Does Where A Manager Sit Affect Their Career?

Finally, there may be something to like about open office arrangements!
Finally, there may be something to like about open office arrangements!
Image Credit: Photography by Servando Miramontes

As is the case with all managers, there are probably some manager skills that you do very well and other things that you’d like to learn how to do better. The big question that we always face is how can we get the manager training to become better at the things that we don’t currently do well? It turns out that the answer is that we need to learn from those around us who do these types of things well. How can we do that? Guess what – it may be as easy as moving your desk so that you sit close to them.

Proximity Can Make You Better

If you decide that you want to improve your work performance, the first step is to find somebody who does what you want to do well. Your next step needs to be to move your desk so that you will be located close to them. The reason that you are going to want to do this is because it has been shown that simply by being close to a high achiever you can lift your performance. There are many different reasons why you’ll do better once you’ve made this move: peer pressure, inspiration, or simply new learning. What this means for us as managers is that even if we are not big fans of the current fad in office design, open offices, we can still use them to our advantage.

A study of the impact of sitting next to a high achiever has revealed that by doing so we can improve our performance by anywhere from 3% – 16%. These studies showed that productive employees, the ones who finished tasks quickly, had the ability to raise the output of their slower coworkers by 8%. It has also been shown that effective workers who are able to resolve issues by themselves without having to seek outside help can raise the effectiveness of people sitting close to them by 16%. Workers who interact well with customers can improve how people sitting close to them interact with customers by up to 3%.

The people who study such things are seeing a combination of factors at work here. First, they believe that peer pressure plays a role. Next, they think that people are becoming inspired. This is all very similar to having a charismatic leader. Where things get interested is when you realize that high performers in the office are not dragged down by having low performers positioned closely to them. Not all skills are created equally. For those skills that have no upper limits on how good we can become at them, sitting close to someone who is good at them can trigger bigger gains in us.

The Advantage Of Sitting Close To Someone

When a worker is seated close to another worker, very quickly the two workers can start to use each others skills. When one or both of the workers are passionate about their job, they can then teach that to the other and likewise to the rest of the office. In an office, it can be easy to tell who the highest performing workers are. They are the ones that everyone is going to want to be sitting close to. As workers spend more time sitting closely together, you will start to see common behaviors. It is not unusual for one of the workers to start to use the same types of words that the other worker uses.

When weaker workers sit by stronger workers, they can change. The reasons for the change can be due to them watching how their stronger colleagues go about doing their work or it may simply be because they were inspired to go out and get more training. Placing new hires on a team close to high performing team members allows the new hires to start to pick up good work habits right off the bat. These can include careful listening and meeting deadlines. Collocating one or more workers can allow a sort of “tribal effect” to start to occur and this can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending how it plays out.

There are some limitations to this technique. Placing someone close to someone else will have a benefit if and only if the their success is going to be based on the overall team performance. In this type of a situation, the high performing team members will take the time to help the other team member. This won’t work if success is going to be based on individual performance. In this case, the high performing workers will not take the time to share with the other workers. If a worker is working under the supervision of another worker, their performance gains can be especially impressive. The reason for these gains may be because the workers don’t want to be reported for not performing or because they wanted to be liked by the higher performing worker.

What All Of This Means For You

As managers, we all like to find ways to become better at what we do. The challenge that we face is that it’s never that clear how we can develop the skills and talents that we don’t already have. It turns out that by doing something as simple as locating our desk close to someone who has the skills that we want, we can learn from them and become better.

The popular open office design makes it easy to move desks around in the modern office. When you move your desk close to a high performer, there is a good chance that you will start to improve. This may be due to peer pressure, inspiration, or simply new learning. The productivity of people who relocate close to a high performer has been shown to increase by between 3% – 16%. Studies have shown that high performers will not be dragged down by having lower performing workers sit close to them. As workers sit closer to each other, very quickly you’ll start to see both workers starting to display the same types of behaviors. When new hires are placed by high performers, they can start to pick up good work habits right off the bat. There are some limitations to this technique. If the workers will benefit from the team doing well, the high performers will share with the low performers. If not, then they won’t share.

Every manager wants to become better. If you can get started on making this happen simply by moving where your desk is, who wouldn’t want to give that a try? It turns out that there are a lot of positive things that can happen when you do this. Take the time to carefully pick out who you want to be close to and then make your move!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How many people do you think can be placed close to a single high performer?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we signed up for the job of being a manager, we may not have realized the other things that came along with this job. One such thing might be the anxiety that being a manager can cause in us. This, of course, bring up the question about just exactly what anxiety is. The dictionary tells us that anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. As managers, no matter what manager skills we have, this pretty much describes every day of our lives. What can we do to deal with the anxiety that our job creates?