August 26, 2015 Anil Saxena

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

Is creativity really promoted in the workplace? Or are we are creating “sheeple?” Look at the office space. It’s sterile, quiet, etc. There is NO conversation!!!!  How can we promote productivity in such a barren work environment?
In a recent visit to a client site, one of the first things that I noticed was how quiet and solitary the organization felt. It was silent. Everyone was working on something while listening to their headphones.
There was:

• No one collaborating
• No one sharing information
• And each person an island on their own

As the client and I discussed her issues, she commented that “I can’t get my folks motivated to solve this problem creatively”


The first thing we did when we started working on the project was to bring the team together. Surprisingly, it was the employees I walked by getting to the client’s office that had the foundational issues.
They didn’t really know how to work together. They didn’t really know how to TALK to each other.  

Each was so focused on their own initiatives and projects that they had no idea how to collaborate because they had no idea how to communicate.

Once we got going on solutions, it didn’t take long to encourage them to collaborate. They loved it. It took time to show them how to do it effectively, but once they did the creativity flowed.  Amazingly, they not only resolved the issue we were brought in to help them with, but 3 others that they had been struggling with for over 18 months.

All told, increasing their collaborating and communicating delivered :
• $150,000 savings due to a process improvement
• Saving 2 days on resolving trouble tickets
• Created a process to standardize proposal responses
Honestly, it was very simple to turn the team’s creativity and ingenuity loose on some of the problems they had been struggling to solve. The primary tool that was utilized was encouraging them to collaborate much more.

We used three easy methods to jumpstart this process:
1)    We sat the team in one group, no walls but with access to private areas.

We gave the team their own space as a group to work. The team sat in a common room without walls but with easy access to private areas to make phone calls or to have some private time for themselves.
Primarily though, there were was done in one common area. In it were whiteboards, flip chart paper, and other easy to access collaboration tools.

“It first was hard to get used to the space that seemed less private. However, it became apparent quickly that it was much easier to work on team issues together while we were all in the same place and all had access to the same things. Being in a room together allowed us to work and have fun without bothering other teams.”
~ Key Member of client team
2)    Worked on everything as a team

Outside of a handful of tasks that could only be conducted by one or two people on the team, a free project or task was completed as a group. The task or issue was treated as a project. The team would meet together briefly and designate a leader (unless one person was already designated leader) and they would formulate a plan with milestones, deliverables, and due dates.

Then, they would work together on reaching the milestones and creating the deliverables to ensure that due date were met.

“Working on every project as a team was a little bit of a struggle at first. We were all very used to working as individuals on our separate projects. But when we realized that all of our work interacted it became easy to leverage each other’s ability to get projects done quickly and accurately. Surprisingly, work became a whole lot more fun.”
~Member of the Team (10 year employee with the company)
3)    Instituted challenge sessions
We instituted regular challenge sessions. In these sessions a member of the team would presents a solution that was recently created or an approach to resolve an issue. Members of the team would “challenge” what was presented.

However, when they came up with the challenge, they also had to be able to offer a solution or an idea to overcome the challenge. It didn’t always work out perfectly, but it improved the quality of solutions created by the team immensely.

“The challenge sessions were tough. Because we didn’t talk to each other or collaborate that much it was hard to come up with “critiques” of what our team members presented. We didn’t want to offend each other. But, we saw that problems were getting solved and we were working together more efficiently. The sessions actually made us a better team.”
~Team lead


Let’s be clear, this solution works well for this particular team. It is by no means a silver bullet to solving productivity problems for teams. But, it does highlight an issue that we have seen, very frequently in organizations.
We don’t promote collaboration actively.

Workplaces are designed, in many cases, to suppress spontaneity, creativity and most importantly collaboration unless it’s scheduled. Collaboration happens when it happens. Implementing a few simple methods can create an environment work) in which teams can “prove” creativity by being collaborative.
Although counterintuitive, the solution may seem counterintuitive; actually increase the speed with which the team completed projects.
Maybe it’s time that we tear down the cubicle walls.
How does your organization promote collaboration? What are some winning tactics that you’ve seen to promote teams working together more effectively?
Please send us an e-mail or comment to let us know how.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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