How many times have you been involved in a collaborative session and found the environment was distracting or uncomfortable?  If so, you have become a victim of “environmental sabotage”.  It happens a lot, so don’t be surprised.

Hard chairs?  Feels like a sauna in the afternoon?  Tables too crowded?  Sun glaring on you?  Construction going on next door?  Room feels stuffy?  Lots of interruptions as individuals enter/leave the room?  Discussing something and cannot hear everyone clearly?  Room too loud when various groups are having conversations?  We’ve all experienced this, right?

Take a moment to look at the picture above showing a meeting room.  Would you like to have a collaborative session in a room like that?

I think it would be a disaster.  Here’s several quick reasons.  Uncomfortable chairs.  Square layout isn’t friendly and separates people.  Walls and floors are hard surfaces making the room louder.  Seating looks crowded.  And that is just a beginning!  As you can tell, during the design of an RbC Session, I think the environment is a big deal!

That’s why I often say “Everything Speaks”.  It is easy to overlook how the layout, look and accommodations of the room affect the people interacting in the room.  What is the room speaking to your participants?  

As I do my RbC Design for the session, I always include a preferred layout of the room and specific criteria.  This layout is built around the Participants, Traffic lanes, Furniture, Power sources, Types of Exercises, and the Instructions to be prepared. 

The environment you establish for your collaborative sessions is critical.

Since Sessions are held in a wide variety of locations, it can be challenging to create a comfortable environment for collaboration.

Often I am limited to spaces provided by the host of the Session.  Other times I have full-control over the space.  As I have worked in numerous spaces, I’ve learned from my mistakes and have adapted to make the best of poorly prepared spaces.

Here are some of the 25 things I consider in my “environmental” design to ensure the best collaborative environment.

  • Consider the audio dynamics of the room.  Does it have a hardwood floor or carpet?
  • Evaluate the impact of possible glare (sun, reflections), distractions (sound, movement) within the room.  Even a ticking clock can become distraction!
  • Seat conversational groups at round tables, rather than square or rectangular tables.
  • Use classroom seating with rows for when your teams are doing knowledge transfer and reporting.
  • Arrange enough aisles so that entry/exit from the classroom seating is not a hassle.
  • Use Music appropriately.  Music can be used effectively to signal the start/end of an exercise, as a background to an exercise or during break times.
  • Have and keep refreshments in the room.
  • Determine the traffic flow pattern for the participants and minimize any obstacles.
  • Set up a support team table for the Facilitator and other observers so that they do not interfere with the traffic flow.
  • Ensure someone, at the session, has ability to control the lights, shading and temperature during the session.
  • Provide all materials at each table.  Don’t require participants to gather their own materials.
  • Know and communicate any emergency instructions at the beginning of the session.

The objective of this detailed review of the environment is to create the ideal setting for meaningful interaction among the participants.  Nothing is harder on the Facilitator than juggling multiple competing issues during a Session.  We want the focus to be on the conversations not the comfort of participants.

When participants are too cold, too hot, unable to see the screens, annoyed by the sun’s glare, don’t have the right materials or unable to hear other participants, they will not participate fully.  When that happens, everyone is negatively affected.

Keep this in mind for your next session.  Exercise due diligence and address these types of environmental challenges before they sabotage your Session!