A recent discussion on LinkedIn set me thinking about why place and space matter so much when you want to make a difference; to run a conference, a workshop or even a meeting. It is easy to assume that whatever space is provided will be good enough. That is to miss the huge difference that is made by having things just right for your purpose. Many people seem to be blind to this obvious truth.
So what sort of things are you looking for? It depends on your purpose, of course. If you want open communication and creative contribution you need a very different space from, say, a sales briefing or a pep-talk. Most spaces in offices are designed for formal meetings – often with an immovable table as its main feature or else stiff seating arrangements sub-consciously asserting who is boss. It is difficult to get people to feel relaxed, confident and creative in such surroundings.
Different kinds of layout correspond to different modes of thought and different kinds of relationship. We can equate these roughly to serious-play. Serious is left brain, logical and didactic; necessary for gathering facts, absorbing information and making decisions. Play is right-brain creative, interactive, pattern-making, exploratory. Put in terms of creativity and Serious tends to be convergent where play tends to stimulate the divergent.
An ideal way to cater for the two is to have a space big enough for alternative layouts; formal at one end of the space and informal at the other. Big enough, perhaps, to let sub-groups form and even to allow for interactions around refreshments or adjoining outdoor space. In any case natural light and fresh air will help. If you are just thinking about workspace, then it will be useful to allow different spaces for different functions, not assume one kind of space will suit all purposes.
Open Space, as developed by Harrison Owen, is a way of maximising informal interaction. The title refers to the method of working – a space for ideas to grow – but it also reflects the principle of providing a physical space in which something can emerge. Ideally there would be no furniture whatever. However it might be prudent to provide some chairs so people can sit when tired. Similarly, small portable tables might be useful for drinks or for people to draw or write. On the other hand vertical surfaces – whiteboards and flipcharts – encourage people to have conversations as they think visually and look at one another’s work. These might be on the walls, although portability would again be an asset so that groupings can change and move. Flexibility is a useful attribute. Much is gained by everything being in a state of flux that allows for new connection, physical, social and mental.
In terms of off-site workshops we have particular experience in establishing conditions for creativity to flow. Our ‘inspiration centre’ is a residential facility that combines adequate comfort and safe space in natural surroundings. Friendly and discrete service and wonderful food enable deep experience of being apart from the needless rush of modern life. It provides stimulus with space to think. Such a quality of place and space combines to facilitate the emergence of new ideas and new relationships. It provides a kind of magic that bears little comparison with the kind of constrained or opulent spaces many people try to use. It is a vessel supportive of regenerative interaction for individuals and teams – This is especially valuable to leadership teams as they evolve their organisations’ futures.
come and see for yourself