In the September 2011 issue of The Harvard Business Review, Charalambos Vlachoutsicous recounts a story in “How to Cultivate Engaged Employees” where a CEO for whom he consulted reported significant improvements in engagement and productivity by holding meetings at a round conference table. We might have heard similar tales where round table settings dampened a hierarchical atmosphere putting people more at ease. A rectangular table by contrast plays to hierarchy.
Interestingly, we can explore the sensibility of this further with geometrics. The maximum volume achievable with a given surface area is a sphere. For example, soup cans are cylindrical since you can’t stack spheres on a shelf without them rolling off. A cylinder is as close as you can get to sphere allowing for a flat bottom. (Why other liquid containers might not be cylindrical I suspect has more to due with the strength properties of the packaging material vis-à-vis the product it is holding.)
Similar to the sphere, the greatest achievable surface area within a given constraint of a linear boundary (perimeter or circumference) is a circle. And how might we best fit a circular table into a conference room? Well, if not a round room then a square one – just not rectangular. A square is, as you might now guess, is the four-sided polygon shape that maximizes area for a given perimeter.
So it seems that King Arthur’s choice of table design not only supports an environment void of hierarchy – promoting collaboration , it is also quite efficient in design.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Thanks for reading and Have a Great Day!