The furniture police (I actually have never met one) are not the only inhibitors. Most of the challenge is from recalcitrant team members not wanting to leave the comfort of their little spot in the office. "Oh, where am I going to put my pictures?" "What if the school calls?" (I'll address the abject terror of pair programming later.) Tom Allen of MIT's Sloan School cites a key success factor for getting the team to work in the room in his book Managing the Flow of Technology: Get the manager to move in with the team! So I tend to focus on the manager, and the rest of the team becomes a bit less reluctant.
So why bother? Is it really worth all the effort? Yes!
I recently saw a statistic that indicated that a collocated team gets a 15% productivity boost by doing nothing other than sitting together. That certainly echoes my experiences, and is not surprising. Consider what Tom Allen says: There are three reasons people talk to each other.
- They have common interests,
- They work for the same manager, and
- The chance that you and I talk varies inversely by the square of distances between our chairs. (Tom Allen got tenure for this one; he was formerly an aerospace engineer for Boeing.)
In layman's terms, the last point means that if I double the distance between our chairs, there communication will be reduced by a factor of four. If I double the distance again, the chance of communicating drops by a factor of sixteen. Tom also measured the "intellectual distance" created by a staircase or elevator: 100 yards. Now square that. If the team you work with is on the next floor with a staircase or elevator separating you, you might as well put the team on the other side of the globe. The distance impact is huge.
So taking Tom's rules in mind, how do you manage this situation? The first factor, common interests, you have no control over as a manager no matter how many lunches or recognition events you schedule. Mark that one off.
With the other two, you can play around. A bad solution: Sitting a department that works for the same manager together. Yes, the department will communicate, but they will also point fingers at all the other "idiots" in groups they need to work with, whether it be customers, sponsors, or colleagues that carry a different job title. Yet overwhelmingly, that is what I see.
With Agile teams, I want to rip the team members from their department caves and place them together. They will still talk to their colleagues back in the cave -- that's Tom's second rule. But now they are sitting beside those previously labeled "idiots", and are discovering that they are not so stupid after all.
There are even more benefits I will get into later. But for now:
Collocation is key to successful communication, and communication is critical to Agile success. So I encourage you to persuade, plea, or even bully your management into creating collocation space.