As a facilitator, room layout is a big part of how successful a meeting or training is going to be.
We have trained in all sorts of places, and if the room layout is not setup for good communication – no matter how well you structure the training – you’re screwed.
We know this, and so we have a room layout document we email to clients so that they can help us create the right environment. This works 95% of the time. The other 5% … well, here are some stories 🙂
The one in the bar …
We were training in Mumbai, India at a hotel. We arrived the night before and got up early to setup the room and prepare everything before the first person arrived. This is where we hit the first glitch – the hotel had no idea who we were. Once the organiser arrived, he quickly sorted out the confusion. The hotel was overbooked for training that day and they had forgotten about us. With less than 30 minutes to the start this was trouble. They decided that the best solution was for us to train in the bar. It was the only room large enough and available. WOW! It was dark, the tables were small so people felt cramped and there was a fish pond in the middle of the room! Luckily on day 2 we were moved to a proper conference room and we could end the training on a good note.
The one in the computer training room…
Another incident had us arrive to a computer training room. Rows of unmovable desks with PCs and screens on them. Again – trouble! With no other room available we quickly moved all the PCs and screens to one side to free up table space. This helped a bit. Sitting in a row though we couldn’t get table groups of people, and quickly had to adjust our plan for groups of 3 sitting next to each other. This was our least interactive training ever. It was really difficult to get discussions going.
The boardroom problem…
Often companies only have a big boardroom with a large table in the middle. This is not great for training. We have sometimes been lucky to find a cafeteria or general area with smaller tables to use instead. Other times, we have had to break the training into smaller groups due to size of room constraints. When we have done sessions with people seated around board room tables, we find it is less conducive to group discussions and leads to more lecturing. Boardrooms are designed for one person to give a presentation to a group, and people naturally resort to this behaviour when in a boardroom.
What we prefer…
Our preferred room layout is cabaret style. i.e. small round tables seating groups of five to seven comfortably. The room should be large enough to have open space for some of the games. We look for a room with dimensions 7m x 9m for 20 people, with four tables. Ideally the tables should be small enough (around 1.5m–2m diameter) that people can easily talk to everyone at the table, but still have place for everyone to take notes.
The room and layout impact how people feel, how likely they are to have conversations, and how likely they are to participate. Most importantly as the facilitator you need to be comfortable and preferably not the centre of attention. Think of your meetings and trainings. Which ones went really well? Which one’s didn’t go well? How much did the room layout impact them?
In our book “Growing Agile: A Coach’s Guide to Training Scrum” we explain the room layout we use and how to structure your training to maximise learning. We use small activities which can be easily altered should you not have control over your room, or arrive and be suprised 🙂
Growing Agile: A Coach’s Guide to Training Scrum with forewords from Ron Jeffries and Sharon Bowman.