Building High-Performance Teams—Part 3: Change the Environment to Change Results

August 11, 2016
Dutch MacDonald
Digital Director

We’ve shared the optimal methods and team structures for making interdisciplinary collaboration much easier, more creatively satisfying, and more likely to result in innovation. The last piece of the puzzle is the environment. Everything around you must be tuned for the needs and maturity of a high-performing team.

Your Workspace is Your Memory

When MAYA was first founded, we embarked on a significant multi-year research study[5] to understand how people got work done in the real world. Our team shadowed office workers, sketched their spaces, and asked lots of questions.

One of the most valuable insights we found over and over again was that workers use space as a sort of external memory. For example, we observed the workspace of a person who was looking at an airline site to make a reservation. He had a number of Post-it® notes tacked to his computer screen to remind him of important tasks, while planning some his activities using a calendar application. One glance told us a great deal about what he cared about at that moment, and we could to tease out how he was organizing his efforts. This space was his external memory; the space remembered for him.

“Where It Is, Is What It Is”

People use location to “index” their work. For example, this pile is for stuff I have to do right away; this pile is just fun reading. That pile is stuff I have to do but don’t want to do. Imagine if someone secretly entered your office at night and moved all your stuff around. When we ignore the environment, it’s like tying our arms behind our back.

The MAYA Kiva

The environment can impact your innovative potential.

Let’s look at a typical conference room. There is a long table. There is the podium where someone will present from the slideshow. There is the projection screen. Usually behind that screen is a small whiteboard. Now imagine you’re going to have a meeting in this room. You want big thinking. Someone lowers the projection screen and stands at the podium and holds forth. Fifty slides—with five or six bullet points per slide—later it’s time to be innovative! But remember seven (plus or minus two), you can’t really remember much except maybe the loudest or most persuasive voice or the last few points. Meanwhile that big table has given the team quite a bit of surface area to setup their laptops and start checking their Facebook accounts and emails.

Now consider a very different environment. In the southwestern part of North America, you can find Native American dwellings called “kivas.” The kiva was used for community meetings. It symbolized that something different was happening. The entire community would gather in the kiva, often entering from above, climbing through a hole and down a ladder into the space.

View of a MAYA Kiva® showing white board walls that move to create 360-degrees of writing surface.

Participants have to move out of the way as each part of the environment begins to fill up with ideas, and there is a natural recombination of people and positions as the team exercises the room and finds new forms of equilibrium. Where ideas end up on the wall turns out to be what they are.

The MAYA Kiva is a machine for innovation. It influences our creativity and productivity. Have you thought about what would yield better results for your business? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you find out.

This is an excerpt from the whitepaper “Building High-Performance Teams for Collaborative Innovation.” Download the whitepaper now.

[5]Joe Ballay, “Designing Workscape: an Interdisciplinary Experience,” CHI ’94 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (1994).

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