I manage a team of 10 engineers, and after 3 years we are finally moving our engineering office outside the plant.

Everybody is looking forward to it, and I have opened the process by putting all my planning/decision-making into our corporate wiki, however, I'm not sure this is enough of an open forum to have everybody have a say.

At the same time, I believe it may turn into "design by committee" or have the "too many cooks in the kitchen"/"bike shedding" problem if I start asking what people like best, leading to not being able to meet everybody's wishes.

So, to what degree it is healthy to open up the process and decision-making?, what ground rules are absolutely essential to not turning this kind of situation into the previous problems?, and most importantly:

How to have everybody feel they have input into the process?


It becomes a "design by committee" issue if an actual committee or a de facto committer makes the design decisions. There is no actual committee in your case, so the only risk comes from the team and you acting as a de facto committee:

The first step toward mitigating this issue is that while you accept inputs from the team in term of ideas, you make it clear to everyone including yourself that the final decision on whether any of the ideas suggested are implemented and how these ideas are implemented - that decision belongs to you and you alone.

The second step is making sure that your stylistic decisions are consistent with each other and that they add up to some recognizable stylistic theme. A pot pourri of inconsistent stylistic decisions i.e. that look that they have been randomly strung together - that pot pourri will inevitably raise the suspicion that the design choices were made through some committee wheeling and dealing and general politicking that led to inglorious compromises in terms of design choices.

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Short answer: take their input into account. Also don't turn it into design by committee

Longer answer:

1. How to make them feel like their input is taken into account. I'm assuming that you're actually willing to take their input into account, otherwise you will not achieve this. Then it's just a matter of having a clear and open process of how you are taking their input into account. For example not only informing them about the decisions, but which factors you weighed into these decisions. Not only can they see that their input was taken into consideration, but also the bigger picture of other factors that came into play

2. How not to turn it into design by committee. Somewhat related to the first point. Take their input into account but don't let that be the only factor! Perhaps based on the input, and other factors, you could decide some general guidelines. These could then be a stronger factor in individual decisions that just the specific input for that specific questions.

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Try to select furniture and office layouts that allow each occupant the maximum possible opportunity to adjust and customize their own workarea.

For example, some people work best with back to the hallway, for less distraction as people walk by. Others feel very uncomfortable that way, and prefer to face the hallway.

On move-in day, and for a day or so afterwards, there will be a lot of furniture arranging, as people work out designs that suit them and copy designs others have devised. Some time will be wasted, but less than in a series of meetings or votes.

After that, everyone will be in a space over which they had real control. Everyone will be a winner, getting a layout they like, with no losers.

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I recommend asking each staff member to give you their input confidentially. This may be in addition to or instead of open meetings and open wiki editing. For one thing, when your staff member expresses an opinion to you confidentially, it may be easier to show that you appreciate their opinion even when you don't agree with their recommendation. For another, this ensures that everyone participates rather than only those most vocal at meetings or prolific at wiki.

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  • Yeah, group meetings can quickly turn into committees if they begin to discuss among themselves. From there to expecting you to respect the collective decision the path is too short. What about some closed webpoll if you have a clear choice between 2 opposite options? Not more than 2 clear and contrasting options or it's chaos because someone will want to add his own, so this is no good for choosing the coffee machine. – Formagella Dec 9 '14 at 17:03

My recommended approach would be to start by setting expectations. As Vietnhi said, make it clear you are in charge and you will make the decisions.

One valid approach is to "ration" their input. Ask each team member to send you 3 things they really would like to have in the new office, and 3 things they would rather not be at the new office. Have them each send their items to you privately. If someone sends more than 3 in a category, discount everything after 3.

Then, in your Wiki, a bulletin board, or wherever, put all the items from each submission up. Don't attach names to them, just the items. Some will be incompatible with each other. Some won't be possible due to resource constraints, and make it clear which ones aren't sticking around for those reasons.

Let the team, as a team, weigh in on how to rank the ideas, and then go with it, as time and resources allow. Give them this window into the planning, and handle everything else yourself. It will make life a lot simpler.

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