The Innovation Table & Reconfiguring Staff

I’ve been visiting labs around campus to better understand the work they do and to find opportunities for the Library to support them. My ulterior motive is to see how they function—workflow, cooperation, collaboration, output, organization, etc.

One lab that I found inspiring is Electronic Learning Communities. This is a small group of five PhD candidates all working on research focused on the theme of digital learning communities. What I found intriguing is something I call The Innovation Table located in the center of the room. When they are at their desks, they are off in their own world with headphones on. Yet if they sit down at this central table it is a nonverbal invitation to collaborate. One of the students told me that when she hits a roadblock or just wants to bounce ideas around, she moves her work to the table and that others soon follow. I really like this concept of a place to go to get inspiration and to talk things out.

These social dynamics got me thinking about how we might apply this to libraries. How might we reconfigure workspace in order to foster innovative thinking? Most libraries (sweeping assumption here) group staff together by department. There is a logical benefit of placing people together who do similar work. But what if we shook that up a bit? I can imagine a configuration in which I worked in a shared space with our web application programmer, our Electronic Resources Coordinator, and our Commons Coordinator. Each of us is focused on solving different problems and yet we rarely interact together. This “lab” style arrangement could produce great motivation and would provide the ability to bounce ideas around. This grouping would also enable us to see the big picture and to thread collections, public services, and systems together. Ultimately, we could build upon each other’s experiences and perceptions and develop new ideas which would have been impossible (or unlikely) when we were surrounded by liked-minded colleagues.

I’m curious, has anyone experimented with this type of arrangement? It’s one thing to be on a committee or taskforce together, but to share space is a whole new endeavor. I think it would create more of an upstart or venture capitalist vibe, which could be cool. The McDonaldization article suggests Skunk Works although I’m not sure libraries are quite ready for that yet. So, how might we reconfigure staff in order to stimulate ideas and improve services? That’s what’s on my mind these days.

Author: Brian Mathews

Brian Mathews is a public services librarian at Georgia Tech. Check out: www.brianmathews.com

1 thought on “The Innovation Table & Reconfiguring Staff”

  1. My hubby works in the banking industry (BofA) and this type of arrangement is used all over the in the development and marketing areas of the bank. workspaces are arranged in large pods that contain 4 staff workspaces on the fringe of the workspace and one huge table in the center. What makes the arrangement even more interesting is that banks frequently reorg about every 6 months. This assures that things are constantly changing and interesting and you never know who you might be working next with.

    From my husbands perspective the arrangement works well when you have group projects (BTW: They get laptops with wirelss too which makes it easy to collaborate anywhere), but headphones come in real handy when your trying to concentrate on finishing a solo activity.

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