal environments.
Catching problems or threats to your environment early are usually not fun. It may require a hard conversation, doing something that you don’t enjoy, or taking away time from something else that you’d rather do. Remember that this is time wisely spent. Lee Cockerell, retired VP at Disney, often says the most important thing is to always do the hard things first, and this very well may be one of the hard things that you address.

Know how the people and circumstances impact your overall environment, be a master of spotting changes and address those changes before they overtake what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Make a better tomorrow.