The open office floor plan has become very popular over the past decade, and it really does encourage collaboration among employees. It’s also taught people how to hide in the wide open by focusing in on their own space to hold onto some privacy and focus. Those who have worked in a busy office know that you adapt by developing a laser focus on your own tasks at hand with the goal of getting your work completed efficiently and effectively. But at times, perfecting your focus can lead you to miss opportunities to engage others in your work because once you leave the "zone," you feel like it will slow you down or throw obstacles in the way of checking that box.
Working on your own in almost any industry, while seemingly efficient, is not entirely effective. Internal and external clients suffer when they’re only receiving one person’s point of view on the final product. Diversity in thought, collaboration, and even conflict are all part of the best recipe for the best answer almost every time. So what can leaders do to encourage their employees to seek out the input of others rather than rushing headlong and alone from point A to point B?
PLAN YOUR COLLABORATION
Encourage regular meetings where your team has a chance to showcase their work. A busy office with many projects happening simultaneously leaves little time to share your outcomes with the full team. Hold a monthly Business Review meeting to share accomplishments with the entire group and invite conversation around the work. Ask for feedback, critical review, and suggestions. Even if you are presenting work that has already been completed or delivered, feedback is still useful and can be applied to similar projects or work in the future.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
If you are a leader, use your position to demonstrate collaborative behaviors. Walk the floor and interact with your team in a productive way. Ask for input, ideas, and suggestions, and provide feedback as appropriate. Praise for great work out in the open is a great way to encourage others to share and engage. Pull others into spontaneous collaboration sessions and ask for feedback on your own work too. Highlight examples of success that developed from teams or groups of people working together toward that end. Invite teams to present their work at regular business meetings to highlight the success of synergy in getting to the best right answer.
DESIGN OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEAMWORK
Use questions or challenges that come your way as an opportunity to engage your team to find the answers by talking to each other. Create a flexible environment where staff members have easy access to each other without barriers to ask for help. Don’t be the only “go to” answer person in the office – redirect in a way that encourages others to interact and rely upon each other. Become the master of delegation by challenging others to solve problems by working through them with teammates. After a few examples of this behavior, your team will learn to solve first and bring solutions to you created by collaborative problem solving.
SHARE KEY LEARNING
Plan mini training sessions for the team with the agenda and delivery of the training content coming from them. Allow your staff to demonstrate their areas of expertise and share in a somewhat structured environment. This will identify particular staff members as subject matter experts in certain areas. When questions come up on that subject, the team will be more likely to engage that person for help. This will provide a whole new level of development opportunities for your staff as they prepare and deliver the training.
CARVE OUT TIME FOR FUN
Embrace the power of play and relaxation and give those around you permission to do the same. Friday afternoon casual gatherings in the office are a great way to have a planned time when everyone is encouraged to walk away from the work and get to know each other. Keep in mind that without participation by the leaders in your company, this approach will fail. Remember #2: lead by example. Relaxing the environment typically leads to more spontaneous collaboration that might not occur during the regular structured workday.
Whether your office is closed and quiet or open and lively, it takes intentional effort from the top to ensure that ideas are shared, collaboration is possible and encouraged, and projects and solutions are delivered based on diversity of thought and ideas. Leaders who hide in their offices with the door closed foster an environment of solving in solitude and while that might seem efficient, it is likely not effective in the long term.
Karen Seketa is vice president of talent at marketing agency Element Three.