The iBuilding

A couple days ago we mentioned the new Apple headquarters and how it can support collaboration. We thought it’s worth diving a little deeper into that. It may look like a spaceship, but it’s designed to help bring employees together here on Earth.

Apparently, the folks at Apple outgrew their space years ago and have been scattered in rented buildings all over the local area. The current cafeteria is so full that many Apple employees head somewhere else for lunch. Steve Jobs was convinced that this limited the informal collaboration that he found to be so important. It’s tough, when your employees are scattered, to sit around someone’s cubicle and bounce ideas around, or meet up with folks from unrelated divisions in the cafeteria and start playing “What if we…?” But that kind of informal collaboration is what has made Apple such an amazing company.

Forced collaboration is a tricky thing. Putting people in meetings and telling them to not come out until they have 20 new ideas, or forming teams with such poor dynamics that they put the “fun” back in “dysfunctional,” are not really going to help you. What is often better is to create an environment where people have the opportunity to collaborate, and then let them find the best opportunities to do so.

The new Apple building has some interesting features. In addition to bringing everyone back into one building and having a 3,000-seat cafeteria, there are other amenities such as a fitness center that encourages people to stay on the campus with their peers rather than dispersing. None of that is unusual. The building itself, though, is circular, offering a connectedness that may help avoid an “us” and “them” mentality by connecting people in a way that having offices at one end of the building or another might not. There is a huge courtyard in the center which, based on artist renderings, appears to be forested, offering a nice place that, combined with northern California’s moderate climate, could provide a great opportunity for people to hang out and talk away from the office without actually having to get away from the office. Some large office buildings are designed with similar places already (the center courtyard at the Pentagon comes to mind) but with the right design the Apple HQ could provide a space that supports collaboration rather than turning into just another place for the smokers to go.

Your office arrangement and overall working environment should be designed in a way that encourages informal and unstructured collaboration. Whether you have 10 employees or 10,000, you will likely get better results by allowing them to best decide how, when, and with whom to collaborate. That’s only going to happen, though, if you create a space where it’s possible.

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