Collaborative Leaders Watch Where They Sit

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August 2012
by Carol Kinsey Goman

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In most of the meetings you attend or lead, the seating arrangement may not be an issue. In a collaborative session, though, it can make a big difference. I’m not suggesting that you use place cards for attendees, but you should be aware that strategic positioning is an effective way to obtain cooperation—and that neglecting this dynamic can make it harder to reach your collaborative goals.

Have you ever noticed that when two people sit at a table, they often choose chairs on opposite sides? This is automatically adversarial in terms of territory—the kind of seating arrangement that divorce attorneys and their clients typically adopt. Groups of people may also sit on opposite sides of a conference table and unwittingly divide to encourage an “us” and “them” mentality. If you intentionally preclude this kind of division, you can discourage the tendency to “take sides.”

Sitting at right angles is the arrangement most conducive to informal conversation. Sitting side by side is the next best. This is important to remember if you want to foster personal ties among team members.

The outcome of any collaborative effort is dependent on well-developed relationships among participants. People are naturally reluctant to share information with others when they don’t know them personally well enough to evaluate their trustworthiness. So if you notice that the same people are taking the same seats at every meeting, rearrange the seating to encourage new relationships to develop….IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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