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Organizational Learning and Physical Space—How Office Configurations Inform Organizational Behaviors

Part of the Knowledge and Space book series (KNAS,volume 6)

Abstract

Although discussion and perspectives in organization studies, management, industrial sociology, and geography have expanded the overall understanding of the spatial context and location of learning organizations, little is known about the microsettings and architectural configuration of spaces that promote collective action. Exploring this aspect of the relation between space and organizations, the author examines knowledge-intensive work processes in a German research institution to identify how architectural space (a building’s spatial configuration) relates to collective action and organizational learning. Qualitative and quantitative methodologies, including a space syntax analysis of spatial configuration, are used to document spatial configuration, space usage, and patterns of interaction and knowledge-sharing in relation to other knowledge-intensive work environments. A narrative of life in the organization depicts physical space as a factor of organizational learning. The author considers the effects of spatiality and transpatiality on organizational behavior to challenge the common association between geodeterminism and the study of physical space.

Keywords

  • Physical Space
  • Organizational Learning
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Spatial Configuration
  • Office Space

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This lack of interdisciplinary communication has been criticized by Price (2007):

    [Concerning] business performance[, there is] … little hard evidence for the effect of physical space in office settings; … Such evidence as could be located, especially in managerial journals, was largely anecdotal. Property economists were adept at considering buildings from an investment perspective and building management research covered the technical issues, but the evidence from a business, or even just an individual occupier’s, perspective was missing. The literature has discourses on organizations and workspaces whose proponents largely ignore each other. (p. 104).

  2. 2.

    Only fairly recent contributions (Amin & Roberts, 2008; Fayard & Weeks, 2007) have started suggesting more complex models of a mutual and embedded relationship between the spatial and social realm.

  3. 3.

    The main research areas of the institute were quantum physics of condensed matter, nonlinear phenomena and dynamics, and biophysics. The physicists interviewed for this project regarded their institute as very “interdisciplinary,” even though they had all studied the same subject. Nonetheless, the focus and methodologies used varied significantly.

  4. 4.

    A benchmark of 11 knowledge-intensive organizations from the public sector (universities and research institutions) and the private sector (media businesses) whose members had all studied with a similar methodology and setup was available to me through involvement in a collaborative research project entitled “Effective Workplaces” conducted by University College London and Spacelab Architects, London. (Some of the results are published in Sailer, Budgen, Lonsdale, Turner, & Penn, 2009.) The benchmark consisted of syntactical features of space (visibility, metric integration of the building) and survey data on interaction and collaboration patterns of the organizations (interaction frequency and the intensity of collaboration).

  5. 5.

    “Man braucht schon den sozialen Kontakt, und den Austausch, was andere Leute machen, was man von wem lernen kann bevor man das Rad neu erfindet, ja, so kann man Wege abkürzen. Der Erkenntnisgewinn geht sicher schneller in der Gruppe oder in der Wechselwirkung der Systeme, als wenn die Leute sich isolieren.”

  6. 6.

    “Dieses Gästeprogramm ist schon was Besonderes, dass die Leute hier kommen und gehen, ohne dass man die Chance hat, da mitzukommen. Dass wenig permanente Leute da sind, das verleiht dem Ganzen schon eine besondere Dynamik. Es kommen viele Leute vorbei, mit denen kann man dann diskutieren, und dann diskutiert man halt mit denen und je nachdem wer da wäre, würde die Arbeit vielleicht auch einen ganz anderen Kick bekommen.”

  7. 7.

    “Was ich schon gerne hätte, ist dass die Gruppe, also dass die Laufwege im Institut ingesamt geringer wären, also mein Chef sitzt noch eine Etage tiefer, das geht noch, aber wenn ich zu den postdocs gehe, mit denen ich zu tun habe, das ist am Ende des A-Flügels und das ist dann schon ein Stück Weg… Ich würde die Gruppen halt raumtechnisch … verändern, also die Wege innerhalb einer Gruppe möglichst kurz halten, das ist zumindest bei uns in der Gruppe noch zu lang.”

  8. 8.

    “Der Nachteil der Flügel ist, der [S], der sitzt 100 m in diese Richtung oder 80, das ist eine Distanz, da geht man nicht einfach so hin. Weil … es dauert einfach, dann kann man noch irgendwo festhängen, weil man Leute trifft.”

  9. 9.

    Version control systems are commonly used in relatively complex software development projects, specifically for collaborative or joint programming to monitor changes that different people make in the code at different times.

  10. 10.

    “Also in Bezug auf unsere Arbeitsgruppe, es war ja so, dass zumindest drei Leute quasi das gleiche gemacht haben und wir hätten also das gleiche Programm benutzen können, nur auf verschiedene Art und Weise, da wären nur winzige Dinge drumherum zu schreiben gewesen, die uns betreffen. Und es hat relativ lange gedauert, bis wir uns endlich dazu entschieden haben, das mal zusammenzuwerfen und jetzt funktioniert es auch viel besser… Die Idee kam von mir beziehungsweise sie kam kontinuierlich [schmunzelt] und letztendlich habe ich den Anlass gegeben, das so zu tun.”

  11. 11.

    For an introduction to extreme programming and pair-programming, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_programming and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pair_programming (both documents retrieved in 2008).

  12. 12.

    “Für die Projektreffen haben wir das Ende des A-Flügels … genutzt. Der sonnige Platz war sehr schön für die Statustreffen, die im Stehen abgehalten werden. Nach den Treffen fanden sich oft kleine Teams, die sofort mit der Detailplanung begannen. Die sind dann im Büro veschwunden oder haben einige Details auf den Rückweg im Gang geklärt.”

  13. 13.

    “Der Erfolg unserer Organisation, den sehe ich hauptsächlich darin, ein Klima zu erzeugen, das richtige Klima zu erzeugen, wo neue Ideen und neue Entwicklungen eine möglichst hohe Chance haben, dass sich neue Dinge entwickeln, über die Erzeugung eines Klimas. Das ist natürlich gekoppelt mit Verhaltensmustern. Ein wichtiger Punkt ist Großzügigkeit. Das ist sehr wichtig. Und möglichst frühzeitige Delegation von Verantwortung, da wo es möglich ist. Man muss den Initiativen der Einzelnen möglichst viel Spielraum lassen.”

  14. 14.

    “Durch die neuen Kaffeemaschinen, da kommen sehr viel mehr Diskussionen zusammen, weil man sich da einfach trifft.”

  15. 15.

    “Ich mag die Großzügigkeit, ich komm hier jeden Morgen in das Haus rein und sage: toll. Die Treppe, die großen Fenster, es ist alles sehr hell. Irgendwie bringt es einen dazu, dass man mit Leuten kommuniziert in den weiten Flächen, dass man auch mal stehen bleibt, sich anlehnt, und sagt, oh, jetzt kommt jemand, den wolltest du mal was fragen oder mit dem hattest du eh was zu besprechen und dann bleibt man stehen.”

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Sailer, K. (2014). Organizational Learning and Physical Space—How Office Configurations Inform Organizational Behaviors. In: Berthoin Antal, A., Meusburger, P., Suarsana, L. (eds) Learning Organizations. Knowledge and Space, vol 6. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7220-5_7

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