Collaboration and teamwork are difficult. Building trust within a team requires time and a huge amount of goodwill among team members to get aligned, understand each other and open up. Teams are also fragile — without a clear goal, even the best team can fall apart. Yet companies strive to build their entire organizational culture on teamwork and collaboration. Why? In my work as a Scrum Master I’ve found that a well-performing team can achieve incredible results, incomparable to the results of a bunch of self-centered individuals. Moreover, cross-team collaboration and knowledge exchange can bring significant benefits to a company, including a very positive impact on revenue.
Both at Chilid and XSolve (Chilid’s older brother) we are building an organizational culture based on collaboration. Both companies are housed under one roof and often work on client’s products together. To empower people working within our companies we have a no-manager structure, but by no means chaos. No-manager means very clear processes, full transparency and a common understanding of our goals. It also means, that all of our teams, need to be self-organized and be able to collaborate with each other at any time.
But how to build such awareness and responsibility in people? How to encourage them to get outside of their comfort zone? There are a lot of factors which have an impact on this situation and one of them is definitely our office design.
We all sit together in one space. This gives us an opportunity to have spontaneous meetings whenever they’re needed. It also increases transparency and makes us feel all part of one big community. What’s more, we can easily ask for help when we have a problem.
An open space also means we don’t just spend time with our immediate teammates. People from non-devs teams, like business or HR, also sit with the developers. This gives us all a better understanding of our roles and responsibilities.
Team meetings rooms
We have dedicated meeting rooms for each team. All the rooms have glass walls to avoid any sense of isolation and ensure transparency. Inside we have tables and chairs, which can be easily moved to suit our needs. It’s very helpful when we want to rearrange the space to increase creativity or enhance teamwork during a meeting.
These rooms don’t require previous booking, so people can use them whenever they need them. We can meet with each other to talk about technical solutions or grab a room spontaneously to take a call with a client. Teams can also leave their notes or flipcharts in their meeting room and nobody will move them or — even more scary — throw them away.
In our office, we have one dedicated space where we can all eat lunch together, the cafeteria. Small divisive kitchens in different parts of the office are not our cup of tea. Our office design encourages us to meet with different people every day.
And we can always find different types of muesli, cereals, fresh fruits, and coffee or tea, making the whole community more willing to drop in.
We also use this space for informal meetings. We find the different environment boosts our creative thinking and problem-solving.
In the corner of the main open space we have a small stage. We use it for presentations and lightning talks. This feature encourages us to share our knowledge and achievements. It also makes us feel more comfortable with talking to an audience — very helpful when you have the opportunity to got to conferences as a speaker.
Sometimes you have to talk with someone “one-on-one” or in a small group and a meeting or conference room doesn’t feel like the right place. That’s why we have armchairs and couches in different parts of the office. These places give you more privacy than the open space, but you don’t feel uncomfortably isolated from everyone else.
We decided we would all change our workstations every three months. Our standard layout has groups of desks for 4–6 people. Each desk has a retracted middle leg and is big enough to enable an extra person to join in for pair working. Every workstation has 24” monitor and the same style of chair. We want to make every spot equally comfortable. Also, similar accessories makes moving very simple — you just grab your laptop and go! As soon as you sit down at your new location, you can start working.
This practice has increased our openness and makes meeting new people a natural and common occurrence, something which is a part of our company’s DNA.
Did your team just successfully finish a project? Is today your birthday? Or maybe you are a newbie and you want to say, “Hello everyone”? It doesn’t matter! Whatever the occasion, in our cafeteria we have a gong which we can use whenever we want to, whenever something important to us is happening which we’d like to share with the rest of the crew. Usually we also bring in some cake or pizza. Celebrations of achievements and special moments bonds us together.
After all, you should remember, the office is only a part of a teamwork culture. If behind these design solutions there are no values or deeper thoughts, you’re giving your teams a nice workplace but little else. However, space that supports teamwork and collaboration could contribute to creating a new quality of communication in your company.