Sunday, January 11, 2015

The shape of the table

The shape of the table matters. Ask anyone who has negotiated.

Want to even the playing field? Make the table round.
Want to be agile? Make the table round.

From tables to agile? How did that happen?

One way to get agile -- or increase agility, or velocity -- is to purge hierarchy. Flat is better. Square is ok; round-and-flat is better yet. There is no head of the table. At least by seating, there's no chief among chiefs, though in every group or team some dominance will emerge.

We can extend round-and-flat to portfolios -- all projects equal; and to projects -- all work streams equal; and to the WBS: all major activities equal.

And the advantages of round-and-flat are: less hierarchy; less dominance; improved safety; shorter and quicker lines of command and communications; more lateral interaction; and close-at-hand working to foster innovation. From all this we get a better ROI: more production at less cost.

What's not to like? Really, nothing, unless you are a control person. In that case, you may be pretty uncomfortable.

You ask: what about a virtual round table? Does that work for remote workers the way it works in a co-located venue?

Not exactly.

Remote working has a slower velocity, and a poorer track record of innovation. We are social, and do our best work in a social environment. It may be only you and me; but generally it holds that even if only pairs, the paired environment works better than the sole contributor. (If you really are working alone, add some background, audio or visual: music, chat, even TV with the sound off.)

Take away message: go round!

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