Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wot no team room?

You don’t have to do much reading on agile before you come across advice about how to arrange the environment for a team. And it’s pretty different to what most of us have available in a corporate office environment.

Much as a dedicated “war room*” for each team with no cube walls in the way, copious amounts of whiteboard space and additional private areas to retreat to would be nice, we ain’t got it. From what I know, not much of the corporate world usually does.

So what can you do? Well we recently decided to try and make the best of our lot. Previously, our teams were scattered to the wind over an area housing a mix of people from the organization. This had actually been purposefully done -- the idea being that it would get folks from different groups talking in an impromptu and synergistic fashion. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case. I won’t say no good came from it, but as we adopted agile, the physical separation of our teams was noticeable.

What we decided to do was try out a reorganization, where each of our teams were placed in contiguous blocks. We couldn’t get rid of the cubes, but we could make better use of them. We divided up the space into three groups of cubes, assigning one group to each team. Then we let each team negotiate amongst themselves exactly who would sit where in their group.

Now any large move like this is going to receive a mixed reception from those involved. Not all cubes are created equal. Some are of the premier variety; they are by windows, larger in size or have less “traffic” passing by them. Now understandably anyone losing that is not going to feel like their situation is improving. There’s often precious little comfort or individual benefit available in the uniformity of a cube farm and I for one can more than empathize with the desire to hang on to what you’ve got.

However, there were enough people in favor and the benefits espoused in a myriad blog posts and books seemed compelling enough to give it a try.

A little while later and I polled folks for their thoughts on things. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and while there were a few people who felt it was not an improvement most people were extremely happy with it. The following are just a few representative quotes that say it better than I could ever hope to:

“At first I thought that there was no real point - we weren't so far away, we could just walk a few steps, but I found out differently. We do interact more and include each other in conversations by heads popping up over cube walls or by overhearing ... so I was skeptical but am now a believer.”

“Honest opinion: It is the best I came across in 10 years of my life with Perceptive.”

“I actually love it”

“...communication has improved significantly now that we are all sitting together. I can't think of any downsides. “

It seems to me that our teams have taken things to a new level, which is clearly reflected in their positive feedback to this change. One recurring theme from people was how this had helped establish a much stronger sense of team, and of “being in it together.” Psychologists say a large part of job satisfaction comes from getting along well with the people you work with. I’d like to think that this change has had a positive impact in this way for our teams. By bringing teams together not only have they a better environment to do their job, but there’s more camaraderie too, which I makes things just a little bit more pleasant and fun for everyone.

*War room vs. team room. War room = aggression, danger, stay out. Team room = inclusive, fun, friendly. You decide... I forget who I originally saw tweet that, and I may not have it verbatim, but I liked the gist of it. In my opinion the world of business is too full of BS terms inspired by conflict: “war room”, “aggressive” time lines etc.

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