Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility

this was posted to the oslist, in response to a question about a conversation we had at the intl ost practitioners' conference in marysville, australia. thanks to paul everett for this...

...the building is Steelcase's Research and Development center in Michigan, I think it was Grand Rapids (I was in four different Michigan cities on that trip, so that may be in error). It has been 15 years ago that I was there. The building is a four-sided pyramid about six or more stories tall. Some of the designs to improve creativity and communications included the following:

Very few, very small elevators to move people or materials from floor to floor. People don't talk on elevators. Instead, access is usually by escalators going up the inside of the pyramid because people talk on escalators.

In the center of each wall of the pyramid on most floors' outside edge, if not every floor, is a spontaneous gathering place complete with coffee, tea, water, high stools and round tables, white boards, paper, markers, etc., etc., for impromptu brainstorming, meetings, problem-solving, etc. That means that there are four such centers on each floor, maybe. I didn't actually see that on every floor, so I may be wrong on how many but that they did exist on many floors is correct.

There are no offices with walls, even for the director. Everyone is in cubicles, padded, with hushers, and the walls are just over waist high, so talk between people is fairly easy. There are glassed-in meeting rooms where people can meet and talk in a private way, if needed. The entire floor is very visible.

There were some training rooms inside the building on the first floor where seminars are held with both internal and external resource persons. When I was there, a very prestigious quality expert was holding forth (not Deming, but someone who was well known in quality). At the time, Steelcase was moving vigorously to embrace the Lean paradigm of production, customer service, quality, etc. (See Association for Manufacturing Excellence--www.ame.org; Lean Enterprise Institute, etc.)

In the center of the building, suspended from the top, was a huge ball that oscillated back and forth and changed positions as the earth turned. Not sure of its purpose other than as an art form. There was also some conversation about the "energy" of the place because of the pyramidal form, but that was anecdotal, at best.

That's what I can recall right off the top of my head. I'm sure there is probably something in architectural archives about the design because it was sure unusual for the times and the company themselves may have something on it on their website. Such things as websites were nascent in those days, if at all present, so I haven't any information about it. I'm amused at myself about "those days" because, time wise, it wasn't so long ago but technology-wise, it was just the beginning of the technological renaissance we now almost take for granted and that enables this message to you.

Hope you find this helpful and if you wish, it's OK to post on the Listserv so others can have the information.

Yours truly,

Paul Everett, Consultant

Lean Systems Thinking