Graham Kirkwood - 02 February 2017
Psychologists and behavioural scientists have written much about how people work together as teams, but there is very little written about how work space supports work teams. Work space is much like a sports field and no matter how good the sports field, this does not guarantee world class performance. It is well known in sport that a hastily assembled team of individual star players can be undone by a cohesive team of amateurs.
The glue that binds a team, and indeed multiple teams is a sense of shared purpose and trust. A shared belief and purpose empowers every team member to make decisions and solve problems. Trust enables a greater flow of information and increases a team's resilience to change.
So how does the work space support team based working? The answer is that it influences individual and team behaviours.
Two key behaviours that drive trust and shared purpose are work team reciprocity and interdependency.
Reciprocity, the sharing of information and resources, is the foundation for building trust, relationships, communities, and for building a broader understanding. Two neighbours living side by side within a street might share a pound of butter, or a garden tool. They might also share information, gossip or even offer to help each other from time to time. In the same way, reciprocity helps to build teams and communities in the workplace. Through sharing of information and resources, team members build an understanding and trust. This can extend beyond the immediate team to other teams, including with suppliers, customers and the broader community.
A network of interdependent individuals or teams has a greater chance of succeeding and also adapting as circumstances change than any single individual. The saying 'no man is an island' is a well-known truth. One man may indeed possess great individual skill and intelligence, but is of no use if he fails to access critical information or resources outside of his immediate sphere. By building interdependency, information flows faster, accelerating both idea development and also decision making.
A work space is the manifestation of an organisation's purpose and culture. It is able to make purpose and culture explicit and influence individual and team work behaviours, including reciprocity and interdependency.
The table above illustrates the various ways workspace influences reciprocity and interdependence amongst team members in the office environment. Interdependence denotes the 'I' and the 'We'. Reciprocity denotes the 'Owned' and the 'Shared'. A high performance team based workplace maximises the 'We' and the 'Shared'.
Through greater workspace reciprocity, sharing of workspace, teams and team communities are better able to build trust and shared purpose. This can include making workspace available for others, and inviting others to co-work within a shared space.
Through greater workspace interdependence, connections across teams, ideas flow faster and decision making is accelerated. This can include not being tethered to a single workspace, and being able to work anywhere any time supported by mobile work tools, activity based working and use of digital face to face collaboration.