The Inclusive Workplace and the Power of Flow

I must have been staring at the ceiling. My mind was working on translating a difficult and obscure diagram into an article for KJCG, and the effort required some serious reflection. Just at that moment, one of our senior leaders walked across the room (a “café” with open floor plan, sofa, and tables) and remarked that I looked contemplative. I showed her the diagram—and she had an idea about it. I ended up integrating her idea into the next draft.

A few days later, I sat at one café table while our president, Corey Jamison, sat behind me, briefing someone relatively new to the Firm on coordinating her very first session. Corey was listing a few resources that this person might need. Something she said reminded me of a blog post I’d written not long ago, so I mentioned it to her. It provided yet one more piece of background to help our new colleague prepare for the session.

Neither of these serendipities would have happened without our open floor plan. In our new offices, few people have their own space—and even those with their own space often work in our shared spaces anyway. Most of us sit in different places, with different people, from day to day; in the process, we find out a bit more about our colleagues and what they do.

The point here is not so much the floor plan itself as what it creates in our organization: flow.

Fred Miller talks a lot about flow as a competitive advantage for today’s organizations. A key objective of inclusion is to create such a flow. When people are included, when their “street corners” (perspectives) are heard and valued, when they come together in new and different combinations to address situations, they learn to speak up and listen to one another as allies. They transfer knowledge and street corners across their traditional silos. As a result, knowledge, insight, and energy begin to flow freely across the organization. The full capacity of all the organization’s people is unleashed, resulting in accelerated results and higher performance.

I’m not the only one who has experienced this flow in our new offices. Our project manager recently needed to meet with a colleague. In our former, traditional offices, she would have entered her colleague’s office, feeling like an invader in a private space, and asked for 10 minutes to meet. In the new open plan, she simply sat down alongside her colleague and continued to work on her own for a while. At some point the conversation began to flow, and she brought up the issue she needed to discuss.

You don’t need an open floor plan to create flow. In our case, however, the floor plan is both a symbol and a facilitator of flow. The flow, in turn, is making us a higher-performing Firm. It can do the same for any organization.