Organizational silos can often become one of the biggest barriers to collaboration. You may have all the right intentions, collaboration could even be a strategic goal but something still prevents it from happening. Embedding the idea of collaboration as early as possible can make it really easy to build a collaborative culture. SEI seems to have taken that idea seriously.
When a new employee joins SEI, they are given a map and sent down to a storeroom on the lower ﬂoor of the main building. There, the employee is issued a chair and desk, both on wheels, with a computer and phone on the desktop. The map shows where in the complex of nine barn-like buildings on the corporate campus in Oaks, Pennsylvania, the new hire will initially be located. The employee then rolls the desk through the buildings, into the oversized elevators designed for this purpose, and past hallways ﬁlled with a provocative (and sometimes shocking) collection of contemporary art. In a large, open room (ﬁlled with similar desks on wheels), the employee ﬁnds the spot on the map, nudges neighboring desks aside and pulls down a thick, red wire that snakes down from the ceiling, containing computer, phone, and electrical connections. Once this “python” is plugged in, the company computer recognizes the new employee and routes calls or visitors to the location. Welcome to work.
The message from Day One is clear. This is an organization that is ﬂexible, creative, and ready for constant transformation. The company is open and not hierarchical.
Desk-on-wheels is a small thing in workplace design which can have a big impact on how people think about teamwork. This case study identifies two excellent benefits of collaboration:
West A., Wind Y., 2007, Putting the Organization on Wheels: Workplace design at SEI, California Management Review; Vol. 49 Issue 2, p138-153.
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