In a company who’s external product is communication the number-one internal complaint was a maze-like building: Staff could go for days without seeing colleagues or natural light. Meetings were held in light-locked “board rooms” with no way to know who was on the other side of the walls. So bad was the problem that while staff believed these undesirable rooms were always occupied, our study revealed them to be in use less than 20%.
The “Idea Room” was a pilot project to help the organization create fast-acting culture and infrastructure change. Our weapon of choice was redefining the form and purpose of a meeting room. We started with the premise that Idea Rooms should be as visible - so they were placed only at prominent intersections. Then we made sure everyone could see, not only in and out, but through them. We used these rooms as excuses to tear down walls and bring in the natural light. We gave each room only basic user-friendly technology. Nothing fancy that would require IT support. Just the kind of thing they were used to using at home or at their desk. We made sure the furniture could be rearranged by the users and that there was a small kitchen and casual seating area just outside for waiting and spillover use. Finally we asked the adjacent department neighborhoods to help brand the rooms with something that would make each unique to its location the a huge building. These rooms became the starting point for positive organizational change that is still spreading, adapting and percolating more than five years later.