The Lay Of The Land

December 22nd, 2009 by admin

I once worked for a large company that was engaged in some serious internal warfare. Someone had decided to house the sales team next to the engineering team. The engineers, listening in on sales calls with customers, insisted that the sales team was nothing but a bunch of liars. The software wouldn’t do what sales said it would. The engineers knew it because they had written the software. But the sales team retorted that the engineers were out of touch and needed to write the software that the customer wanted instead of their regular “useless junk.”

The contention between the two teams caused a rift that hindered the entire company’s ability to ride the wave we were on. The company eventually failed. There were multiple reasons, but one key reason would have been incredibly easy to fix: office layout. The engineering team never should have been sitting next to the sales team in the first place. Maybe the sales reps were lying, or maybe they were just stretching the truth; either way, the engineers would have been better equipped to deal with back-end troubleshooting than with up-front sales tactics.

One system that has succeeded for me is to structure the office layout in terms of the flow of the business. In the example above, a better solution would have been to place the product management team between sales and engineering, playing the buffer role and helping maintain the balance between customer demands and engineering realities. The technical support team should sit as a branch of the engineering team, yet be accessible to sales. The engineers work best when kept away from all distractions. In our office, we find it helps to place engineers in the back of the building, close to food and drink. We make life comfortable for them; as a result, they are more productive. Your admin, of course, should be your first line of defense between the world and your company. Anyone wanting to talk to you or anyone else should go through the admin to get there.

Maybe it’s trivial, but I have one last note concerning the layout and structure of your office. Make certain your teams have the most up-to-date and comfortable gear possible. If this is out of the realm of the probable, then give them the best of what you’ve got. This small act instills respect and helps them value the company.

One of the best immediate supervisors I ever worked with was a dynamic man named Rob Allred. Rob managed a team of about twenty-five employees, all housed in an open office environment consisting of one large, cement room. Most of the team was using tattered, uncomfortable rolling chairs. One afternoon, a shipment of brand new chairs arrived. Everyone clamored noisily to claim their prize. Even Rob joined the crowd to make sure he got one. Every man for himself!

I watched as everyone set up their chairs and tried them out. I noticed Rob sit down on his chair, settle in, and give it a bit of a test drive. All of a sudden, he got this concerned look on his face. He got up and proceeded to go to each of his employees and check out their new chair. He went around the room, finally discovering a team member, Robyn, who had not shared in the spoils. Without hesitation, Rob grabbed his catch and wheeled it over to Robyn, exchanging it for her old clunker. Because of these types of acts, Rob was deeply trusted and appreciated. No matter the situation, his team knew he had their best interests at heart.

Porter’s Points – The Lay of the Land

  • The physical location of each employee matters. Eavesdropping happens; don’t let it stop your company’s progress. Separate engineering from sales and use other teams as buffers. Even encourage your admin to float around a little to keep the peace.
  • Admins do not belong in the back offices. Put your admin up front for an effective first impression. Engineers, however, do. Put them in the back and let them work.
  • As far as possible, ensure your team has comfortable, up-to-date equipment. Whether chairs or computers, make a big deal out of it. Little things make office work exciting; executive attention to little things builds unity and trust.

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