Thursday, September 09, 2010

Leading from Collaborative Spaces

Most who have visited the office space of Christian Life Community Church have uttered comments of surprise as to how chaotic and unordered it seems to be. In fact, most visiting and out-of-town pastors who come through our office usually make a comment very similar to… “Interesting, you guys actually get work done here?”

What makes our office space unique to many offices spaces – whether they are church, business, or other social sector office spaces – is that we don’t actually have offices. Rather, we have what some might call a “team room” or a “commons area” where all of us – lead pastor right through to our yearly apprentices – share a common working space with no walls, doors, sound proofing, or cubicles. Our desks are open, side by side, and within elbow space of everyone else in the office.

Admittedly, this does cause some tension from time to time when one person needs some quiet and another feels like whistling or, for example, when some mysterious team member keeps ‘borrowing’ all the best pens. However, the benefits of our shared work space are amazing. Let me share just three of those benefits with you.

1. Shared Space is Collaborative Space

A major benefit of the shared space at CLCC has been the weekly, daily, hourly times of collaboration with other team members. As pastors we are constantly trying to solve problems, find solutions, and innovate new forms of community and communication. So often, the solutions we are looking for are needed in “real-time” meaning that we need real conversations with real people, right now. The simple proximity of having other people around allows for many impromptu meetings through-out the day without having to leave your desk. Not only that, it is not uncommon for a team member to overhear a conversation in another part of the room and quickly pipe in with a thought or an idea that shapes the rest of the conversation and informs the decision. We believe that decisions and innovations are better in community than they are alone. Our space allows for it to happen.

2. Collaborative Space is Casual Space
Not only does our office function as a work space, it doubles as a place where real friendships, conversations, and familiarities develop. This means that it’s not uncommon for our children to be running around the office exploring its nooks and crannies, that I can proudly wear my stinky bike commuter clothes all day long, and that hundreds of non-work related jokes, stories, and conversations happen all the time. The effect has been that our team has a sense of safety and freedom to express real concerns and have real opinions without the guardedness found in organizations where people don’t really know each other. Collaborative space – especially for lead leaders – takes the concept of the “Walk Around Manager” and evolves it to an “Every Moment Manager” where casual interactions with the rest of the team happen all the time.

3. Collaborative Space is Creative Space
One of the best parts of collaborative space is that it is a breeding ground for creative ideas and innovative solutions. For any organization, the ability to create, dream, and innovate together should be very close to the core of its organizational values. Collaborative spaces jump-start the creative space and inspire people to imagine. This happens for a number of reasons: (1) A diversity of people with their widely different worldview and opinion force us into seeing, thinking, and even believing differently, (2) Mixing and matching seemingly opposite ideas have regularly produced breakthroughs in science, music, education, film, etc., teaching us how to live with duality, and (3) These spaces tend to breakdown the “hierarchy of imagination” opening the doors to ideas not found in the board room. These creative spaces are especially important for Christians whose belief is in a God who, not only is creative, but who has imaged us to be co-creators with Him. Creativity is a natural result of a maturing spirituality. The church, of all people and places, should be among the most creative entities on the planet.

Finally, collaborative spaces are not just open spaces with a bunch of people crammed into them. Collaborative spaces are intentional spaces that motivate a culture of shared learning, shared discovery, communal accountability, and a deep driving commitment to a common mission or cause. I believe that collaborative spaces are part of what is going to be commonly known as “best practices” in team leadership. Here, we applaud differences, honour the curious nonconformist, respect the odd and quirky, allow opposites to live side-by-side, and embrace a collective imagination as a means to lead us forward. Who are the people in your collaborative space?