Want To Collaborate Better? Work In A Circle

Your environment greatly influences your working disposition. Gather ’round to hear how.

Want To Collaborate Better? Work In A Circle

Hear ye, hear ye, kings and queens: Research suggests that if you want your knights to work together, you need to sit them at a round table.


Why? It’s a matter of environment, a new study from two Canadian business schools suggests: If people are sitting in a circle, they’re more apt to cooperate, while if they’re arranged into rows, they’ll become more independent and cutthroat–more of a free-Lancelot, if you would.

“The round table approach may work to foster collaboration for corporate boards, at workplace meetings or at restaurants,” Quartz reports. “By contrast, those who sit in an angular arrangement–think Donald Trump’s The Apprentice–display more maverick, self-centered attitudes.”

Here’s how it worked: Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta asked 350 or so undergrads to sit in one of seven chairs and rate advertisements. Their responses to the ads reflected the way they sat: The folks sitting in a circle like ads with groups of friends or family while those in rectangular formations were into images of individualists.

Again: why?

“The geometric shape of a seating arrangement can act as a subtle environmental cue for people, by priming their fundamental need for inclusiveness or individuality,” says Juliet Zhu, a co-author of the forthcoming study and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

Managers should be aware of this predictive predilection and arrange working rooms accordingly, Zhu says. This is a point we’ve touched upon before: that the work humans do is affected by the way that they do it–whether analog or digital–and where they do it.


As a workplace anthropologist might say, the environments we work in should be tailored to the work to be done–whether collaborative, independent, or whatever your grail may be.

Hat tip: Quartz

[Image: Flickr user Stephen Bowler]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.