Tuesday, 29 July 2008

No time to chat? How will you influence others?

The irony of middle and senior managers sitting alone in their offices and quietly developing communication plans on how messages and information was going to be spread around their organisation was not lost on me when I visited an organisation recently. It seemed everyone worked in isolation and apart from a few meetings where no-one really listened to each other and true dialogue was missing, the organisation appeared to have a dearth of conversation.

Yes, there was a lot of open plan office space, yet this was lunch time and most people sat at their desks, on their own, eating their sandwiches while pressing keys and watching screens. It was very quiet. The kitchens where you can make a coffee are stand around places with no seats, nowhere for sitting down and talking over a coffee. This is an organisation where chat, conversation and informal discussions seem not to happen very much. So I'm not really that hopeful about their "spread" plans. We know from the evidence in researching the impact of planning methods versus informal conversatioons and we know that the informal conversations and peer to peer discussions have a high degree of influence over another's behaviour.

In contrast, I have a client in the Netherlnads that when they redesigned their offices and moved from the rabbit hutch corridors of offices to open plan did so with conversation in mind. Their kitchen areas have seating arrangements and tables around them to encourage eating and talking together. They report that this works well and keeps the flow of information informally moving around the various teams in the organisation.

Design can play a large part but so can culture. If your office is a "no-speak-lunchtime" one, then try sharing your lunchtime with someone else in the coming week. You may even like the break it gives you.

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