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Homeostasis

hōmēəˈstāsəs/

noun

  1. The tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

Homeostasis is most commonly used to refer to the body’s ability to regulate numerous variables to maintain a state of equilibrium. For instance, if a mammal’s body temperature gets too high, it will sweat to cool the skin and the blood flowing through the body, or (in the case of dogs) pant, to cool the body through the evaporation of water. Various parts of the body will step forward to ensure that stability is maintained.

But what happens when homeostasis is disrupted? Some homeostats have redundancies which ensure that when a breakdown occurs, life is not immediately threatened. Others, can result in death when disrupted.

Maintaining Homeostasis In Your Growing Startup

Like the body, some disruptions in the functioning of your team will have built-in redundancies; others will result in death. The key to homeostasis is ensuring that each and every part of the body functions well, and interacts with the other parts according to plan.

For instance, let’s take one of the most common ruptures in businesses: the animosity between Sales and Marketing. At the root of the problem lies a character difference: the extrovert vs. the introvert. In an office, pairing these two can be difficult- do you cater to the type who likes quiet voices and NPR in the background, or the gregarious types who enjoy beat-heavy music and sports? These are stereotypes, of course, but in every office you will find that your various teams each prefer different environments.

It is the job of the brain to determine which environment will best benefit each function of the company/body. That is what the CEO does- easy, right? Not at all. He/She must look to each team, and decide how each individually will contribute to the body, and how to optimize each team working together.

In a startup, this is particularly hard. You’re growing fast, you probably have an open floor plan, many of your employees are young and headstrong, and you’re still learning. You also have very immediate needs: you have a rapidly changing and developing product, you are driving to become profitable, and you’re always worried about funding and acquisitions. How on earth do you maintain stability with all of those moving parts.

Well, if your body can do it, you can do it.

My Three Takeaways From Helpshift

  1. The Mini Office Is King

In our SF office, we have an open floor plan, with 6 mini offices and a few meeting rooms. The mini offices are soundproof, have whiteboard walls, and can be used by any member of the team. You can guess what happened: the Marketing team inevitably holes up in mini offices, and the Sales team rarely leaves the central area of the main office. Note and celebrate each type of person in your office, and allow them to function in whatever environment makes them most productive.

2. Productivity Is The Goal

The goal of an office is not to have people stamp in and out at 5p.m.; it’s to allow for collaboration and visibility. At our office, we have unlimited PTO, and an open vacation policy. Employees are encouraged to come to the office and visit with their coworkers, but they are likewise celebrated for knowing when they need a day to work from home to knock out some focus-intense work. Again, celebrating the diversity of your employees’ work styles is paramount to a homeostatic office.

3. Each And Every Part of Your Team Is Necessary For The Brain To Focus

At the end of the day, whether your team is engineer-heavy or sales-heavy, it’s important to recognize that every job is necessary. You want your brain to focus only on getting food, and forget about regulating temperature. Just because there’s more blood than stomach acid in your body, doesn’t mean you don’t need the stomach acid. And finally, remember that forcing one function to do another’s job will result in chaos: stomach acid in the stomach is great, stomach acid in the mouth is awful.

Just as our bodies have learned over time how to function better and better, companies learn too. But the sooner you can establish homeostasis, the better you’ll be able to deal with and minimize growing pains.

Published September 13, 2016
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