In-house Issues: Tear Down The Walls

An in-house design team head, whom I’d characterize as a young turk who came to his corporate gig from the agency side, has effected a powerful change at the computer manufacturer where he works. Realizing just how much the environment of the ubiquitous cube, that offensive symbol of corporate rigidity that his team was forced to work in, was hampering his group’s ability to work effectively, he set out on a crusade to tear the walls down.

After, what I would assume, was a difficult battle with HR, Facilities, Finance and various upper managers, he succeeding in reconfiguring his team’s workspace to achieve a more open collaborative working environment. That alone is an achievement, but the real crux of the story lies in what happened afterwards.

The director’s peers in other departments began to notice the change and, more importantly, the effect it had on the group leader’s team. They started to realize that the more open environment might benefit their teams as well. Many went to their managers and Facilities and HR to request that their spaces be re-engineered as well. Apparently the company was enlightened enough to honor those requests and now other departments have created workspaces similar to the creative team’s offices.

This story clearly illustrates one of the often ignored, but most powerful, ways that in-house creative teams can contribute to and fundamentally alter their host companies. It’s not just the deliverables that they produce, but the application of the design process to non-design problems, where these groups can have their greatest impact. The sooner that in-house teams recognize and act on this fact, the sooner they will gain the respect they desire and, most importantly, the power to radically change the way their corporations operate.

Tear down the walls and reinvent your companies.

3 thoughts on “In-house Issues: Tear Down The Walls

  1. Dennis

    Nice article, but more info would be nice. Having some insight as to exactly what he did to get the change could help others break down barriers don’t you think? This story fell way to short. Vague and not a “clear” illustration by any means.

    1. Andy Epstein

      You bring up a good point, Dennis, and I’ll try to gather more information regarding the specifics. This is sometimes difficult with in-house stories because corporations tend to be extremely cautious about releasing information regarding internal processes, procedures and situations. Also, often times the tactical specifics are so unique to the corporation and creative team’s environment and position in their host company, that they’re not really applicable to other groups.

      That being said, I’ve noticed some commonalities among teams that have successfully achieved their goals (please forgive the broader nature of this response).

      •A designated team leader who is articulate
      •Teams that have forged strong personal relationships with key decision makers in other departments (they sit down with these stakeholders at the lunch table)
      •Teams that have effectively communicated the value that they bring to their companies
      •Teams that can frame their arguments in terms that showcase the benefits of their request to their managers and companies
      •Teams that possess patience and diplomatic perseverance

      Bottom line is that whatever the specifics were behind the success, chances are there was a lot of careful and calculated groundwork laid out that led up to the success.

  2. Trish F.

    I agree that forging strong personal relationships with key parties is essential. When our department was moving into a new building it gave me an opportunity to influence the way our working space was created. In the beginning of the project I was kept out of the loop (being a senior designer and not considered an authority figure) and the department supervisor was making all the suggestions. Although she was a supervisor, she didn’t work with us on a daily basis so she didn’t understand our specific needs. Fortunately, I was friendly with the building manager and was able to discuss our needs (no cubicle walls, etc.) with him and then broach the subject with the supervisor who left the planning in our hands. It worked beautifully. Now if only we could get windows!