Thursday, January 10, 2008

If you sit together good things happen

Remember the adage "families who eat together stay together"? Well, there is an analogy at work about teams who sit together.

One of the contentious decisions that has to get made when setting up a company is the seating arrangement. Who gets an office vs a cube? How big are the offices? yada yada

I've taken a strong position in building FirstRain that a) we're all equal in this (we just have different roles) and b) we need to sit so we get the highest level of communication - and creativity - possible. As a result we follow these guidelines:

- everyone has a cube. Everyone.
- we have plenty of small conference rooms, with white boards, so you can huddle quickly to hash out a decision, or have a private conversation
- engineering teams sit in pods. A pod is a group of 4 cubes where the cubes all back onto a center so the four people can push their chairs together to have a conversation. Sometimes it feels dense but it's great for continuous collaboration.
- sales sits in rows - like traders desks - but again with teams seated together and in the same cluster as their manager so they can share ideas easily.
- and finally, a major decision, to put sales all in one office (in New York) and not in regional offices.

This last decision was not how we started out. Originally we put our sales people in the major cities where our customers are - but this was not effective for a couple of reasons. We have a new technology in a new segment and there are no recipes on how to do it. As a result it's critical the sales team be able to develop and change their approach quickly and continuously. And second, since the majority of our sales are on the phone it's much more cost effective to have everyone in one place than to pay for multiple offices.

Google has done a recent study on information flow and proximity which confirms our thesis. Bottom line, if you want people to talk continuously so you can shape and mold your execution you need to seat them together. Email is just not a good forum for creativity.

And, for me as a CEO, I need to be with both teams - R&D and sales - and so that means racking up the miles.

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