THE concept of teamwork is not new. For most of the 20th century, teams functioned like an assembly line, focusing on areas of expertise and the division of tasks.

“But this siloed work style ended up slowing things down, causing errors and overlooked opportunities,” said Isla Galloway-Gaul, the managing director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy. “To combat this problem, that paradigm gave way in many organisations to open plan offices.

According to global office architects and furniture designers Steelcase, 69 percent of all offices now have an open floor plan. But work in these settings is mostly an independent pursuit, interspersed with team meetings and water cooler conversations.” She said: “Without question, the need to reboot the corporate workplace is overdue because while the processes and activities of teams today have changed dramatically, some business spaces have not kept up.”

Today, work gets done through networks and lateral relationships. Employees who once operated in different universes must come together in interdependent, fluid teams. The spaces that best support this kind of work are designed specifically for teams, while embracing the needs of all the constituent individuals. “Forget the adage that ‘there is no ‘I’ in team,” she said. “Teams are made up of individuals.

We need to design for multidisciplinary teamwork in a way that also gives the individual what they need to do their best work. “There is, therefore, a growing demand for user control over spaces – people want to be able to adapt spaces at the pace of the project and to give team members agency in defining how the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ need to work together at a given time.” But right now, although many organisations have become nimble, there are still businesses in which employees need to file requests with facilities and end up waiting for weeks for the changes they have asked for. Galloway-Gaul said: “Project work moves through different phases and each phase has its own set of activities. It is important that the space can evolve with the project.” So, what do teams need from their work environments?

Teams need a sense of shared purpose, cohesion and identity to be able to work together and build on one another’s ideas successfully. Galloway-Gaul said companies should consider three things to help their teams excel.

  1. Build a home for teams
    The role of team space is bigger than just supporting the work itself. It is also about the human dimension. The team space should reflect and encourage the type of practices and working style of the team where they can foster a sense of identity, cohesion and trust.
  2. Flex space to process
    Teams need a dynamic space that keeps up with their process and keeps them in flow. The space should let teams reorganise in a natural, spontaneous way in rapid cycles.
  3. Empower teams
    Teams need control over their environments to cope with individual preferences and project needs. Empower teams and individuals to make quick adjustments to their space on demand to keep projects moving.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the managing director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy.

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