What Spaces Empower People to Collaborate?

By March 1, 2016Millennial

collaboration spaceBraintree, a payments platform company, designed their office space as an open environment but did not want their space to feel like a “people factory” so they created neighborhoods. “Each neighborhood has an open working area, two conference rooms, a copy and supply room, lockers with whiteboard doors and a small space for impromptu meetings.” This design empowers small teams in each neighborhood to collaborate and to solve problems together.

Trulia, an online residential real estate platform company, took a similar approach but used a tree as a design principle. They built the space to radiate from an inner “trunk” ring outward. The space is open and each conference room is circular, like part of that trunk or angular, like a branch off of it. No squares are allowed. Given Trulia’s business, keeping the focus on communities was important, along with trying to design for effective collaboration.

Sparking innovation and collaboration are the goals of the new office space designs. This concept is not just for startups and entrepreneurial companies; more traditional companies see the value as well. In a Harvard Business Review article, Scott Birnbaum, a vice president at Samsung Semiconductor, said it well:  “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor.” The space “is really designed to spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide.”

Space to collide equals collaboration in this new world. The key question becomes: Is office space enough for effective collaboration?

Millennials: Space to Work and Collaborate

Driving this focus on space is partly due to a generational shift. Millennials want space that is flexible and open to collaboration. Walled in offices are out, and lounge areas are in. With Millennials being the largest part of the workforce now, companies are working to design more unique spaces to embrace the newest generation in the workplace and provide an environment to promote collaborative working relationships.

Grey Advertising took note of the work preferences of their Millennial team members, 48% of their workforce. So they created a special work community space just for their Millennials and called it Base Camp. Base Camp is designed to “create an environment that gives structure, but creates self-sufficiency [and] encourages relationship building with key learnings more readily shared.”

With all this focus on new space to promote and foster collaboration, is physical space the complete answer? The straightforward answer is “no.”

A recent Deloitte study led by M. Christie Smith, PhD and Stephanie Turner, PhD supports a broader view of collaboration by adding in inclusion and culture: “When it comes to defining inclusion, millennials focus primarily and extensively on teaming, valuing a culture of connectivity, and using collaborative tools to drive business impact.”

Collaboration begins to move beyond just physical space.

Escalating to Active Collaboration

Collaboration is a mix of being active and very engaged. When this alignment occurs, true collaboration is natural. The reason is all involved are at the Champion level. Some may call this full engagement, but we call it “Champion Collaborators.”

connect to collaborate

As a team scales this curve, individuals become more than familiar with the issue or initiative at hand. They move beyond being just conversational. What happens is they understand the true purpose behind what needs to be done. Simply stated, the team gets it, and they are inspired by the work.

Tumblr:  Champion Collaborators

Take Tumblr. Collaboration seemed contagious in their early days. David Karp was a key instigator of it. More than a founder and a Millennial, David created an energetic, collaborative environment to create and sustain a social platform. One of the early team members, Joshua Nguyen, summed up it up best:

“David was perpetually excited about Tumblr. I have never seen his enthusiasm wane. Everyone who worked at Tumblr were all in love with the product and used it every moment — but David had us all beat. He lived and breathed the product.”

A 2013 Mashable article added the perspective of how few boundaries were present. Kris Hedstrom, a product engineer, emphasized: “How few egos there are here, there’s not a lot of silos at Tumblr. You can talk to anyone, nobody’s going to be like, ‘Well you have to talk to my boss’ … so that’s great, I haven’t really experienced that before.”

What made Tumblr work? The open physical space likely helped, but it was more than this. Team members were focused diligently on customers, gathering their input and testing ideas. Individuals worked with each other to solve problems and develop new features. When needed, time was given to just individually think and work. Intertwined through it all was a clear mission to develop the best platform possible for their users.

People seemed to love the place they worked and what the organization stood for and in what they achieved. There was a flow to the work. Although there was an all-team meeting on Mondays, the structure was informal yet very mission driven. Individuals were performing at the Champion level, engaging around a purpose and collaborating with focus and responsibility.

Collaboration can be designed, so people collide and exchange ideas and insights. However, office design alone cannot create the space for Champion-level collaboration. This was the case for Tumblr. Non-physical elements were blended in. Maybe this is a Millennial mindset, yet we know it is much more than this. Collaboration calls us to a new way of working together across generations.

Collaboration is about space, just more than physical.

3 Spaces Necessary for Effective Collaboration

What the Tumblr story tells is that desks and chairs do not inspire action. The people sitting or standing behind the desk are what bring collaboration alive. While collaboration is not a generational issue, it is rising in importance.

What the next generation is ushering in is a new level of collaboration, ready to perform like champions. The challenge now is to gather a group of people and empower them to be Champion Collaborators.

To do this, space expands beyond physical. Effective and meaningful collaboration requires more. There are three expanded spaces necessary to capture and engage the collaborative spirit of team members.

Think space. Collaboration contains a mix of characters, yet each collaborator needs time and space to think. All talk produces mediocrity. Think time produces breakthroughs.

Some think collaboration is all about brainstorming. Get in a room with a lot of people and gain everyone’s best ideas. However, what studies have found is the opposite. More original ideas are generated when they are not interacting with others.

Collaborative space tips:

  • Team responsibility: Put on your headphones or tuck yourself away when you need to think. At times, collaborate with your own At times, unplug from it all and think about the problem in front of you. Stretch your imagination. Explore.
  • Leader responsibility: Give people the gift of time away from others. Give people the gift of self-discovery. Give yourself time to back away and think.

Heart space. “You can’t fake passion,” says Barbara Corcoran. The reason is you have to believe in the organization, team, people, and mission being pursued. Collaboration will not succeed with a group of passionate people. Collaboration will succeed if the heart of the people engaged feel at ease in where they work and who they work with. Feeling at ease is not about comfort zones; it is about confident zones.

When respect reigns, our hearts believe we can succeed. When trust is embedded, our hearts believe we have the capability to solve challenges. Where clarity of mission and responsibility shine, our hearts put our passion to work. This is what makes up a healthy heart place for collaborating partners.

Collaborative space tips:

  • Team responsibility: Contribute to a culture of restlessness and comfort, knowing that there is a time for both. Restlessness enables exploration. Comfort enables testing of ideas without blame. Do both by tapping into your heart of what to pursue, why to pursue it, and how to empower within the path forward. Build give-and-take relationships, ensuring a good balance between giving and receiving.
  • Leader responsibility: Create a culture that delivers purpose in what the work means for all stakeholders. Trump self-centeredness with a focus on the higher purpose of what the result will mean for customers, partners, team members, and other stakeholders. Set the aspirational tone.

Technology space. Technology plays a role in collaboration. Technology enables. Technology extends our reach. Technology enables us to pursue in more productive ways. In collaboration, technology should not crowd any of our other four spaces. Just the opposite. Technology should reduce the clutter and support.

Collaborative space tips:

  • Team responsibility: Use tools to extend your reach and work well with others. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer, email, Basecamp, Asana, and others can enable collaborative reach. Productively use the tools.
  • Leader responsibility: Provide tools to productively empower team members. Find secure ways for team members to extend virtually, solving problems and identifying better ideas. Use tools like TinyPulse or Culture Amp to gauge the cultural temperature.

Widen Your Space for Champion Collaboration

Passive connections just maintain the status quo or facilitate declining results. Lackadaisical collaboration will not cut it any longer. To create the right place for effective collaboration, we need to expand our space design thinking and encompass a whole-hearted approach. This is our responsibility as leaders and team members.

Although physical space plays a key role in collaborative environments, the reality is more people are telecommuting. Up to 30 percent telecommute or work outside of formal workplaces. With physical boundaries removed, creating space for think, heart, and technology is critical.

The work of Planning Design Research supports the space shift. They divide physical collaborative space into three types:

  • Formal: collaborative space for traditional meetings, where I invite somebody and reserve a room;
  • Informal: casual locations for meetings that do not require privacy; and
  • Remote: spaces where people meet long-distance, using technology to ‘display visual thinking’ and transmit it to others.

What is still missing in these three space types is the role of think, heart, and technology. Each of these will enlighten the formal, informal, and remote space.

The good news is Millennials seem to get these facts. They are demanding many of the new space requirements. More than this, Millennials are leading the way in how think, heart, and technology space will empower new Collaboration Champions. A great mix for all generations to embrace and engage.

Are you ready to collaborate in more than physical space alone? Millennials are, as are most generations.

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Alli Polin says:

    As always, there is so much to dig into when I come to Thin Difference. Appreciate how you expanded the concept of high engagement collaboration beyond our physical space. As a coach and leader, I’ve used the phrase “holding the space.” When we show up and fiercely hold the space for others to expand, collaborate and collide great things can happen.

    ~ Alli

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Alli,

      Thank you for your feedback! Holding space or carving out space for others to excel is so vital. As you state, this allows them to show up fiercely and interdependently! Thank you. Jon

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