Several years ago I saw a presentation from an association CEO who had recently redesigned their office space. He started by talking about the core values of the organization, which included one on “Having Fun” (or something of that sort). This was a place that viewed fun as an integral part of getting their work done.

He then showed a photo of their old work space (pre-redesign), that looked remarkably like many association offices I’ve seen: a sea of grey cubicles enveloped by fluorescent lighting. As he pointed to the photo, the CEO was really clear about his message:

You can’t claim that you’re all about fun, and then make your people work in an environment like that.

Organizational culture is not just about your core values and how you do staff meetings, and how you allocate bonuses, and how you do new employee orientation. All those words and behaviors matter—they clarify what is valued—but you also have the more tangible aspects of your culture—the “stuff” that has an equally important role in defining what is valued.

In my last post I talked about the power of dress code, but office space I think has an even bigger impact—yet gets less of our attention as leaders. I spoke with commercial real estate folks. From what they’re telling me, it seems that when an organization (including associations) moves office space, it’s usually the CEO or maybe one other person that makes all the decisions about how to structure the work space. And the primary objective seems to be fitting the largest number of people in the smallest space possible. Corner offices are not challenged. Cubes with no natural light are not challenged. It’s classic “we have always done it that way” stuff.

But not for the CEO I mentioned above. He hired an architect to build out his office space who specifically had NO experience working with associations. He wanted to design the space around the culture he wanted to create. The result is a lot of natural light, ZERO individual offices (the CEO himself is at a pod with everyone else), and a variety of diverse spaces to work in, including noisy spaces, quiet spaces, wi-fi on the roof deck, and a pretty cool “innovation ranch” designed to spur creativity. Yes, it looks like people have fun here, but it wasn’t because they added the stereotypical foosball table and keggerator. They didn’t try to force the fun. They created a space where the natural fun of their culture could express itself.

So to be clear, YOU don’t have to have an office space like theirs. I’ll even support you in having a sea of grey cubicles—if you can show me, clearly, how that is going to drive the specific behaviors that make you successful. Never forget that THAT is the point of culture—driving success—and it requires your attention not only at the level of process and branding, but right down to how you design your physical space.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

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