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Seating plan worth its salt

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Despite all those years of office design gurus droning on about non-hierarchical layouts, you know perfectly well that after you've done the snagging, the office manager is going to shift the desks around so that they become a diagram of his notion of the office power structure.

It's particularly easy to do in open plan offices, so it's not surprising that even nice, otherwise non-hierarchical architects do it in their own offices. After you have worked in a few you learn how to read a seating plan for who's in and who's out. It's potentially useful at interviews - providing they give you a tour beforehand.

There may be consolation in the knowledge that the power diagram thing has been going on for a long time. That term 'below the salt', which refers to lower status people, has its origin in medieval seating plans - the position of the salt down the table apparently marked the dividing line between favourites and non-favourites.

At architecture school a psychology tutor of mine once developed a quite interesting theory off the back of this about how any group is made up of archetypal characters. We spent a lot of time discussing the social dynamics of such as Crown Prince, Court Jester, Queen, Seneschal and the Naughty Girl.

But for my money, the figures you need to suss out before any interview are the Bastard Accountant, the Evil Heir Apparent, the Boring Old Fart - oh, and The Groper in the Dark.

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