Leaders Craft Environments Intentionally

Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that the way you decorate or arrange a space changes what it feels like to work or meet in that environment. Right now, offices everywhere are decorated with some form of holiday cheer. Unless you are Scrooge himself, you like it and are probably more productive. The nature of the environment changes what happens inside of it. Consider two vastly different experiences I had recently.

Two weeks ago I attended a church service in a room that was attractively staged with fabric, art, and candles–lots of them. The music was acoustic–simple, with an interesting blend of guitar, beat box, djembe, and the occasional soft tambourine. The congregation sat in a circle of chairs a couple rows deep so they might all see one another.

Kyliah
View of Church #2
(And of my niece, Kyliah, who is truly amazing!)

Then a week ago I attended a second church which could not have been more different from the first. The room where we met was a plain rectangular box with nothing on the walls, but wine colored paint. The floor was black painted concrete. There was no art. No texture. Nothing to invite imagination or create warmth. The rows of chairs were lined up in straight rows facing one of the large blank walls.  “Up front” all you saw was two black metal music stands and a pull down screen. The guitar player/vocalist/worship leader stood at one stand and after a few announcements, the pastor of the day stood at the other. The environment was sterile and no surprise, the response and engagement of the congregation felt exactly the same.

Two churches couldn’t be more different. Both churches were from the same denomination, the same city. Both are smaller congregations, so the difference wasn’t size. Interestingly, even though the sermon at the second church service was more engaging and provocative, I wouldn’t go back there. I would easily go back to the first church.

In the same way that non-verbal cues are so important to communication, crafting the texture and ethos of the environment where you meet or work or worship or think or create will shape everything that happens there, too. Think about your own experiences. The environment where things happen:

    • Sets expectations. As soon as people walk into a room, the start making judgements about what is about to take place.
    • Communicates values. What matters most to you and what values govern the meeting/ training/ or event people are about to participate in? How the room is set up will communicate those values.
    • Creates an invitation. What you do with the space you have invites people to participate in certain ways. Church #1 invited me into a sacred conversation together with the rest of the congregation. Church #2 invited me sit, listen, put my creative self on hold, and participate if I wanted without any engagement wit others. And, these invitations were clear as soon as I walked into the room.

So ask yourself:

    • What do I want to invite people into?
    • How do I want them to participate?
    • What forms of art, color, lighting, texture, plants, or sound could create an environment that transports people out of whatever preoccupied them beforehand and into a new space that fosters the experience and participation you long for?
    • How could you arrange the seating of participants to encourage maximum contribution?  Never settle for how others left the room before you got there, move things around until it feels right.

 

You don’t have to hold back until you can make permanent changes, either. In the same way a good realtor “stages” a house to show well–bring in what ever you can to stage the room where you will meet, work, etc.

 

What works for you?  What secrets have you learned about creating an environment that invites people into a more powerful experience? Make a comment, share the love.

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