The notion of teamwork is not new, and for most of the twentieth century teams functioned like an assembly line, focusing on areas of expertise and the division of tasks.
“But this siloed work style ended up slowing things down, causing errors and overlooked opportunities,” said Isla Galloway-Gaul, managing director of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy.
To combat this problem, that paradigm gave way in many organisations to open plan offices. According to global office architects and furniture designers Steelcase, 69% of all offices now have an open floor plan. But work in these settings is mostly an independent pursuit, interspersed with team meetings and water cooler conversations.
Said Galloway-Gaul: “Without question, the need to reboot the corporate workplace is overdue because while the processes and activities of teams today has dramatically changed, some businesses spaces have not kept up.”
Today work gets done through networks and lateral relationships. Employees who once operated in different universes must come together in interdependent, fluid teams. The spaces that best support this kind of work are designed specifically for teams, while embracing the needs of all the constituent individuals.
"Forget the adage that 'there is no ‘I’ in team'," said Galloway-Gaul. “Teams are made up of individuals. We need to design for multidisciplinary teamwork in a way that also gives the individual what they need to do their best work.
"There is therefore a growing demand for user control over spaces — people want to be able to adapt spaces at the pace of the project, and to give team members agency in defining how the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ need to work together at a given time."
But right now, although many organisations have become nimble, there are still businesses in which employees need to file requests with facilities and end up waiting weeks for the changes they’ve asked for. “Project work moves through different phases and each phase has its own set of activities. It’s important that the space can evolve with the project,” Galloway-Gaul noted.
So what do teams need from their work environments?
Teams need a sense of shared purpose, cohesion and identity to be able to successfully work together and build on each others’ ideas. Galloway-Gaul said companies should consider three things to help their teams excel:
- Build a home for teams - the role of team space is bigger than just supporting the work itself. It’s also about the human dimension. The team space should reflect and encourage the type of practices and working style of the team where they can foster a sense of identity, cohesion and trust.
- Flex space to process - teams need a dynamic space that keeps up with their process and keeps them in flow. The space should let teams in rapid cycles reorganise in a natural, spontaneous way.
- Empower teams - teams need control over their environments to cope rapidly with individual preferences and project needs. Empower teams and individuals to make quick adjustments to their space on demand to keep projects moving.