OFFICE SPACE AND SEATING ARRANGEMENTS HAS IT GONE FULL CIRCLE.

Nowadays most of us spend most of our lives in an office type environment.

The idea of an effective work environment has always been present and yet often rarely discussed or analysed by most of us, myself included. I just know what I like and often modify my surroundings to make the best from a less than ideal situation.

The old school office/cubicles strategy, was rooted in hierarchy and even class structure. The “us and them” school of though between “management” and “labour”, yet it did allow for personal and private spaces which meant an inherent feeling of safety and ownership.

The open plan strategy, has its ideology based in the “we are a team” and “we are all the same” mindset. These ideas have issues in a work place; the bigger the team the more difficult to find harmony and we are not all the same. The funniest thing about the open plan office space is that a major reason for its popularity is not to develop an effective work environment but that its cheaper per headcount by easily fit more staff into smaller spaces and also that you can see everyone, giving the illusion of control.

The simple fact is that we often ignore or actively block out our environment be it work or otherwise. Details of our environment and how they effect our mental state, often go unnoticed and therefore are allowed to impact us without being monitored or adjusted.

How many of us remember the office spaces of our past and television sitcoms, cubicles, isolated offices and founded in the “us and them mentality”. Nowadays, we have the antithesis, being touted as the best option, the open plan, no partitions idea of office space. The driving force behind each extreme model, is only partly based in trying to allow for effective work.

The irony is that, as humans we need interactions with others and also our private space. Much like marine fish in a fish tank, I’ll get back to this later.

The traditional office space of the decades past, was one of higher management nested in largish offices around a space of partitioned cubicles. This lay out although not great had it’s merits. The physical barriers allowed the occupants to have a sense of private space and belonging. The ocean of cubicles provided a pocketed approach to office space, reminiscent of battery hens. Each isolated and working to produce, under the watchful eye of the farmer/manager.

As time and ideas changed the partitions got smaller in height and less common, the offices reduced in number and common areas began to spring up. The idea of this was to remove the barriers physically and hopefully mentally from the work space to allow for communication and a sense of community and partnership, to hopefully evolve.

The interesting fact is that different cultures behave differently but people tend to require the same things.

Ironically as the physical barriers, like walls and partitions, have been reduced or completely removed others have been erected to fill a need. The partitions have gone but the need for private spaces has meant that isolationist devices have become common place. The modern office space is open plan and headset isolated. The human need for self-space has replaced the partitioned cubicles with the modern cultural equivalent of isolation tanks.

The supposedly open office to encourage freedom and so we can have a sense of community and belonging has gone full circle to the isolationist mentality of boxes.
The mental isolation in the modern open plan work space is, far more detrimental than the cubicles of old and more difficult to see.

Personally I felt happier in cubicles, with lowish partitions and one glass partition so natural light could be allowed further into the room. The partitions were set out in blocks of four or six and sometimes even eight, allowing for team groupings and interactions.

The partition walls were low enough to see over, when you were standing but high enough to utilise them as extra work surfaces for charts and the tracking of work in progress. The sense of privacy was there and you also had a sense of belonging. You could hear others if you wished to focus or easily ignore the office murmurs.

If you have ever kept a marine aquarium or any fish tank for that matter there is a paradox which occurs when stocking your aquarium.
“The more hiding places there are the more you see your fish and the less stressed they are.”
In a marine environment fish are constantly on the look out for predators and prey alike, always aware and highly observant. The fish in a tank are no different, being exposed is stressful and a bad thing. A stark and barren environment, is a terrifying place and that is why fish kept in these conditions are rarely seen and often found cowering in what few corners or hiding spots there are. An aquarium with lots of hiding spots and ample swim throughs will make the inhabitants feel safe since they can always dart into a secluded spot, when danger is felt.

Maybe we should bare this in mind when designing work spaces.

A final thought is that traditionally homes are designed with common areas, lounge and living rooms, common rooms for eating and cooking and most importantly private zones the bedrooms.

 

 

 

Effective Efficiency

Efficiency is not a good goal, effectiveness is a better goal.

What do we mean by being efficient? In simple terms it means doing a good job, a job that has the intended outcome with the minimal amount of effort. At an organisational level this is usually interpreted as saving costs and that can lead to what I would call some ‘cheap and nasty’ outcomes.

So we have started to rebel against the cost-cutting aspects of efficiency and are now very focused on effective outcomes…almost to the point that using the word ‘efficient’ is not really acceptable.

We can be both effective and efficient, and we should be. It’s a good idea to monitor for opportunities to reduce waste, while being selective about which types of waste make sense to keep or reduce.

The one place that it makes sense to be less efficient is when we are tackling complexity. This requires a probing, exploratory approach which can actually be more effective when it is not super-efficient…because we are looking for things which we are uncertain about.

Assumption Pillows – Lightning Blog

Expanding the thoughts behind a recent tweet of mine.

‘Pondering….less obvious reasons…generate ‘pillows’ of assumptions…and are ineffective cushions against the sharp rocks of risk below’

Assumptions are like pillows – they are very comfortable and we are not aware of them for much of the time. The trouble is that our assumptions and the assumptions of other people that we are working with are likely to be different. When we don’t inspect our assumptions, we can overlook risks – so that is why our assumptions are like pillows.

It can feel like a waste of effort to inspect our assumptions – there are ways of working them into a workshop facilitation plan – that’s the easiest one to address.

Another way is to be aware of the feeling that something is not quite right in a conversation. Once I was negotiating a contract and almost starting to argue with the other party about a particular point – both of us thought that the other one was being a bit unreasonable. After a short break, we took a moment to clarify what we were discussing and it turned out that we both agreed the point, but had been discussing quite different things before the short break.

The main risk that assumptions cause in projects is delay. If we find ways to highlight assumptions earlier we can save wasted effort in circular discussions, rework or duplication.

It’s better to see the sharp rocks of risk than to cover them with assumption pillows.

Comfort and Privacy

How could something as simple as a stand-up be a potential invasion of privacy?

What if someone feels a bit unwell on the day and standing up in the same place for 15 minutes or more is very hard for them to do? What are their options?

They could stay silent – after all, we want to be seen as part of the team and not a ‘party pooper’ by asking to sit down.

They could make an excuse – ‘apologies – I need to dash to another meeting’ – or something like that.

They could tell people what is wrong (which could range from a mild illness to something more severe).

We need to consider this when we lead teams. We should not expect people to share private information – there is no need for us to know some of these things, and in a normal workplace, it’s not a problem.

Many Agile ways of working and workshop facilitation methods, fail to fully consider  diversity and inclusion. When we do consider diversity, we will offer ways for people to opt out of activities in ways that allow everyone to ‘save face’ and maintain their private information.

My ask of the Lean and Agile communities is to take a moment, pause and consider the above – let’s ensure that our ways of working are fully inclusive and not causing discomfort to anyone.

When in Rome…

romeThere was an article about the ‘Tube Chat’ badges that caused controversy in London recently. The article explained that the cultural ‘norm’ on the London Tube is to not speak with strangers. In fact, that speaking with strangers on any train until well outside London is not normal.

So I probably should not have started that long conversation with an American until we had left London and were well on our way to Edinburgh last month – oh well, lesson learned.

How do we discover the cultural ‘norms’ when we join a new group? These ‘norms’ are not something that can easily be explained – except for the extreme ones like dress codes. So we need to observe and deduce what the ‘norms’ might be. Do people have lunch at their desk? Do they go out of the office for coffee? …and so on.

Some are better at observation than others. Is there a way we can compensate for this diversity in observational skills? And why is this topic important?

It is important because the cultural ‘norms’ are what makes relationships easier – they remove friction and provide a level of certainty about how people will behave in various circumstances. If we want to shift behaviour to support improved ways of working, then we need to understand the current cultural ‘norms’. Then we need to work through how these cultural ‘norms’ are enabling or restricting good outcomes.

When we find a ‘norm’ that is restricting, it is tempting to call it out and just tell everyone to do something different.

I tried this a couple of weeks ago on my morning commute. There was a person sitting opposite me watching a soccer game on his phone without headphones. The sound was turned down, but I could clearly hear the ‘….and he scores blah blah blah…..the crowd goes wild….’ whistles blowing etc. It was really annoying. I assumed that he had blue-tooth earphones under his hood and that they might be faulty – he wouldn’t know – so I had better let him know. Because the cultural ‘norm’ on our trains is to keep your sound to yourself. I got his attention and said that I thought his earphones might be faulty because I could hear the sound. He barely looked at me and shook his head and then went on watching the game – he did turn the sound down a little.

I was a bit upset because he ignored me and did not seem to understand that others think it’s impolite not to use earphones.

A young lady then got on the train and sat in the seat next to him – doing her make-up in the selfie camera of her phone.

Years ago, etiquette guides were published to let people know what was socially acceptable. It was also common for people to let others know when they ‘crossed the line’ outside of the cultural ‘norm’ – but recently that is not acceptable. So the cultural ‘norm’ is to not say anything which means that we no longer have a consistent cultural ‘norm’ in society.

If this is true, then shifting behaviours in the workplace by direct methods is going to be almost impossible. Perhaps it is better to focus on more concrete things like processes and policies. These things are acceptable to make explicit and the cultural ‘norms’ will adapt around them. We should still monitor the cultural ‘norms’ in case they are leading to bad outcomes in our processes – but we should not try to change them directly.

Logical Mind and Emotional Mind – the duality of change

A simple yet ignored and overlooked fact is that we all are in two minds. The saying I’m in two minds is actually based in fact. If you think about it we all do it. How many times have you logically known the answer and yet for some emotive reason avoided it. The logical mind often sees what is the actual reason or solution yet the emotional mind may not be ready to accept or even hear it. How many times when an obvious solution or fact is presented, have you heard the statement …Yes… but…. . The but, says it all, the proposal, solution or facts has satisfied logically, yet the person is not yet emotionally ready to accept the outcome.

The home truth is we all do it I know I should throw that out, or get more exercise but I am actually not emotionally ready to implement the change. So next time you hear a ..Yes..but.. take it as a sign that the logical solution or proposal, may not be rejected, only the emotional timing is wrong. Often the emotive mind needs time to move on and embrace new ideas. This is not a bad thing but it is essential that we become aware of the two minds we all have. Sometime we know we should do it but we really don’t want to because of emotive reasons.

Requests Versus Intentions

This is a fairly common occurrence when dealing with others and especially, with customers or even staff. We all filter during our waking life, most of which goes unnoticed by us, as these “auto-pilot” events carry on in the background. This evolutionary strategy frees up our brains to perform “higher” functions such as thought while still enabling us to maintain life functions such as breathing, walking etc.

As humans we tend to go into an auto-pilot state when ever possible, did you pull the hand brake when you parked the car? Did you turn off the gas? This ability to subconsciously perform tasks is highly beneficial, yet our ability to easily slip into it can have consequences.

When talking to someone we often listen just enough, so we can begin to form our next statement. This can be efficient and perfectly adequate for simple tasks covering well defined and commonly known parameters, facts and requirements.

Yet if the purpose of the conversation is to bring into focus the requirements and needs of a customer then the requested items or tasks may not deliver the actual intended outcome expected by the customer. A customer will often ask for a preconceived “product or service” which to the best of their understanding is the correct one. This request is often skewed by the amount of knowledge, time, importance and even ego the customer has.

The basic idea that the customer is always right is greatly misinterpreted by most of us. The customer has obviously the final say as to whether they are satisfied with the final product or the resulting service but that does not imply they are experts that have precise specifications for their requirements and the equipment and skills to deliver said item or service. If they did they wouldn’t need you.

The greatest obstacle to a satisfactory outcome is often ourselves. Trust is key, each party must have each others best interests at heart, we can not expect a free ride but simple pride in ones work and courtesy goes a very long way. The intention of the requested work is often buried under layers of ego, insufficient knowledge, time constraints and “auto-pilot” conversations. The best customers know what they need and your job is to help them get it. The intention of a piece of work is its reason for being, the request is but a starting point and can and should not be considered a precise specification for the deliverable. This is where the value of your input and speciality knowledge is required and essential, if you don’t have all the answers, then be open about it and then find out what extra pieces of information are required. This manages the customers expectations and shows transparency and honesty while protecting yourself as well.

Discovery and Re-discovery

We’ve been discussing the concepts of ideation and the workshop activities that we do to generate ideas. These activities use the intent behind ‘brainstorming’ – not that I am recommending the common form, let me explain why.

The method that springs to mind when we mention ‘brainstorming’ is for a facilitator to capture ideas onto a whiteboard while people call them out. There are many issues with using the method in this way related to good old human nature such as our tendencies to focus on the first theme mentioned or our tendency to defer to people in positions of perceived higher status.

No BrainstormingThere are many better ways to generate ideas from design thinking and other facilitation approaches such as

  • Silent brainstorming
  • Rapid sketching
  • Surfacing assumptions and generating hypotheses

What if we are working on a big, important goal? There are many questions that we overlook because it’s easy to make the assumption that once was enough and doing a process of discovery again might generate more work than we desire.

  • Should we facilitate only one of these idea-generation sessions with one group of people?
  • How can we know if we have looked at the goal from enough angles?
  • If we should do it more than once, then how many times and how much time between the sessions?

Perhaps this is the original intent behind governance processes. We know that humans are very creative and are likely to learn much at the beginning of a piece of work that leads to more interesting ideas as we proceed. In an idealistic world, the process of governance is a way of checking in with a bunch of smart people to help us identify key decisions and make those decisions in a timely manner.

Those same smart people can also assist with identification of the needs to re-discover – perhaps they have learned something useful from elsewhere that could help us to reach our goal sooner or obtain better outcomes. This new information might be a reason to facilitate another ideation session – but how many of us would want to set that up? It seems much easier to take the new information and simply work it into our current set of tasks.

How can you tell and why should you revisit old ground?

Things change, information is not static and the believed facts can also change with time as a better understanding is developed.

So if we acknowledge this reality then the attitude that we should only plan, then act, denies the fact of change. Imagine a set and forget toy on a table, the inevitable outcome is that it will eventually fall off. This is the very reason why biology, engineering, mechanics and programming are full of feed back loops and reiterations, so monitoring and corrections can be made. It is naive to think our projects are somehow exempt from change.

The size, complexity, number of inter-dependencies all increase the requirements for re-discovery, so we should always be asking ourselves if it makes sense to continue, or to pause and do some form of re-discovery at regular intervals.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

How do we form our beliefs?

We are good at recognising patterns, we are also good at ‘making up’ patterns when they are not necessarily there.

For example – something good might have happened last time we ordered a coffee from a new place, so we go back there in the hope that the good thing will happen again.

Perhaps the self-limiting beliefs are created when the opposite happens.

  1. We try something new
  2. Something ‘bad’ happens
  3. We tell ourselves that we are no good at that thing
  4. And we never try it again

This is fine when the bad thing could cause us injury.

But what if our self-limiting beliefs resulted in bad outcomes for others because we thought we were not able to learn a better way?

Another example – I had a friend once who always cut capsicums (bell peppers) by cutting around the top and pulling out the core. This is great when making stuffed peppers. When I want diced capsicum, I cut the pepper almost in half from the bottom and then when you pull the two halves apart, the core detaches from one half and is easy to pull out. My friend was amazed, she had never thought that it could be done another way.

I think that I am not good at artwork – Steve convinced me to keep trying and I found that I really enjoy ‘buttering’ paint onto a canvas with a palette knife. I even did a picture for an exhibition at work a couple of years ago. It helps to have someone urging us to ‘give it a go’.

Floating Garden Art 1How many things are we doing every day like these? Is there a better way? Can we try it more than once?

Everyone can learn everything and anything

This has been a source of some debate between myself and basically everyone else. The fact I stand by is that we can all learn anything and do anything we actually want to. This is often disagreed with by most people I talk to. They are firmly set in their ways and as such find it unacceptable that anyone can do anything. Funnily enough they often cite themselves as an example, they are good at maths but are terrible at accounting, they are a good dancer but suck at sports and my personal favourite they can’t do what ever but never really tried. They often will debate citing aptitude and ability but my premise is that we can all do anything if we really want to enough. The results may not be perfection or the best but we can become capable enough to be competent.

I am convinced we are programmed by our experiences and ourselves. This programming often takes place without any real obvious input but by subtle language and even non-verbal communications. Parents, peers, self and even timing can drastically affect the way we see ourselves and our ability to perform tasks. Should we all feel trapped by our existing abilities and environment? Does this mean that we can never evolve or develop skills and techniques we never had? When you begin to state the the concept of ability and aptitude like this, you start to get the idea that many of us treat abilities much like parents treat their children, their youngest child will always be their baby, even when they turn 50 and have children of their own. This attitude means we take a snap shot and rarely revise that image, much like our abilities.