Create the Right Conditions

This is the third and final post in this series covering the 3 keys of a healthy organization, which are:

What I mean by conditions is our environment, so let’s start there. What is an environment? It’s the sum of a space and all the stuff therein. It would be fun to discuss this topic generally and philosophically, but for right now, let’s focus on work and living spaces. I want to look at a three questions we can use to evaluate the conditions of an environment.

1. Is this space functional?

Please, don’t be tempted to misinterpret this question as Is this space adequate? This evaluative question is meant to drive us toward excellence in both efficiency and agility. We can’t answer the question with a simple yes or no. Our answer comes from exploring many other questions. Here are some questions I would start with when determining if a space is functional:

  • Does this space create wasted time because of how people move or where things are located?
  • Does this space create wasted resources due to maintenance or design flaws?
  • Does this space facilitate the different kinds of activities that happen during a day?
  • Does it encourage activities we don’t want to happen?
  • Does this space raise any health concerns, physical or mental?
  • Does this space enable people to follow best work or living practices?
  • Does this space support your 5-year or 10-year plan?

If I were seriously evaluating a space, that would only be a sample of the questions I would be asking about the functionality of the space. Why go to all this effort? One major reason is that it can be difficult or even impossible to offset the dysfunction of a space. If your office bathroom is on another floor at the other end of the building, you can’t offset that dysfunction by putting a bowl of candy at the reception desk. The functionality of a space lays the groundwork for success. However, functionality isn’t the only factor.

2. Is this space inspirational?

For most people, this primarily translates to visual inspiration, but that leaves out important considerations like the aural experience, tactile sensation, olfactory sensation, and the cognitive invigoration that can be stimulated (or suppressed) by a space. These experiences make a difference in how we function, and if you believe otherwise, it’s probably because you haven’t had to work or live in an environment in which your senses were assaulted. If you want to create better conditions, ask yourself:

  • Do I see, hear, feel, smell, or sense anything that disturbs me?
    • These questions should be asked and answered individually.
    • You might try closing your eyes, ears, or nose to better focus on one sense at a time.
  • Do I see, hear, feel, smell, or sense anything that inspires me?
  • How does this space affect me mentally?
  • What emotions does this space invoke? Are those emotions congruent with my goals?
  • What happens if I stay here for a long period of time? What happens if I’m only here for a couple minutes?

It’s probably a good idea to get feedback from some other people about their experiences in the space. The sum of multiple experiences should provide consistent themes, and will catch any experiences you may have missed on your own.

3. Does everything in the space contribute positively to the condition?

This includes everything in a space, from decor to furniture to electronic equipment, and even the people! It’s quite literally everything you see that isn’t the building itself. What we need to consider is that everything in a space is contributing either to the success or failure of that space. When a space is created, a standard of excellence is set. When you start putting things in that space, the standard of excellence of that object—and the way in which you implement that object—is either above, the same as, or below the excellence of the space.

Many sub-standard things in an environment may not be an obvious problem, but that doesn’t mean they’re not taking a toll on creating the right conditions. Evaluating the stuff in your space should be a thorough process (because you’re considering every object in an entire space!), but it basically boils down to three questions:

  • Do we need this thing at all? Does it provide a net gain?
  • Is this the right version of this thing?
  • Is it in the right place?

Do this long enough and with enough consistency and it will become culture. Make no compromises in creating excellent conditions; soon, your space and the people in it will unapologetically reject sub-standard changes.

Measure it

Investing in our environments creates a standard of excellence that naturally encourages excellence within that space. If we want to create the right conditions, we need an organized approach, and we’re going to have to invest time and money (but not as much as we waste when we neglect our environments!).

If working through these processes sounds either confusing or unfeasible, consider seeking expert help. Until you have answers to these questions about your environment, it’s impossible to know how much damage your current conditions are doing to your efforts. Following an organized and controlled process toward creating the right conditions might surprise you with what’s possible.

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