Organizations typically don’t look to affect productivity, engagement, or increase their profits through the use of strategic seating plans.
But they should.
The next time you have a new hire join your team, you may want to think twice before simply assigning them the desk that the last team member occupied.
A recent study performed by Harvard and Cornerstone Labs, suggests that ‘Spatial Management’ can be a very impactful strategy when it comes to productivity levels on your team.
Some of the information identified during this research includes:
- Strategic pairing of team members can potentially increase productivity by 13% (speed of work), 17% gain in effectiveness (fewer unresolved tasks)
- The strengths of one employee have the potential to ‘spill-over’ and positively influence an employee who is weaker in those same areas
- Toxic employees will eventually infect those around them
The outcomes of this research provide some interesting, high-level insights into interpersonal dynamics, positive competition amongst workers, as well as influence.
Yet in order for any of the benefits of Spatial Management to be realized, the process begins with your leadership teams.
Know Your Players
According to the research, “…placing the right type of workers in close proximity to each other has been shown to generate up to a 15% increase in organizational performance”.
It is suggested that there are three types of workers that you are looking to have positively influence one another:
- Productive workers – can produce a high-volume of work, but of lower quality.
- Quality workers – they produce high-quality work, but not a large volume of it.
- Generalists – average results for both quality and productivity when it comes to work.
When a team member from one strength category is seated in close proximity to a team member with a different strength, each positively affects, or spills over to, the other.
The recommended pairings are to group generalists with one another, and the Productive and Quality workers with one another, in order to see a potential gain of 13% in productivity, and a 17% gain in effectiveness.
In order to put this into practice, however, you need to know the people on your team.
So before you get excited and announce a company-wide desk shuffle, you will need to get your information together.
Mapping It All Out
One way to get to know your team better is to create a skills matrix that captures all of the relevant criteria for each team member, so that you can quickly identify strengths and weaknesses for each.
Within this matrix you can include criteria such as the results of performance reviews, feedback from team members, analytics related to project completion times, quality of work, and more in order to identify which type of worker they are (Productive, Quality, or Generalist).
Then, through careful hypothesis testing, you can strategically plan out your seating arrangements in order to try and leverage the spill-over benefits of each person’s strengths.
Monitoring the quality of work, productivity levels, and general morale are a few of the areas to keep an eye on after the seating changes have been made, in order to assess the effectiveness of the pairings.
The key to this type of strategic planning, is to continually remain up to date on the capabilities of each team member, how they may be improving (or struggling) and encouraging feedback from them.
Interestingly, the study also discovered that, “in terms of dynamics, the Spillover effects occur almost immediately and vanish within two months of exposure. This rules out peer-to-peer learning and instead suggests that the source of Spillover effects is a combination of inspiration and peer pressure from being in close proximity to high-performing workers”.
As such, strategic seating plans are not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ leadership tactic, but rather a continually moving strategic plan that will require tweaking, further testing, and a real connection with your team members.
Connecting With Your Team
As a leader your schedule can fill up quickly, leaving little time to effectively engage with your team, so it can be a challenge to know how much time you should dedicate to interacting with them in a meaningful way.
Thankfully, we now have some idea of what that amount of time looks like.
Thanks to a study performed by Leadership IQ, it was identified that spending six hours with your employees, per week, had the positive effect you hope for.
The research showed that employees who spend six hours per week interacting with their boss showed an increase in innovation, inspiration, engagement, and intrinsic motivation.
These findings, coupled with the information learned from the Spatial Management research, can provide you with some very strong baselines through which you can effectively lead your teams.
Your Next Steps
If you are looking to positively affect change within your organization, making use of the information discovered in each of these studies can be of great value to you and your teams.
Not only can these strategies help to positively affect interpersonal dynamics, and leverage the positive effects of spillover, but the change can also boost your bottom line.
The first thing that you can do is go into your calendar, and start to block out the time necessary to interact with your team, in order to start realizing the benefits noted in the Leadership IQ study.
Next, through the time that you are spending with your team, you can start to build out a skills matrix, which captures the strengths of each team member, so that you can begin testing out the strategic seating plan theory within your own organization.
The important thing to remember here is that you will want baselines, against which you can measure outcomes, and provide you with the ability to identify gaps that need to be addressed.
By making use of these two strategies, you can boost your leadership skills in a new, and meaningful way, as well as invite positive changes to your organization.