Sunday, July 13, 2008

The importance of co-locating your team

Sometime ago, back in one of my previous projects, I had to ramp up my team by one, to resource some new work that came in. The new person was a 1.x years experienced lady, with technical skill set cohering with what I required in my team.

Now, before this lady came in, my team used to sit in two large multi-occupant cubicles, with just a small partition in between, which practically made it a large bullpen. This facilitated much interaction between the team members, who utilized it well to maximize exchange of information & knowledge, and of course jokes and light moments. I too found it most efficient in conducting stand-up scrums and short ad-hoc meetings, as we just had to pull our chairs together into a circle, and not hunt for a meeting room. We had consumed all seats in the two cubicles, and there were none free, when the new lady came in.

I had another smaller cubicle reserved for my team, just next to the current ones, for future expansions; I stationed the lady there. She started off in the team, and days passed by. I had performed background inquiries before I accepted her into the team, and all reports said that she was a good engineer, and a great person to work with. With days passing by, I did see the outputs of her work, and they concurred with the reports, but something kept telling me that she's quite not into the team, which contradicted with the second part of the report, that 'she is a great person to work with'. She was rather silent in meetings, responds to 'work-jokes' with a wry smile, while others laughed-out merrily.

I started observing her more closely, and soon I deduced that she might be feeling left-out due to her physical location. Although it was just the next cubicle, the fact that the rest of the team were together, worked negative here. If someone said a joke, the whole bunch would hear it and laugh, but she couldn't hear it, or even if she heard it, by the time she got up and leaned over the cubicle wall, the moment would have been over. With work, say, if I had to give a quick announcement, I could just push my chair to the mid, and shout it out, but she had to be summoned either to lean over the wall, or come around, to join the group. The lack of these important aspects of communication and camaraderie worked bad for her, which in-turn would work bad to the team.

Once I was sure that my deduction couldn't be wrong, I called her on for a casual private chat, and asked how things are, and informed her how I felt how good a work she's doing in the project. Once the moment was light, I asked how she was finding her physical location, and whether she felt alright sitting there. To let her open up easily, I added that I sensed she felt being left-out from the rest of the team. She stood surprised for a moment, and then came out telling that she was indeed a bit sad that she was missing what the rest of the team were enjoying. I assured her that I'll set things right, and we got back to our seats. I could feel the happiness in her voice, when she said 'thanks', which came from the realization, that someone noticed, and someone cared to respond.

Now, I had another trouble - as I mentioned earlier, the cubicles were occupied to the permitted seating capacity, and to have her in, I need to kick someone out. That again would would spoil the play, as one would again be out. After much thought, I felt the best would be, to make room in the current space, without disrupting anymore team morale. I got come long network and power cables issued, did some petty wiring stuff done; couple of my team members (wonderful people they are) adjusted their seats and PCs so that space for one more could be made, and atlast, we did it - within 3 hours since we had that small meeting, the new lady was at her new seat, and at the middle of the 'happening place'. Everything was well!

Now, the interesting part was yet to come - having moved into her new place; we started observing multi-fold improvement in her productivity and commitment. Her interaction with the rest of the team was easier now, and that contributed in-turn to the team's performance!

Alas! A talk of just over two minutes.... a shift of just over two meters... and it made the world..., a heaven lot different!


  1. a shift of just over two meters... and it made the world..., a heaven lot different!

    mm..sometimes the best results are obtained in simplest of gestures..

  2. @mathew: Thanks for stopping by :-)

    absolutely right... many underestimate the power of simple gestures, wondering why their seemingly huge ones doesn't produce the results they expected.

  3. it was i feel the chat more thatn the location that did the wonders..When some one knows that they are being noticed.....