How is your office affecting your team’s DNA?
Here at Belbin HQ, we’ve recently revamped our offices – cutting the clutter and creating a more open workspace. Re-organising has helped us collaborate and communicate more effectively, and it got us thinking about the broader impact of the physical working environment on teams.
Dr Meredith Belbin’s Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail describes his seminal research into effective teams, which took place in the 1970s at Henley Management College, a stately home where rooms were of different sizes and arrangements.
As Dr Belbin and his team ran the management exercise in which Team Roles would come to be observed and defined, they also discovered a number of environmental factors which helped to shape team composition, interpersonal behaviour and ultimately its success.
The size of the room
The research team discovered that a conference table in too small a room restricted movement around the table, meaning that team members would be less likely to confer with one another, and tended not to make use of flipcharts and other visual media to generate ideas.
The shape of the table was also found to influence team dynamics. A Chair sitting at the head of a long, rectangular table was likely to run meetings more formally, whereas those seated around a square table functioned more like equals.
The purpose of the space also had a part to play. When repurposing everyday office space for meetings, rather than using a dedicated meeting room, there is the risk that the team will be less receptive to new ideas or strategies, since the tendency to see matters from one viewpoint becomes figurative as well as literal.
Whilst not an issue in the seventies, in our modern workplace, the presence of the screen is also a consideration. The impetus to check an incoming email or notification can provide distraction and make the job of facilitation considerably more difficult.
Design the room to fit the team
“Teams expand so as to fill the rooms available to hold them,” says Dr. Belbin.
So, teams become an ideal fit for the rooms but not for the purpose for which they are set up. Whilst a large room might grow a functional team into an unwieldy group, teams can also shrink if rooms are too small, giving the impression that important decisions are being taken by a small clique.