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Article by Mike Bloomberg - You're in Charge: Tear Down the Walls

December 17, 2019

This article was written by Mike Bloomberg.

Some people like to build walls.  I like to tear them down.

When I left my company for City Hall, I made clear that I expected our company's tradition of openness – with no private offices – to continue.  When I returned to the company 12 years later, I noticed that some people had technically complied: They didn't build their own offices, but they had created private conference rooms filled with family photos and personal items.

I didn't say anything that first week.  But when they returned to work Monday morning, the walls to the conference rooms had been taken down.  They got the message.

I don't have a private office, no less a corner office. I sit at the same-sized desk as everyone else, with no walled cubicles. It's a completely open environment. If someone needs to ask me or any other senior person a question, they walk up and ask it.  No getting through a gatekeeper. All of our offices, in 73 countries around the world, follow these same principles.

People are always surprised when they see that I sit out in the open. But if you're in charge, why would you want to wall yourself off from your team?  It makes no sense, but it's tradition – and an ego trip – so executives think they're entitled to it.  I'd tell them: Get over it.  It's not about you. It's about the team.

The way teams interact is crucial to their success.  In sports, the coach or manager is right there with the players, giving directions, drawing on white boards, huddling during timeouts, motivating and inspiring – and picking someone up when they've made a mistake.  Managers in every organization should be performing those same roles.  Walls just get in the way, by stifling communication and making collaboration more difficult.

Office walls also breed discord and distrust.  Closed door meetings?  People start buzzing: "Who's in there – and what are they talking about?"  People start jockeying for position, and working against one another.  It's toxic for teamwork.

When I was first elected mayor, I was determined to bring openness to City Hall.  But the inside of the building had looked more or less the same for generations. The mayor had a private, corner office.  Deputy mayors had their own private offices and most meetings were held in private conference rooms behind heavy wooden doors.

We took a different approach. We cleared out the biggest room in the building – formerly used for occasional public hearings and ceremonial functions – and turned it an open office, which we called "the bullpen." (No bull was allowed.) My senior staff and their teams all sat together in the same room, and I sat right in the middle. It was a whole new approach to managing City Hall, but it's the way I've always done things.

Longtime political observers were certain that our open office would lead to lots of leaks, because so many people would overhear sensitive conversations. They couldn't have been more incorrect.  We had virtually no leaks – which is unheard of in government – because everyone felt a strong sense of team.  Openness fostered trust and trust fostered loyalty and loyalty fostered incredible amounts of hard work.

Walls invite other problems too. As the old saying goes: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The more transparency there is, the less possibility for corruption, self-dealing, and other wrong-doing. If you want to hide nefarious activity, it's easier to do that behind closed doors.

Open spaces have a profoundly positive impact on how organizations operate, by encouraging teamwork and collaboration, fostering trust, and creating a level playing field where everyone feels like an equally important piece of the whole. They also help good ideas take root and spread, because they can be more easily shared.

If I'm elected president, I'll run the White House the way I've always run things. I'll use the Oval Office for some official functions, but the rest of the time I'll sit in the open with everyone else.

Walls divide. The job of leaders is to unite. Our country's founders understood that – it's captured in our national motto, E pluribus unum. Managers who unite can achieve great things, while those that don't are destined to fail.

Michael Bloomberg, Article by Mike Bloomberg - You're in Charge: Tear Down the Walls Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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