A lesson from global warming – why relationship ecosystems matter - collaboration

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A lesson from global warming – why relationship ecosystems matter - collaboration

Why relationship ecosystems matter – collaboration.

In complex, fast-moving, and unpredictable times working with others can bring strength, added resources, give access to people and information that would otherwise be closed to us. However, changes beyond our immediate control can make collaborations turn nasty.

A vivid example of this was given by Professor Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, from the story of how the ‘collaboration’ between coral and green algae has turned sour due to the warming of the oceans caused by climate change. The coral provides protection for the algae from predators. In exchange for the nutrients produced by the algae as a result of soaking up the sunlight, in the process known as photosynthesis.


However, as the oceans have got warmer this close proximity to the coral transforms a useful symbiotic relationship into a hostile environment for the algae. They move, or are expelled, out on their own into the oceans where they can find more suitable conditions and survive. The coral meanwhile has lost a vital source of food, so they eventually bleach out and die.

As humans, living in complex social systems it might help us to reflect on the qualities we need to develop when events beyond our immediate control change the conditions within which our collaborations and relations were formed and operate. This can be as true for marriage or cohabitation as it is for a professional/business partnership. Regularly assessing the health of our collaborations is vital. When a collaboration becomes stressed, we need to ensure that no one is left behind, unprepared, like the coral, to just bleach out and die if it comes to an end.

Five Top Tips

  • Don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the signs that things are not as they were when the collaboration began
  • Check the external environment within which the collaboration/relationship exists for changes that require adaption and adjustments
  • Make sure that changes meet the needs of all concerned, to ensure that some are not advantaged at the expense of others
  • Form new collaborations which aim to have an impact on the external environment so that the conditions that threaten you are changed
  • If it is not possible to keep the collaboration alive, plan the separation so that each member can survive and thrive on different terms once it has dissolved




“Corals are small colonial animals that form skeletons as they grow. Inside their tissues, corals house symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae. Which provide extra food for corals in exchange for a stable home. Warm temperatures cause the corals to expel the algae. Since these algae supply corals’ colour, what is left looks white — the calcareous skeleton becomes visible through the transparent tissues of the corals.

And then, without this vital food source, they usually die.”

Source: Greenpeace