Almost every office room meeting place has a table. Rooms of different sizes gets filled up with tables of comparable sizes barely leaving enough space for the chairs and some people to move around. Using the right tools for the right job is necessary, the same way the right meeting room setup is necessary for different types of meetings. A typical conference table usually creates a perception in the attendees that either there is a head of the table or sub consciously it is a Us vs Them debate. If a lot of collaboration is required in the gathering then the table in between the people does not help.
Anything in between people is a barrier, unless people are trained to overcome that. Tables are usually designed to fit the room such that the periphery is a usable space. A typical conference is room is bigger length wise, trying to focus on one side of the room where the presenter or the head of the table is. I have observed in many of the meetings when we need to have a huddle or a focussed discussion then most of the people leave their seats and crowd around a corner to put their ideas together and come with a common picture. Every person in the room has to shift to some other side leaving the comfort of their seats to get something done.
Increasingly we use workshop/brainstorm style meetings which requires frequent huddles and group interactions. By having a large almost square shaped room without tables to occupy the free space, we will be able to promote free movement of people. Also the square shape will not plant a thought in people’s mind that the conversation is unidirectional. The times I have tried this approach of having sessions in large rooms and easy to move furniture, I found good level of participation from everyone.
Table is definitely an important furniture but filling rooms entirely with a table for convenience will make people just too comfortable in their zones.
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