I was having a conversation last week about how easy it is to rob people of the permission to collaborate. Examples were provided of how ‘bosses’ don’t even need to say anything: a disapproving look is enough to communicate that a chat while making coffee isn’t considered ‘working’.
The conversation reminded me of an experience during one of our projects. The client representative couldn’t find a meeting room and took us to this fabulous collaboration space in their new(ish) building. This new building was designed to enhance collaboration. An atrium runs along one entire wall and is filled with secluded nooks for private conversations, with areas where groups can get together and with cafe areas where people can have ‘chance meetings’. I was surprised that our little group was the only one in there and asked why. Our host explained….
Early on, this place was used all the time. I loved it and brought my team here for regular meetings and, with the shortage of formal meeting rooms, I had lots of my smaller meetings here as well. The place always had a great ‘buzz’ about it. But the design had a big flaw, the executive offices were all positioned overlooking the atrium. One day I was called into the office of an executive who told me they considered I was spending too much of my time in the atrium (collaboration space). Apparently others had similar experiences. Nowadays hardly anyone comes here. We feel we are being watched.
In complex environments we know that little things can make a big difference and in this case the impact is obvious in the low usage of this great space. The conversation also remind me of the powerful impact of managers in their day-to-day interactions. Every interaction is an opportunity to build or to erode engagement….and collaboration. It could have been a very different outcome if the executives had said ‘its great to see you using this area’.
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: