Faced with accelerating change in the world around us, forward-thinking CEOs acknowledge that continuous up-skilling and innovation are essential to survival. That’s why leaders in many disciplines – not least Facilities, HR and IT – are being challenged to create learning cultures.

Typically, leaders approach this challenge at an organizational level. However, a meaningful shift in performance always happens at an individual level. We all need our lightbulb moment – a trigger that changes our behavior from the old way to the new. When this occurs en masse, the result is a cumulative wave of performance improvement.

How can Facilities, IT, and HR leaders encourage the individual “lightbulb” moments that occur in learning cultures?

The role of spacial design on learning culture

Scientists have found a smart, simple, high-impact way to inspire “lightbulb” moments and raise individual contributions almost immediately: leverage spacial design.

More specifically, implement strategic seating by shifting around the seating arrangements in your office. Researchers have found that companies can increase productivity by 15% and boost annual profit by $1 million, simply by implementing strategic seating.

Radical leaps require ‘exploration’

When we find ourselves under increasing daily pressure to deliver extraordinary results, we need to seek new and novel ways to get things done. Strategic seating contributes directly to the individual’s ability to innovate – and reach those “lightbulb moments” – which in turn can improve productivity and profit.

Sunkee Lee, assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at the Tepper School of Business, examined an e-commerce company in South Korea. As part of a research project, the seating arrangements of 60 people working in sales, whose roles involved making daily ‘exploration’ decisions, were changed. 

People in the sales team used both exploitation and exploration activities:

  • Exploitation activities include using and refining established knowledge: The sales team exploited deals by selling products they had sourced in the past.
  • Exploration activities include risk taking, experimentation, acquiring and creating new knowledge: The sales team explored new deals by sourcing novel products they hadn’t sold before.

 

Mixing up the seating arrangements

The company had grown quickly, so when they decided to relocate their headquarters they decided to rearrange seating. There were six teams on each side of the old building and very little communication between them.

When everyone moved into the new HQ, the whole sales team sat together. People were suddenly sitting with people they didn’t know.

One small group who’d been working together were moved to a separate space and the group was kept intact.

How did seating arrangements impact performance?

Lee examined 38,435 deals performed by 60 team members over 200 days, spanning before and after the move. Before the workspace reconfiguration, average daily exploration levels were pretty similar across the two groups of people.

People who were sitting next to the same old faces began to engage in less exploration behavior, while those sitting next to new faces sourced 25% more deals from new suppliers.

The daily revenue generated by each team member in the new, high performing group went up by an average of 40%, equating to a whopping $16,510 a day.

Strategic seating enhances individual creativity

Lee attributed the impressive results to an increase in exploration behavior at an individual level. These people were getting creative, because they were learning new things from new colleagues. Being surrounded by unfamiliar team members meant they were overhearing new conversations and getting inspired in new ways.

Combining their existing experience with new knowledge, these team members came up with all kinds of novel product ideas. A rice cooker that you can plug into your car. Earmuffs with built-in Bluetooth. A baby potty that plays tunes.

Not only were they exploring new ideas and building new supplier relationships, they also started seeing better results from their exploitation activities. By exchanging knowledge with their new peers, they adjusted their marketing messages, product descriptions and photos; and tried different advertising channels. Applying these learnings enabled them to do a better job of selling existing products they were already familiar with and break entirely new ground.

Where to begin in creating a learning culture

Where should you begin? We’re firm believers in taking a lean, agile approach to change. Don your scientist-meets-entrepreneur hat. Come up with experiments to test your ideas. Then you can use what you learn to inform your next move, scaling what works. The more deeply you explore the challenges in your workplace and frame them in an inspiring, novel way, the more likely you are to come up with groundbreaking creative ideas.

Check out this ebook on Design Thinking and Agile Project Management for Facilities Professionals to help guide your way.

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