Proximity Matters

In "The Truth About Open Offices," the December issue of HBR cites a 2008-2012 study of a major technology firm where "...remote workers communicated 80% less about their assignments than co-located team members did." As we continue our search for the holy grail of collaboration, agility and creativity, we employ psychologists, architects, positive behaviorists and motivational speakers. We move walls, raze doors, raise desks, sit on balls, stand in meetings, sit in meetings, stand at desks, eliminate meetings, repurpose phone booths for privacy, allow total privacy in the comfort of homes and so much more.

Changes in our external environment is important and sometimes signals a shift toward a more flexible culture, but as studies show, not enough of one. In my own experience, the most effective shifts are behavioral, break with organizational norms and integrated or (my preference), "wired" into the work.

In the same HBR issue, the authors of "Breaking the Barriers to Innovation" discuss "BEANs" (Behavior Enablers, Artifacts and Nudges) that they have found to be effective in breaking down counter-creative organizational habits. I love the BEAN acronym, and below I list 5 simple and effective nudges I've used over the years to break down, shake up, and get people comfortable being uncomfortable.

#1 "Plus One"

Ask Managers to bring a "plus one" to the next important Senior Leader meeting. This will likely be their right-hand or most trusted person. And if it isn't, that too is important information.

Benefits: See who your manager considers her/his MVP. Watch the dynamic - is this a "yes-person?" Watch them participate to find out what's going on "on the ground." This serves to provide visibility and motivation to the next-in-line.

#2 "Groupthink Guru"

This is a role assigned

to one team-member who will watch for signs of groupthink and challenge the group to expand beyond the current, potentially limiting set of views or solutions.

Benefits: "Wires" change capability into the group and allows individuals (especially if this is a rotating role) to practice challenging, reframing and facilitating skills.

#3 "Lunch Roulette"

Borrowing from Boehringer Igelheim, this activity can be facilitated by a company website, which