This proposal is around the concept of organisations allocating physical space for collaborative working and innovative thinking.
Our Adaptable organisations need to be creative & agile. Our people need to feel empowered to take responsibility for working together across the structure to develop ideas, test and implement them. Without the provision of physical space, or permissions, for people to come together and think differently, this type of collaborative innovation can be difficult.
Creating the space to innovate requires a conducive physical space. Formal meeting rooms to some extent condition us to expect a certain type of discussion and formal outcomes. If we are to change thinking within organisations, perhaps we need to change the environment in which people aim to collaborate.
Naomi Stanford talks about the characteristics of a co-working environment that combines aspects of social, community and work. Our proposal is that organisations need to give some specific thought to workplace design to make collaborative thinking possible. What we envisage is a creative space where people can meet, collaborate, sketch out their thoughts, expand on their thinking. An ideas lab, if you like. It will be a semi-structured space that people can use flexibly, drink coffee, draw pictures, contemplate challenges and really get to grips with the ideas, services & products that can take the organisation forward. It will be a space where conversations with a purpose can happen.
But the provision of physical space in itself is not sufficient. The culture of the organisation needs to be supportive towards the idea of informal, organic collaborative thinking. The culture has to allow anyone to innovate without having to seek permission. This requires a degree of freedom around how employees manage their own time, and a high-level of trust by line managers in staff who choose to come together for the purposes of developing ideas or thinking differently. In the early stages of this process, visible supportive recognition of the value of collaborative working and an acknowledgement of the innovative ideas that emerge will be essential to reinforce that it’s actually okay to work informally.
Getting this idea off the ground would not be a difficult task. In terms of workspace utilisation, it could start off with the designation of a creative space. A suitable room could be equipped with whiteboards, creative technologies, informal furniture and a supply of water/coffee/fruit.
The facility could be promoted initially to existing project teams, who could pilot the space and give feedback on its look & feel. OD would have an important role in show-casing and signposting the space, offering a facilitation service to early users of the space. Word of mouth would then encourage individuals and teams to come and try the facility. An open booking system would enable anyone within the organisation to come and use the space.
Early examples of using the creative space would need to be communicated. Use of the facility would demonstrate clearly that the organisation values collaborative working and innovation. Ideas for process improvements or new products would start to emerge; through their implementation, staff would see that the organisation was not just managing the present but also preparing itself for the future. The principles behind this initiative fit with the concept of an agile workforce.
The initial will to make this happen needs to come from the leadership team. This would enable any traditional concerns about space utilisation, often a political issue between departments, to be overcome.
Perhaps a greater challenge would be around ensuring that workplace culture accepted the concept of informal, collaborative working. Some thought should be given to conversations with leaders at all levels of the organisation around the concept of the workplace as a ‘community’, to ensure that they were comfortable supporting staff coming together informally to develop new thinking. Leaders would also need to be positioned to support some of the new thinking emerging and have a simple process to decide which ideas should be implemented. Again, OD has a role to play in supporting this process.
A review of space planning within the organisations estate would be the first step towards the allocation of a suitable creative space. Initial investment in room redecoration and infrastructure would be accompanied by a communication plan to launch the facility.
It is suggested that an initial pilot of 12-18 months would be planned to assess demand, allow staff to get to know the facility and for leaders within the organisation to start to share stories about the value & outcomes from informal collaborative working. Success through a pilot facility would allow the organisation to consider replicating the creative space across different buildings to enable access across a multi-site scenario. The physical space could also be complemented by the use of virtual creative space tools such as www.stormboard.com to reinforce the message about the value of informal collaborative work within the organisation.