For most of my professional life, I was raised on a cubicle farm, subdivided from my colleagues and team members, from management, from everybody else with whom I worked.  I assumed this was the way every office or working environment operated, and I was fine with it.  Colleagues were nearby, but I had my mostly private space to retreat into to complete my individual work.

When I moved to an Agile team room environment, however, it was like being struck by a bolt of lightning.  Once I had adjusted to the higher noise quotient and learned to focus when needed, the benefits of the environment became apparent in terms of the transfer of information, the sharing of know-how, and organic collaboration on difficult problems.  In short, it allowed the team to function much more like a single unit than I’d ever seen before.

I’ll say it clearly; working properly in an Agile way demands a proper collaborative environment.  This environment is best described as open concept, as a team room of some kind, where an entire team sits co-located in one room (or open area) with their own workstations, with no cubicle walls or any other artificial subdivision.  This environment should be covered as much as possible in whiteboards, and ideally have a central large monitor for team reviews of online materials, with plenty of project information posted in plain view.

The subdivided cubicle environment impacts collaboration in a number of ways;

1) It affords no easy access to shared information generally posted in central locations in a team room

  • With project information (on work in progress, etc) clearly displayed in the team environment, it is easy for any team member to very quickly understand the state of the team and the project
  • It is also very easy for project and/or team leadership to understand the status of the entire effort without having to interrupt the team for individual updates

2) Avenues for organic conversations to both take place between and be overheard by all team members are stifled almost completely by the cubicle environment

  • Unplanned organic transfers of information between team members are essential to working effectively collaboratively, as well as being essential for other team members not directly involved to hear what is going on and possibly realize connections between issues of which they may be otherwise unaware

3) They require heavier reliance on electronic forms of communication (email, messaging, etc)

  • Electronic modes of communication are inferior to team dialogue, incidental discoveries of connections across team efforts
  • Require many more iterations of back and forth that simple face-to-face discussion can prevent

Any sports fan will tell you that when good teams become truly great, it is when all team members are functioning as a single unit, understanding each other clearly and working with and for each other towards a common goal, clearly understood.  The same needs to be true for all of our teams in our chosen industries or environments.  In order to get closer to this ideal state in our day to day professional settings, proper collaborative environments need to be established.  This is the first and most essential component to succeeding as an Agile organization.

For more information on Agile team dynamics, click below;