CollaborationThe modern workplace is much different than it was 10 years ago but many companies still reside within the 70s. This is largely due to management styles and resulting cultural impacts, many companies are not able to take advantage of open and effective collaboration. Having worked in this space for over 14 years, 20 if you include my Domino / Notes experience, the tools are the lesser part of the equation. Specifically, corporate culture, management style and work environment play a major role in facilitating an effective collaborative work environment.

The company I worked for prior to my current employer (Accounting company) drove this home. The executive management and HR team lied to employees, didn’t allow them to leave their desks, used gossip and hearsay to manipulate them. Spying on employees was common, taking attendance to make sure you sat at your desk occured almost daily and a list was kept, the office manager encouraged this and kept a list of such things and would distribute it openly to his management and HR. Their tactic was to manipulate employees into submission so they would become obedient automatons that would carry out their job goals and political games of their direct manager (spying, lying, manipulating the truth etc.) to further their managers career. Unfortunately this lead to a non-supportive environment where employees didn’t trust each other and did not work together openly. For me this was a great experience because I saw first hand that my consulting work and key messages and recommendations would deliver value if supported by the executive management team. Sometimes you must experience the polar opposite of what you believe in to truly realize its benefits.

So what do you need to incorporate into your design and change mgmt. plan?

  • Supportive culture – employees are encouraged, trusted and supported to work openly and collaboratively by executive and direct management. This sort of behavior is instinctive and never questioned. Encourage collaboration such as these both within the office and while mobile.
  • Flexibility – allow employees to have options in where they work. Just because you’ve removed the walls from cubes, or moved people out of offices, doesn’t mean they should have to stare at the same people all day, every day. Create break out areas for small groups to meet, and also have quiet areas for when folks really need to get in the zone.
  • No silos allowed – silos decrease communication and productivity. An open workspace is implemented to break down silos, but if gone about the wrong way, silos will build again. Get input from others on what they need to work without walls, but still be happy and contributing.
  • Leverage technology – allowing data to be accessed and shared from any alternative work environment is important, as the more mobile we become, the more we need fixed places to come together to connect in-person.
  • Allow room for growth and alterations – if something isn’t working, change things up. Eliminating walls allows for more freedom to customize areas, and to make space for others who join the company, or make room for a celebration or group project area.
  • Creative design – simply taking down the walls won’t change the feel of your environment. Show people you’re committed to reinventing the workspace by introducing new paint colors, new furniture and even new features, like whiteboard walls. There are many great things you can do to the workspace to inspire increased collaboration.

If you have experiences in this area I would like to hear from you.