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Posted on: Tuesday, 01 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Three Rooms

Of all the organizations that I have seen, worked for or worked at; very few live up to the programmers bill of rights by Jeff Atwood.

Yet I continue to see a few genuine builders; with their thick skins and deep passions; not just survive; but thrive and flourish even in the most hostile of all environments.

In one of my blog posts I tried to study the cubical-farm-culture most organizations out there promote and figure out what is wrong with them. If you are stuck in a cubical farm; chances are that you are stuck in an organization; that does is not really looking to build an environment where genuine builders can thrive and flourish. An organization that is happy in the realms of safe-mediocrity.

In this case; if you are looking at your organization to help you come in flow and be productive; chances are; that you are not going to get all the support you need up-front. To be honest; there is a decent chance that your journey is going to be a slow and painful one; where you find yourself rotting in meeting hell every now and then.

Even if I were to assume that you have what it takes to by-pass committees or the ability to make the difference and that you are willing to rot in meeting rooms so that you can bring about change; if you are working in a cubical-farm; chances are; that radical changes; like your request for a private quite office for every single developer in your organization; are going to come out sounding like a rather funny joke to your management.

Your only ray of hope; at building a genuinely remarkable work and play environment is to begin by demanding; requesting or begging for three basic rooms to be setup within your organization.

War Room

The first time I saw a war room was at a marketing agency for which I was doing a project. The room literally had all four walls made up of whiteboards; which ran from floor to ceiling and had a bean bags.

The first step into the room gave out a general vibe which made it fairly clear that you got into the room if you wanted to brainstorm an idea; throw it out to people; fight over it ruthlessly or get some seriously honest and candid feedback on your ideas or projects.

War-rooms I was told; were common in marketing organizations and yet; I rarely see them in software development firms around the world. In a world; where marketing needs to be baked into what your builders build; and not clumsily glued on as a separate process; even a three year old should understand the importance of having war-rooms in the organizations.

Most vice-presidents; and administration departments; don't understand the importance of war-rooms though. At-least they do not understand it enough to push the idea and get it implemented in their organizations.

If  you do not have a formal 'war-room' you are missing out on the opportunity to let people 'fight' over their ideas and let their ideas battle their way into existence. The very fact that you cannot invest enough into a room of this sort; speaks volumes about your lack of commitment to innovation or it just says --- I-do-not-care out loud.

Fun Room

At Multiplitaxion Inc, it took us months to move to a small game room. All we spent on the 'games' was on cheap dart games and a couple of other indoor games which ended up costing us --- peanuts.

Even with our highly traditional ideas of 'fun' and how much an organization should spend or budget for it; the impact of this small 'fun-room' with cheap indoor games was hugely positive.

People from multiple teams that would hardly have any business to do with each other started flocking together.

Within the first few weeks of the little experiment; Multiplitaxion Inc; saw a major positive outcomes as far as the overall work environment was concerned.

I personally; was fully convinced that an organization which cannot invest a little-bit in 'fun' cannot innovate.

Even till date; I continue to convinced about the importance of having a dedicated 'fun-room' in the organization.

Silence Room

If you cannot have offices for every developer and noisy work environments are what you are stuck with; the least you can do for the sake of some basic innovation; is provide you builders with a silence room within the organization where people who want to 'work together' or involve themselves in 'chit-chat' are strictly not welcome.

Start with a conference room that you might have.

Anyone who wants to focus on something and is sick of the chit-chat can move to this room for a few hours a day.

The rules for this room should be simple --- you shut up and work.

No talking. No discussion. Period.

Use this room as a place where your builders can come when they want to get in the flow without getting disturbed.

If you are doing this right; chances are; that when you do not find your builders in their noisy cubicles; you will know exactly where to find them. They will be in one of these rooms; doing what they do best --- which is to exchange ideas; think; innovate; build stuff and above all; have fun doing all of that.

I do not care what you call these rooms; but if your organization does not even have motivation or dedication to start with three of these rooms to improve the overall work environment; to begin with; chances are that your organization is an army of traditional development sheep; being herd on its way to risky mediocrity; and you are left with only two options --- You can Change Your Organization or Change Your Organization.

Does your organization have one or more of these rooms or at-least an environment that gets you what these three rooms are supposed to get you?

Have these rooms come about from the conscious effort of your organization or have your builders created their own unspoken hideouts to get their work done?

Does your organization play a role is providing all the support at create genuinely remarkable work and play environments or does it just make things worse for its builders by not caring; dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.