Creating safe spaces: how re-designing an office can lead to new ways of collaboration
A leading automotive company in Germany wanted its employees to design their new office in a collaborative way. To help them achieve this, Ouishare created a safe space for workers to solve internal problems and develop a collaborative culture.
In early 2017, David Weingartner and Sarah Eisenmann, from the Munich team, met the Internal Change Manager of a leading car company at a conference. He put them in contact with a Head of Department that was about to move to a new office with his 50+ team. He wanted to design the new space in a collaborative way. 14 employees volunteered to be part of the project; they were free to do whatever they wanted with their office within the limits of their allocated budget.
"The opportunity arose once we knew better one another and he understood the value we could bring to his organisation. It wasn't what we could sell. It was the attitude and the way we work that convinced him."
By early May, they kick started the one month project to autonomously design the new work space and rethink the way the team collaborates. The first thing that Sara and David realised is that when people move to a new office, power struggles emerge. Finding a way to address those issues and pain points before they became conflicts was the core problem to address.
Designing a new office revealed the symptoms of an unhealthy working culture that struggled with power structures and leadership. Creating a safe and collaborative space to solve those grievances became Ouishare's mission.
The biggest challenge of course was to imagine a solution that could accommodate so many different wishes and needs. Classic project management wouldn't solve this, so the OS team resorted to a mix of Design Thinking and Scrum, with collaboration as a guiding principle.
" What they liked more about us, is that we are not focused on one particular method or fixed on one perspective, but rather we have a systemic vision and personalised approach. We told them they shouldn't focus only on the method, but rather on the mindset. It wasn't about scrum, or design thinking but about collaboration."
The program designed consisted in three modules:
- Vision building: To better understand their needs and wishes, especially what should the office look like, what kind of environment they wanted to work in. The goal was to build a collective dream based on what they have and identify what was missing. At the end of this stage they collaboratively drafted a Vision Document.
- Creating solutions: The goal was to prototype the solutions they had come up with in the previous module. They used the SCRUM method to first reflect on self-organisation. Then they relied on inspiration based on personal experiences and desires by using lighting demos. Afterwards, they did quick prototyping with Legos in different settings such as nature and future. The participants did three iterations with one of their peers and then received feedback. Once they had collected all the ideas, they did a collective evaluation of the star features with dot voting and co-time-budgeting.
- Evaluation: The last module tested how the abstract dreams come to exist in the day-to-day life. The group was able to create a first beta version of future office room plan. They reflected on the collaboration mode since kick off, they drafted a collaboration manifesto, shared their learning stories and wrote a letter to themselves. At the end, they prepared the presentation of their new office project for the entire department.
In each phase, they had a second layer to reflect on the collaboration within these processes. Because of the nature of the project many unforeseen conflicts arose, which meant constantly adapting to the team's need. At the same time the Ouishare team worked really close to the Head of Department, with constant feedback loops.
The transformation within one month was remarkable. People started by resisting change, finding the idea of sharing very difficult, almost entirely focusing on their needs and not thinking how their decisions could impact the collective. Emotions were generally not allowed. They also had a hard time adapting to a non-regulated scenario where they could decide for themselves. They felt uncomfortable with the freedom to chose and demanded decisions to be made by the managers and not by them.
This attitude and constant fear of changing, eventually gave rise to a truly collaborative mindset.
The fascinating part about this journey is that for the first time, people were able to think and decide how they actually wanted to work. One of the practical outcomes participants felt most proud of was the Collaboration Manifesto, a set of agreements amongst team members to define better work practices. The safe space to resolve conflicts, to express their needs and their pains finally emerged.
"We think our work prepared the way for more and deeper organisational changes. This project kicked off a co-creative process to rethink internal structures and leadership models. We stay in continuous exchange on inspirations and thoughts"
-David and Sarah