Environmental Design

In the coaching world, we talk about environmental design as a way of enhancing and facilitating change and development. What that really means is that change is easier when the environment you live and work in supports the change.

Have you ever been to a training where you learned about a new exciting tool and came back ready to kick off a new way of working, interacting or planning, only to find that enthusiasm dampened by day 2, and the training forgotten within a few weeks? This is a result of poor environmental design.

You have a new tool or skill, but you come back to the same office, same desk, same tasks, same co-workers – all of which supported the old set of habits and skills. Without support and an environment that actively and passively encourages the use of new skills, the old patterns re-emerge quickly.

So what can you do to really look at your environment and how it impacts your ability to implement change? Here are 5 ways to look around and see what is supported in your environment:   

  1. Physical Environment. Look around and see what is in your immediate work environment. Is it neat and organized or cluttered and messy? Where do new items land? Where do “important” projects and tasks land? Do you face colleagues or a wall or window? What can you hear in your environment? When you look at your physical environment, does it encourage you to take the actions you need? Is it more conducive to collaborative work or solitary research/writing and thinking? Does it help you focus? Does it keep you abreast of what everyone in the team is doing? What is important to you and your progress, and does the physical environment support that? How could you make it more supportive of your goals?
  2. Social Environment. What do you get from the people in your work, home and social environment? Do they encourage you to reach your goals? Do they have compatible goals? Are they prone to sabotaging your efforts, or are they excited to see you change? If they aren’t supportive, who could you recruit to spend more time with who would be more encouraging?
  3. Temporal Environment. How do you structure your time during the day and over the course of a week, and how does that impact your ability to make changes and achieve your goals? Are you able to use your most productive hours on the most difficult tasks? Are you actively managing your energy levels and scheduling tasks when the right energy is there to support them?
  4. Intellectual Environment. What kinds of intellectual stimulation do you get from your environment? Do you have challenging people with new ideas in your environment? What kinds of reading material, news, radio and other media do you keep in your environment and how does that impact your goals? What changes might improve your motivation and ability to stay on track with new behaviors and skills?
  5. Measurement Environment. What is tracked and measured in your environment? How is progress noted and how often? Are the things being measured encourage you to make change? If not, what kinds of measures might make more sense? How often are they measured?

In order to effectively make a change or build new behaviors, you can make it infinitely easier by designing the right environment. Think about someone trying to start a new diet. One of the first changes is to take “forbidden” food out of the kitchen, maybe join a support group or begin the diet with a friend or spouse, to get new recipes supporting the new diet and setting up a measurement and tracking system to see daily progress and understand any setbacks.

All changes are similar in many ways. They are hard, and can only be tackled when the motivation is there, but that is rarely enough. In order to create success, you need to carefully examine your environment and create stimuli and support for changes, new behaviors and new skills.