Architectural poka-yoke.


There are two buildings on the Pixar campus. Each one has only four bathrooms (two men’s, two women’s). All in the same place – the main hall of the building. No matter where you sit, if you want to pee, you have to get up from your desk, schlep down a long corridor to the staircase, down the stairs, and across the main hall to the bathroom. This layout is not an example of lousy architecture. This is by design. Steve Jobs's design.

Jobs recognized that functional silos are an unavoidable feature of large, complex organizations. He also recognized the danger in those silos—the lack of communication, the lack of cohesion, the development of an “us” and “them” mentality. The design of the buildings was one of his attempts to foster interaction and communication between departments. If you force everyone to come to the same place to go to the bathroom, they’ll see each other and talk with each other on a regular basis.

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article on the effects of moving people into different seats is testament to Jobs’ instincts. You can’t force people to think horizontally in terms of a value stream, but you can certainly help to blunt the silo mentality by forcing people to meet other people upstream and downstream. It's kind of like architectural poka-yoke -- error proofing through building design.

If your organization is growing, think about how the office is laid out and where people are physically sitting. Think about the silos that will be inevitably be created by location. What can you do to increase the level of interaction among departments?

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