Moving Things Around And Trying To Create Serendipity When People Actually Like Just A Little Routine

I’ve encountered, read, been a part of agencies and marketing departments, where management gets the brilliant idea that moving people around to different desks and tearing down cube walls will get them out of their ‘ruts’ and start talking to – oh, wait no – collaborating with other people. Creating Serendipity.

This is plain dumb.

I first experienced this at an agency in Portland in the early ‘90s. The partners had visited an agency in San Francisco or New York or some other esoteric advertising mecca and saw first-hand how teams were assembled. Account, creative and all support staff in a team - sitting side-by-side. Because in those agencies, those teams were actually assigned specific accounts (so it worked for them, I guess).

The partners were so enthralled, they decided we needed to do the same. This would surely spur creativity. Get more clients. We had a meeting! We had champagne! We had to clear out our offices and move our crap.

Well, half the employees had to.

Our agency was on three floors. The move was a giant pain in the ass. Fortunately I was a PM and my boss said that all PMs had to stay put in their offices – near him. He was a partner who knew better.

Well, some creatives moved upstairs, some downstairs – the same for account – and eventually, we didn’t know where anyone was.

But the thing that was so telling was that the creative folk kept getting together in each-others’ offices, as did the account folks. You see, they had their routines; they had their trusted collaborators to bounce ideas off; they had their confidants to discuss jerks in the office, husbands and boyfriends, and where to meet for drinks after work.

Everyone still did what they did before, with the people they always did things with. Now, it was just more inconvenient.

Serendipity did not happen. The staff just got work done and life happened.

So quit moving people around. And for Gods Sakes, get rid of those group work tables and, at least go back to cubes with real (higher than 18 inches) walls. I do not need to hear another coordinator explain to her Mom that doing Fireball shots with friends is super fun.

Oh, and while on my journey to find a cool photo to accompany this post, I found this terrific piece on Cube Rage. 

The GIF is from the National Post by way of Office Space.

The GIF is from the National Post by way of Office Space.

The book mentioned in the article – Cubed – The Secret History of the Workplace – I’m buying it today.

Tomorrow’s post will surely be about Open Space.