I work in a great big open plan office. I don’t particularly like it but I’ve become accustomed to it. I first started working in an open plan office in 1990; it doesn’t really feel any better now than it did then. Consistently in the large offices I have worked in people strive to create personal space by erecting barriers around them with cupboards, screens – anything really that allows them to create a more private cubicle of space. This is a picture of my ‘workspace’ (aka desk).
Yesterday I was walking through the big open plan office and I noticed a large team stood around having their ‘5 minute stand up meeting’. These seem to be becoming increasingly prevalent in my organisation where there is a sense of delivery at any cost, with pressure on teams from many directions and people existing in a constant climate of change.
Conversations I have been having with people about buildings and environments coupled with my reading of the excellent book ‘Quiet : The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ by Susan Cain (highly recommended) got me thinking about the impact of management practices such as 5 minute stand up briefings coupled with the space we work in.
I can sort of see why stand up briefings might have a place. For a boss who has a huge team, to actually stand up in front of them once a week creates a visible presence and potentially an opportunity to have your say; but does it?
I investigated where the idea of stand up meetings came from and it was no surprise to me that it has come from an environment called agile software development. I work with teams of people whose job it is to implement technology programmes and I think the emergence of the weekly ‘stand up’ might give some clues about the type of culture of the organisation. We seem to have exported this aspect of ‘agile’ into our management practices. I started to have a look around the internet to find out more about stand up meetings. It makes interesting reading; they can also be called the ‘Daily Scrum’. Language can be very revealing when telling you about organisational culture.
The concept of open plan offices and ‘scrums’ isn’t prevalent in all IT orientated organisations – I used to go to the Microsoft UK Head Quarters on occasions; the offices there couldn’t have been more different from the offices I work in now. You enter through a park with winding paths and an ice cream stand before entering the offices. In the offices they have pool tables and coffee areas. Offices allow privacy and quiet yet there are plenty of areas to meet and chat. The idea here is that people need quiet and space in order to focus and be creative; isn’t that true of many aspects of office work?
In the book ‘Quiet’, Cain discusses open plan offices and challenges the hype that shared spaces encourage improved team performance. I tend to agree. Personally I need my own space and on occasions need quiet and privacy to work. I can also see how a scrum, or stand up session, may not be the most effective way of communicating with a team. Even though I consider myself to be an extrovert (I may however be rethinking my assessment based on Cain’s book) I feel that standing up to listen in a large group to a communication may not be the best thinking space nor is it a space where even I feel confident to challenge and speak out. Can individuals in teams say what they feel in a large open plan office standing up in front of a full team?
If we are to really allow staff to express concerns and hear what we have to say we have to allow them space to let this happen. Its hard work – I can remember as a busy ward sister struggling to give everyone the time they needed. But my reflections this week mean that I won’t be implementing any scrums or stand ups; I will have to find time to make sure me and the people I work with can listen sitting down and in a private, quiet space. Considering the environment that we communicate in is important in clinical settings too – speaking to patients and their families and friends is a very intimate thing to do.
What about listening standing up? – It doesn’t work for me.
‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ Cain S., (2012)