In my June 22, 2016 post, I explored the relationship between concepts of ‘perfection’ and ‘equilibrium,’ and how embracing equilibrium can cultivate a more sustainable trajectory for your emotional self. But this dynamic doesn’t only apply to the individual, it can be scaled up to the group level. Today I’ll discuss how the concept of equilibrium can apply to the workplace, helping you and your team to avoid volatilities that negatively impact work outcomes.
Cultivating equilibrium in a work community is about identifying and accommodating appropriate fluctuations that help maintain the community’s balance, while avoiding destructive ‘dives’ in morale, relationships, or productivity. Every workplace will face challenges and tensions. It’s unrealistic to think otherwise, and therefore counterproductive to plan your workplace protocols around a theoretical, perfectly-oiled work environment. As with individual perceptions of ‘false perfection,’ a falsely conceived ‘perfect workplace’ will only make the problems that arise more volatile and problematic. Alternatively, planning for equilibrium will allow for appropriately flexible expectations and allocations, allowing the work community to ‘stay above the surface’ and maintain a level of consistent positivity and productivity, even when the waves arrive.
In order to cultivate workplace equilibrium it’s necessary to identify what kinds of behaviors and strategies are or are not acceptable to the goal of a sustainable working community.
For supervisors or managers, this may mean identifying what kinds of conflict resolution strategies or disciplinary measures make sense for encouraging employees to responsibly meet expectations, without creating divisive underlying tensions. In the name of balance, any work community or employee is likely to require some intervention. Expectations will sometimes not be met; people will need to rethink their behavior. How you, as a supervisor, decide to intervene should be thought of through the lens of equilibrium: which strategies will cause a negative spiral or a dive? Are you overreacting because the situation that arose didn’t meet your expectations of a ‘perfect workplace’? Or can you see the occurrence as reasonable within the expectation of a workplace equilibrium, and keep the feedback positive and constructive? Conversely, you might ask yourself whether a behavior or event seriously violates the equilibrium and goes too far; in that situation you will want to strategize about how to nip it in the bud and block the situation from upsetting the balance of the work community.
For an employee, similar questions apply, though on a more horizontal level: how are you setting your expectations for work dynamics for yourself and for your colleagues? How does incorporating the idea of a fluctuating equilibrium change how you think about setting deadlines, making commitments, or approaching tasks? Is the negativity you’re encountering reasonable within the parameters of workplace equilibrium, or is it something more divisive or disruptive that requires you to take action or seek help from your superiors?
Considering your workplace dynamic as a fluctuating equilibrium will encourage you to set your boundaries differently, and perhaps differentiate better between what is truly negative (violates the equilibrium; requires a direct or serious response) and what is challenging but reasonable within the appropriate balance.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.