With the growing number of corporations adopting teaming strategies, the workplace is rapidly evolving. Bringing people together is only half of the collaboration equation. The physical environment must support the group by providing the right tools for effective problem solving, strategic planning and brainstorming. Which factors should you consider when designing a team space?

Casual Collaboration
The environment must be designed to foster interaction. Casual meetings at the coffee machine, photocopier or even the washroom result in spontaneous creativity. As companies recognize the importance of these impromptu water-cooler meetings, architects and space planners must respond accordingly and encourage these interactions with facility design. Although environment alone cannot guarantee the brightest ideas, workspace design does have a measurable impact on team productivity. According to Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele in Workplace by Design, "We can influence a pattern of experiences over time, therefore increasing the possibility that new ideas or connection will occur." Increasing the likelihood of chance meetings through space planning is a popular new strategy.

Variety – the Space of Life!
Variety is key when designing team space. Making both closed and open meeting spaces available is necessary to support different work styles. Dedicated office areas can double as meeting spaces for smaller groups. Larger, private areas like war rooms or project rooms are also needed. To maximize the benefits of collaborative work, finding suitable meeting spaces should be effortless. Diversity in room size, layout and design will ensure team members will always have an appropriate meeting space.

Collaborative Communication
Sharing visual information is often an important component of team communication. Franklin Becker's concept of "displayed thinking" explains that by diagramming and recording individual and group ideas, an unspoken message is sent to the team. Concepts are acknowledged and validated, which reinforces the individual, causes cohesion within the team and creates team spirit! Effective team spaces must be equipped with the tools to display the group's concepts, solutions and ideas.

The Right Tools
What types of tools can be used to effectively capture information in team spaces? Flipcharts, dry-erase marker boards and notepads have been used in the past, but organizations are recognizing the limitations of such equipment. "Traditionally, capturing, saving, distributing and archiving ideas generated during group collaboration has been laborious and awkward," says Nancy Knowlton, president and COO of SMART Technologies Inc. "We are seeing Fortune 500 companies planning meeting spaces that include productivity tools to help team members manage the information generated during group collaboration. With products such as electronic and interactive whiteboards, teams can capture ideas directly to a computer for printing, e-mailing or saving. As companies recognize that time spent in meetings is actually a corporate investment, they will seek ways to effectively record all that transpires in team sessions. Keeping a record of all the notes coming out a meeting is invaluable." says Knowlton.

A group space should be flexible enough that a team can adapt the space when necessary. Open team space and adequate connectivity provide the flexibility for reconfiguration. Designers need to consider telecommunication and IT infrastructure as part of the design-build process. Non-territorial workspace with appropriate connectivity allows teams to pick up and plug in. Teams should have access to voice mail, e-mail, fax and networked information wherever they decide to meet. Consulting with information technology professionals throughout the design process results in flexible spaces that support natural fusion and fission common in work teams. All of the "Big 5" accounting firms are currently using such alternative officing strategies with telecommunications, software – and countless other industries are following the movement toward free-address space.

Designing a true team space is more than simply erecting four walls and throwing in a flipchart. Take a holistic approach by considering space availability, diversity, connectivity and flexibility to create an ideal environment which support the two-heads-are-better-than-one theory. With well-thought out space planning, corporations are experiencing increased productivity, faster product cycles and heightened employee morale.

Images in the article above are courtesy of SMED International, www.smednet.com.

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