• 6 min read
How to Leverage Space for High-Performing Teams
Create team-centric workspaces in both physical and virtual realms
Equitable access to collaborative experiences is more important than ever as we manage the complexity of hybrid work. Giving high-performing teams the tools and space necessary to get work done is instrumental to their ability to collaborate, create, and innovate. Because of this, high-impact spaces must exist for teams in both physical and virtual realms—incorporating analog and digital sharing for in-person and remote work.
We envision a future where workers have access to both the right collaborative technology, and the right technology-enabled workspaces that fit a team’s needs. When, where, and the kind of work done will be specific to each team.
How can your organization determine the right blend of resources and spaces to support your team? It all starts with understanding organizational, functional, and geographical boundaries. Boundaries can be roadblocks to team resources and activities, or they can protect them.
Research shows there are four collaborative modes related to organizational culture types based on the Competing Values Framework. When we take the time to understand our teams’ collaborative modes, we can help determine the space characteristics and tools they need to support day-to-day work.
What collaborative mode best fits the team?
For high-performing teams, each collaborative mode will likely occur to some extent, but each team will also have a core sub-culture—and thus, a core collaborative mode—that is integral to their success.
Inform: This is the preferred mode of collaboration for a Control culture. This culture is hierarchical in nature with multiple layers of management. In a Control culture, information is most often delivered in a scheduled meeting or formal presentation.
Do: This is the preferred mode of collaboration for a Compete culture. Members of this culture are driven to complete tasks quickly—and the spaces should support this by providing convenient access to shared tools and work.
Think: This is the preferred mode of collaboration for a Create culture. Members of a Create culture take risks and focus on big ideas—and they tend to be more agile in their actions. Workspaces should be designed for creative problem solving and come equipped with flexible furnishings that promote idea sharing.
Connect: This is the preferred mode of collaboration for a Collaborate culture. Members of the Collaborate culture emphasize and embody the value of group work. Therefore, group spaces with flexible furnishings that allow for a mix of activities are used most frequently.
While understanding organizational culture types and related collaborative modes is a great start to supporting high-performance teams, the nuances of the teams’ norms—and consideration for work tasks that are not supported in their primary collaboration modes—should be addressed through secondary spaces.
What is each teams’ optimal privacy level?
In addition to collaborative modes, teams and individuals require varying levels of privacy. The confidentiality of the work, use of specific team tools, and need to collaborate with those outside the team will impact the access others have to a team’s physical workspace or virtual meetings and tools.
Physical team barriers range from fully open workspaces to enclosures that control visual and auditory access to the team—providing insulation from noise, as well as privacy and confidentiality. In addition to space privacy, adjacency is a variable that impacts the likelihood of one’s access to a team. It isn’t surprising that shorter distances between workspaces provide more opportunity for outside interaction than farther distance.
If a team is working on confidential material that does not require regular input from others in the organization, the workspace best suited for them could be fully enclosed, even lockable, and far away from other day-to-day work areas.
If a team is less restricted in terms of the type of work they do and they can handle intermittent disruptions, the team could be placed in a space that is closer in proximity to others, with a more open concept.
Understanding the privacy needs of a team—in addition to how team members work best—can inform workspace layout and function, as well as the technological tools the team requires to do their work.
Functional boundaries focus on the “who” and the “how long” related to a team. Membership within a team may be stable and well-bounded or fluid and cross-functional.
Who is part of the team?
When visitors approach a team’s workspace, it should be relatively clear who the space belongs to. Teams can achieve this through the use of branding (e.g., personal and team artifacts, signage, finish changes, orientation, or workstation layout changes), tools specific to the team (e.g., easels, monitors, and other work tools), and storage (e.g., personal or shared by the team).
How long will the team work together?
Understanding how long a team will work together can be used to assess the permanence of furniture features and equipment, and whether they should be fixed or flexible.
When a team has a reasonably stable membership where the members work on multiple projects at once, but not necessarily together, their space could be arranged more like a typical workstation cluster—with adjacent workspaces to support their short-term collaborative needs. Shared storage can be used to define individual territory within a team’s workspace, or it can be incorporated into their individual workstations. If the team's use of equipment is short-term in nature (e.g., viewing a shared screen during a meeting), the tools could be placed in an accessible, shared workspace outside the team area.
Teams that have more fluid, cross-functional memberships often come together to work on a single project or task at the same time. They have one goal to achieve, and once that goal is met, team members transition to other teams and projects. Although the team is fluid in nature, the territory in which they do work for the duration of their assignment should be a dedicated area or room that has space to accommodate fluctuating team sizes. The furnishings and equipment within the space should allow for flexibility—giving the team using it the ability to adjust and make the space work for their specific needs.
Geographical boundaries revolve around the “where” and “when” related to a team.
Where does the team spend their time?
The "where" is particularly relevant because many teams now find themselves with members dispersed between the office, home, and third places. A shared physical workspace provides team members with immediate access to each other, as well as access to the tools the teamwork requires. This facilitates strong synchronous interaction because people have access to a rich amount of interaction cues and can more easily determine congruence, meaning, and use tools specific to their ways of working. The shorter the distance between team members, the more likely synchronous interaction occurs—whether it is desired or not. The greater the distance between team members, the more asynchronous interactions become.
When does the team do work?
Timing is determined by the frequency and duration of synchronous or asynchronous activities within a team. When teams are dispersed, the role of collaborative technology plays an even more important role, and the team might not require a permanent space within a building if they are not all together for the majority of the project duration. A shared room with flexible furnishings and access to necessary technology will meet their need when team members are co-located.
As collaborative technology continues to evolve and provide more immersive experiences—and organizations have teams work across vast distances—distributed teamwork will continue to improve. Being co-located or operating in a shared space, however, remains most effective for many team activities.
It is important to assess teams and the work they do based on organizational, functional, and geographical boundaries. Understanding collaborative modes, privacy needs, and team functions will help you develop dynamic spaces and incorporate the tools to meet a team’s complexities and group needs.