Rethinking the relationship between workplace design and leadership

Are workplace designers paying enough attention to what the new generation of leaders is trying to achieve? A new study calls for closer links as companies try to close the productivity gap

Can greater attention to leadership style and strategy by workplace designers help companies to improve productivity? A new report from 360 Workplace, part of Fourfront Group, with WORKTECH Academy suggests this is under-developed territory and calls for a closer relationship between what workplace leaders intend and what designers do

The report, Leadership and Design: Are We Ready for a New Relationship?, asks the question: ‘Could the relationship between design and leadership be re-set as a partnership in which workplace design becomes a canvas for new-generation leaders to express strategies that will entrust, enable and motivate people?’

To probe the issue, it built on a 2018 study of 120 organisations around the world, which showed that quality of leadership overwhelmingly impacts the level of productivity in companies compared to other factors.

The new research was developed with three components: first a creative workshop for Fourfront’s design team in which imaginary workplaces were created based on ‘exaggerated’ models of leadership; second, an international survey of 70 clients, probing their ideas and attitudes; and finally, a London roundtable of workplace professionals to discuss and reflect on the results.

‘Five over-arching terms for different types of leaders…’

The creative workshop was based on a book called Heroes: Myth and Reality, co-authored by former US General Stanley McChrystal with Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone (Portfolio Penguin 2018). This took five over-arching terms for different types of leaders from the book and transcribed them into an organisational context to set a different design brief for five creative teams in a half-day workshop. These leadership models were deliberately exaggerated to see what design concepts might emerge.

A short survey of 70 client companies in the UK, Asia, Australia and the Middle East was then conducted via The United Workplace network. The aim was to understand what companies engaged in the workplace redesign process thought about the links to leadership and performance.

The results, discussed and validated in an expert roundtable, sent a clear message: nine out of ten organisations in the survey believed performance could be improved if leadership style was considered when redesigning the workplace, but only around half put considerable emphasis on leadership intentions when formulating a workplace design brief – and only one in ten make it the main focus of the project.

If this can be described as a missed opportunity then clients clearly don’t intend to repeat the experience: 85 per cent of companies in the survey intend a closer relationship between leadership strategy and the design of the workplace in the future. The report concludes:
‘There is now a real appetite to rethink the briefing and development process in creating new workplaces.’

Access the Leadership and Design report here.
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