In my recent article, Designing a Workplace Culture of Innovation, I identified four common pain points that stifle innovation in large companies. In part two of this series, I share how to apply human-centered design to the challenges of breaking down silos, improving collaboration and fostering a culture of innovation.
1. Disruptions to the natural functioning of “tribes”
Solution: Using human-centered design methods, spend time researching the types of teams that exist within and across your organization. Understand how your employees work together to complete their projects. Make note of the obstacles that stand in the way of convenient access to team members and the resources they need. Observe employees in their workplaces and engage them about what works and what doesn’t with how their space is designed. Redesign their spaces so that the people who frequently collaborate work in close proximity to one another. Create new spaces and avenues for team members to have quick, convenient access to one another and minimize or even eliminate the tendency for members to work in isolation.
“Create new spaces and avenues for team members to have quick, convenient access to one another.”
2. Employees playing out of position
Solution: Don’t wait for annual performance evaluations to learn about employee skill sets, personal interests and career goals. Take the time to get to know your employees, have periodic check-ins throughout the year, and encourage them to reach out should they need assistance acquiring new skills or addressing changes in personal and career interests. Help them grow into their positions and set goals for what to strive for next. Employees work best and are more productive when they are passionate about their role and have the expertise necessary to do the work. Understanding your employees helps you place the right people in the right roles. Leverage the right skills, expertise and interests when organizational changes reveal new possibilities, instead of assigning new responsibilities to a team member with the wrong skill set just because a role needs to be filled.
“Avoid assigning new responsibilities to a team member with the wrong skill set just because a role needs to be filled.”
3. Technology that doesn’t support the workflow
Solution: Use human-centered design methods to first understand your company’s workflows and processes and how your technology supports them. Spend time with your employees to learn what they need and desire to work more efficiently and productively to achieve their goals. Evaluate the technology your employees actually use and what they bypass or ignore altogether. Assess workarounds to learn why they exist. Observe how your employees work, asking about the greatest sources of frustration and pain with their tools, systems and resources. Enable and empower your employees by using these insights to inform the redesign of your technology environment.
“Ask your employees about the greatest sources of frustration and pain with their tools, systems and resources.”
4. A stifling physical work environment
Solution: Think about whether the configuration of your workspaces aligns with how your employees actually work to achieve their goals. Design research should help you understand what your employees need in this regard. Consider some of the following questions:
- Do some team members require closer proximity or more convenient access?
- Does your cubicle setup facilitate communication or stifle it?
- Are enough spaces stocked with white boards, Sharpies and Post-its for group working sessions?
- Do you have quiet spaces where people can get away to focus on work privately?
If collaboration or communication within teams and across departments is a pain point, it may be valuable to consider how a reorganization of workspaces could help resolve lingering issues. The first step toward a better working environment is determining the type of physical environment your employees need to work best and be successful every day. With that understanding you can design an optimal work environment that meets your goals.
“Design research can help you understand how to configure your workspaces to align with how your employees actually work.”