31 Oct
2007

The Agile Concentration Cave

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The benefits of osmotic communication in a collaborative workspace are well known and documented. Building a collaborative common room work environment is a crucial component to building a truly hyper-performant team.

Even thought this model of collaborative workspace is known to be effective, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people fundamentally prefer a work environment wherein they cannot hear their neighbor. There are even instances of people leaving an organization because of a perceived “demotion” in losing their office or cubicle. In general, some degree of staff turnover is common when converting to Agile practices. Some figures indicate a predictable turnover of up to 20% when adopting Agile practices. Most turnover is in management positions where the job functions fundamentally change.

Even though Agile practices uncover a lot of dysfunction, the practices shouldn’t introduce new ones. Moving to a collaborative workspace is not a good reason to lose staff or to have perpetually unhappy employees. After all, the intent is to create a more positive, dynamic, and ultimately productive work environment.

How might this transition occur while accommodating folks who don’t thrive in a common room environment? What about times when nuero-typicals (everyone who isn’t me) need some quiet time?

The Concentration Cave

Reserve for the team’s use a separate room, to be available at all times and not scheduled for meetings or other uses. A nice option is to use an existing and fully equipped conference room. Team members should all have laptops anyway and be able to move fluidly in and out of this space. Now when people crave some peace and quiet or some degree of isolation, they can go to the cave.

Cave Rules

The team would do well to consider and then post a set of cave rules. Should music be prohibited? How will people who are bothering others be asked respectfully to leave? Here is a reasonable sample of Cave Rules.

  1. No loud talking
  2. Respect why people are here, to concentrate
  3. Extended conversations should move outside when there are others present in the room
  4. No holing up in here for days
  5. No phone calls in the cave
  6. Turn device sound down or off

Cave Smells

The cave can be easily abused. Here are some things to watch for and deal with proactively.

  1. The cave is a phone booth. I have seen success with teams (and parents for that matter) actually providing closeable phone booths in or near the common room. Remove land line phones from the room.
  2. Permanent residents. The cave isn’t your home. Your home is with your team.
  3. Team members can’t use the cave because someone is in there. Managers need to be good sheepdogs and keep the cave clear for team members.

Other Cave Uses

Yes, the cave is there for the team members 99% of the time. Occasionally other ways to use the cave may be reasonable.

  1. Visiting workers, maybe people from another office or 1-day contractors.
  2. Design sessions focusing on a few members of the team. Cover the walls in whiteboards like any good surface.

Do you have a cave? How about some cave pics?

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