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What do you mean by “collaboration”?


Collaboration is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in business-speak today. Everyone is talking about the need to collaborate to get work done but the ways in which people work together vary widely from organization to organization. Understanding these differences is much more than just an academic exercise. Each type of collaboration will work best if the space itself is tailored to reflect the company’s culture of group work.


The most common type of collaboration is coordinated work. In this model, individuals or small groups are responsible for creating their portion of the overall work product. The teams meet frequently to coordinate their parts but most of the actual work is done individually. Environments that have dedicated zones for focused work and nearby areas for meeting together will work best for these teams. The meeting areas can be high tables for a stand-up chat or enclosed conference room but in either case need to be equipped with appropriate tools so that everyone can show their own piece and see how it fits with the whole.


In some organizations most (if not all) of the work is done individually but workers still rely on the community for ideas and feedback. These exchanges are informal and ad hoc, often over a cup of coffee or at a printer area. Law firms are one example of community work. In this model, individuals seek out the advice of others or to learn how others may have solved similar issues. It’s essential to include spaces that foster development of a rich and diverse social network including areas to relax, unwind and speak informally.


A third type of collaboration is where the work is created in a group setting, often by cross-functional team. These teams might be involved in brainstorming or development of a concept but in either case need a space that can support the free flow of ideas. Assigned project rooms work best because a team can keep their information accessible and visible as the work progresses. In addition, moveable light scale furniture is recommended so that the group can arrange and rearrange the room as needed.

It is important to note that all three types might exist within a single organization if departments or business units have their own cultures of collaboration. We are also not suggesting that a space be designed to support only one type of collaboration to the exclusion of the others. Rather, our purpose is to understand that working together can take many forms and to recommend that designers explore what a client actually means by “collaboration.”

| By Michael Fazio

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“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot