The Collaborative Project Work Space

October 15, 2000

Originally part of the Enterprise-Wide IT Architecture newsletter, sign up at the website go to the ADMIN selection.

The Collaborative Project Work Space

During the early stages of any collaborative effort, when group members are forming commitment to a team, a project, an idea, a way of working together, involvement in the design of the team's physical and virtual space can help clarify and solidify goals and processes. Communal design of a project room or team space can help the group think about how members are going to work together, as well as promote esprit de corps. The work space that results is likely to be highly functional, having been designed by the people who actually use it, and one that can serve as a concrete reminder of group identity and resolve.

While creativity can't be programmed, the environment can be used to "influence the pattern of experiences over time, increasing the probability that new ideas or connections will occur to people who can do something with them.

Work space (virtual or physical) should be -

  • Stimulating environments that display information about work in progress, the market, what's happening in the project and the world.
  • Resource-rich, so ideas can be pursued immediately;
  • Unconstrained, "in terms of what it's okay to try or do"; and
  • User-controllable, in terms of being able to manage accessibility and distractions.

In addition to stimulating ideas, visual display or representation can serve as a medium of collaboration. It can be called "shared space." It can be a whiteboard, a project room with models or prototypes, an intranet home page, or just a paper napkin passed between two people at a coffee bar. Whether physical or electronic, shared space is essential to successful collaboration, providing a medium for communication that goes beyond the exchange of information that typifies meetings and conversations to allow people to create information, to think out loud, together.

Important qualities of shared space are;

  • equally accessible to all team members,
  • dynamic and easily manipulable,
  • capable of recording and preserving collaborative thought,
  • stimulates the senses as well as the mind,
  • creates a sense of co-presence, even when collaborators are separated by distance or time.

The space becomes a partner in the collaborative process, ensuring that "the whole of the relationship is greater than the sum of the individuals' expertise."

Team settings should be easy to manipulate and rearrange, to allow their users to alter them to meet changing requirements of different stages in the life cycle of the collaboration and to allow organizations to renew and reuse them for other groups and purposes when that cycle is complete.
Achieving the appropriate balance of separation and stimulation for a given stage of collaborative effort requires a highly flexible environment to rearrange adjacencies and boundaries to accommodate changing needs. The isolated project room or off-site location that protects concentration or stimulates creative thought during one phase of the process may hinder vital contact with people and ideas during another phase.


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