The very best community based enterprise centres are usually described as convivial – friendly, agreeable and welcoming. That is convivial to the people whom the centre has been set up to serve – who need to feel relaxed and at home in the space.
My favourite local example of this is perhaps the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre in Leeds. As you walk in you are faced with a (usually busy) community cafe – full of friendly local faces, from all generations, enjoying food, drink and conversation. The reception desk is a modest affair on your immediate right. This is a venue where the people that the centre serves are likely to feel at home, relaxed and welcomed. It has been designed that way.
This is in stark contrast to some enterprise centres that are certainly ‘impressive’ but are perhaps not always convivial. Automatic glass doors opening into impressive atriums followed by a walk to a large reception desk situated in front of a wall of frosted glass panels staffed by receptionists in business suits with blue tooth ear pieces and large monitors on their desk tops. Impressive – but not convivial. Not to many local people. As a friend of mine commented, ‘to some people the gap between the entrance and the reception desk might as well be a shark infested ocean…’
We know the importance of making enterprise clients feel relaxed and open so that they are comfortable to talk openly and honestly about their ideas – rather than feel that have to put on a show to ‘fit in’. Ernesto Sirolli tells the story of a woman who visited him in a university business centre. She was like a fish out of water, tongue tied, embarrassed and not at all at ease in her environment. When he arranged to visit her in her kitchen he met a woman transformed – relaxed, in control, articulate and confident in her own home. The description she gave of her enterprise idea was articulate, insightful and honest.
When I am training enterprise coaches I will get them to practice a new coaching skill in a relaxed and informal setting – a garden or patio for example. I will then ask them to use the same skills in a more formal business meeting room. The change in quality is palpable. They feel the difference.
Context matters, architecture matters, power symbols matter.
So when you are deciding where to meet your next enterprise client don’t just choose the most impressive local enterprise centre. Instead help them to choose a setting that they find convivial and welcoming. One that is likely to help you to do great work.
You might find that the ‘impressive enterprise centre’ is better kept for when you want them to practice being out of their comfort zone.