December 19

Zen and the Art of Furniture Arrangement

Terrain 1Ever find yourself thinking about the manner in which the boss chooses to communicate with you?  Is it not the words as much as the terrain that typifies the encounter? Have you ever been summoned to the Boss’s office, while you were swimming by in a school of co-workers? Does the Boss use their office as an execution chamber? When we consider what type of business is transacted in someone’s “office” are there particular arrangements of the furniture that send a message about what to expect when you enter? Or who own’s the space?

Personalizing your workspace is a pretty big topic and in no way confined to a discussion of dissecting the daily power plays of office life. However, it is a common theme within any organization for the office or the meeting room or any other frequent gathering spot for that matter to be a communicator of who’s in charge, and how the order of things should be. In some organizations, it is a critical function – no one quibbles about where the pilot sits in the plane, and the Captain’s chair on ship’s bridge is just that – the Captain’s chair. In others where the chair is more symbolic than functional, lets consider for a moment how leaders can inadvertently dominate the terrain.

Terrain 3Consider the traditional office arrangement. The occupant sits behind the desk and anyone entering the space conducts their business over the desk. The phone, chairs, computer, files, and anything else of consequence are oriented directly to the occupant. A visitor’s orientation is directed straight at the owner, while the owner has a more wide-ranging field of view. The desk serves as a barrier or demarcation line that identifies who is in charge, or control, at least for the moment.  A visitor’s willingness to abide by the rules is relevant to the visitor’s own station in life. It is not uncommon for a subordinate to stand up when the boss comes in the room if only to subliminally remove the barrier and acknowledge they aren’t in charge. What is being communicated here is power – whether you meant to, or not.

Terrain 2As a leader, when given the opportunity, are you aware of when you are in a position to demonstrate your power?  Are you aware of the effect of room arrangements and meeting locations may have on your team? Do you know how and when you communicate to people your authority?  Is it something you feel compelled to do on a regular basis, or at a regular function? Ever enter the meeting last, or a few minutes late, to make a point? Good leaders let their authority speak for itself and avoid seizing on every possible situation to remind people who they are. It isn’t a factor in whether you’ll get their A game anyway. That comes because you inspired and motivated them, and not because you have the biggest office, or desk, or a coffee mug that says “Boss”.

Bottom line – as a leader, your team is well aware of whether they feel empowered, or powerless, in your presence. Good leaders always look for opportunities to make their team feel smart, capable, and in control of their destiny.