Creating space for collaboration

CambridgeSpace — represented in Lego

CambridgeSpace — represented in Lego

Designing physical space for effective collaboration

As we start our second month in CambridgeSpace we decided to pause for a morning and think about the space we’ve made our home. I’ve been working with the brilliant architect, designer, artist and TED fellow, Alison Killing to create a workshop to help people and organisations use their space to achieve their mission and collaborate well. We’ve called it Collaboration Space. Our idea is that there’s more than one reason why people collaborate, and an organisation’s purpose determines what physical space will work best for them.

To begin, we spent a few minutes in walking and then sitting meditation — getting connected to our bodies and aware of the space we were moving through. This was a good way to mark the transition from a manic Monday commute into introductions and then the real work of our workshop.


What is collaboration?

Over a career spent working in different countries, cultures and companies I’ve learnt that the drivers for collaboration vary from organisation to organisation and from task to task. We started by thinking about what sits at the heart of collaboration and decided that we were happy with what the good old Oxford English Dictionary had to say: “The action of working with someone to produce something” With that solid foundation we ran through some Lego-based exercises to experience different collaboration styles. We looked at three types of collaboration:

Create: Collaborating to create new ideas from scratch.

Control: Collaborating to control the quality and consistency or a product, where the goal is consistent high quality.

Compete: Collaborating to move fast, to get the greatest number of widgets out in the shortest time.


Designing different zones for different tasks

We realised that doing this exercise for a co-working space is especially interesting. We don’t have a single organisation with one culture and product, we have many — and we have many different personal styles in the space too. Our conclusion was that we needed to provide different zones in the space, some for collaborative working or socialising and others for heads-down concentration.

With all this in mind we got back down on the carpet with the Lego to build a representation of our current space, and Alison led us through exercises that looked at what worked well and what could be improved. We ended the workshop with a discussion of how the difficulties identified in the workspace could be tackled, prioritised making changes (NOW>TOMORROW>LATER) and assigned those actions. The moment the workshop ended we said a warm thank-you and goodbye to Alison, and then people leapt up and started rearranging the co-working space to resolve the challenges we’d discussed.


Small changes can dramatically improve collaboration space

The space people work in has a huge impact on how they collaborate, how productive they are and also how happy they feel. It’s important to think about what you do or make and about your culture before thinking about layout and paint colours; the two are deeply intertwined. Often when people think about the space they work in, they are overwhelmed by the scale of the job and the feeling that you “only get one go.” What the Collaboration Space workshop at CambridgeSpace taught us was that the process can be huge fun, the changes can be easy and you can start to see and feel the difference in minutes.

Think about culture, not just paint colours — then make a change!