It’s not about whiteboards and foam cubes…

Written by Parker Gates
Posted August 12, 2014

About 5 weeks ago we opened a studio space in Nashville with the intention of providing a place for teams and organizations to work in new and different ways. We have viewed this idea and business model as a rough prototype and have had the chance to learn quite a bit since we started to invite people in.
As a frame of reference, we’ve led learning experiences, workshops, introductions to design thinking, facilitated projects for companies and created spaces for teams to work on their own projects long term.
There have been board meetings, vision sessions, team building sessions, and more informal sessions for teams looking to understand what they didn’t yet know.


 What we’ve learned

We spend a fair amount of time and energy debriefing sessions, project work and the like. We feel like it’s important to take a look not only at the projects that are being done, but HOW that work is happening.

We’re seeing a few themes consistently. Here are some that we think are important.

Physical space itself sends a message. One important message is “This is a safe place to work and come up with ideas without fear of judgment”.

Low resolution prototypes and cobbled furniture don’t scare people away. In fact, people seem to be drawn to working in low res environments and with intentionally crappy materials.

Posture is important. Teams appreciate the ability to move from one area to another and from one posture to another as a means of signaling that it’s time to different work in a different way.

Natural air and light are helpful. This may seem obvious to you, but walk into most office buildings and you’ll see that it isn’t so obvious to whoever designs most office space. Our brains are more awake with the help of sunlight and oxygen.

Keeping fun and scrappy materials on hand gives people the opportunity to pick something up and start building. It also grants permission to make a mess as a means of crafting clarity.

Surprisingly, people love to give up technology. Technology is an enabler, but it also allows us to hide from one another. The vulnerability of human connection is scary, but when teams take the time to actually connect as humans, they always feel liberated, never restricted. Not to mention that team engagement goes way up!

All of this leads to what is likely our most important learning: The space and materials in the space are merely a means to facilitate new and different behavior. It’s the behaviors that are most import to teams and individuals. Encouragement of each other, collaboration and building on the ideas of team mates, deferred judgment of concepts and solutions, mindfulness of process, and a bias to action. This is what matters. It’s not about having a bunch of whiteboards and foam cubes but how you act around those assets.

It’s great to hear how much people think they have gotten done at the end of a day in the studio. Invariably, they are exhausted but excited about the next step in their project. Something that we’re excited to hear though is how people feel at the end of the day. They believe in themselves and their team members again. They have a childlike curiosity and sense of excitement around problem solving. They are laughing and playful and that feeling is infectious. It permeates the studio, which looks inspirational, but more importantly, feels empowering.