What “The Office” Can Teach You About Collaboration

What "The Office" Can Teach You About CollaborationFor eight years the Dunder Mifflin gang from “The Office” made us laugh as characters like the annoying Dwight and the crabby Stanley and the inept Michael interacted and make us think about our own cast of characters in our office.

Still, despite their follies and fights, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this fictional workplace that can be applied to our own careers, especially when it comes to collaboration.

A bad message is a bad message. No matter how many times you may repeat something you believe to be clever or insightful or funny, if members of the team don’t react positively to it, you need to move on. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to communicate with someone who is stuck on a message that doesn’t resonate. If you get the kind of reactions that these workers give Michael to “that’s what she said,” then that’s your first clue you need to become a better communicator. If colleagues tune you out, then you can bet they won’t be open to your ideas or input in the future.  Such lack of cooperation can lead to you missing out on promotions, big projects or even jeopardize your job.

Build rapport with integrity. Office politics are a reality of life, but too many people fall into the trap of believing that dishing the dirt is a way to build rapport. If you rely on insulting someone or portraying them in a less-than-flattering light as a way to “be part of the conversation” as Michael says in this clip, you’re way off base. Michael notes that he loves the way “eyes light up” when he shares juicy tidbits, and “it’s wonderful to be the center of attention.” But collaboration requires trust, and if you gossip, team members may be wary that they’ll be your next target. As Michael notes: “You can’t un-tell something. You can’t put words back in your mouth.

Don’t automatically shoot down someone’s idea. While we all like to see Jim take on Dwight and reveal the idiocy of his ideas, in reality we need to be more accommodating of others if we want to be true collaborators. Even if the person annoys you, it’s a good idea to put your personal judgments aside and listen. Sometimes even your office’s Dwight has a good idea, and it’s not in your best interest or that of your company’s to dismiss it just because you don’t like the person.

Never burn bridges. It can be difficult to get along with everyone, and sometimes harsh words are exchanged in the heat of the moment.  Diversity is being embraced by more companies as they seek to generate new ideas, but that mix of personalities can sometimes lead to real conflict. If you’ve got a problem with a team member, collaboration depends on  finding a way to resolve your differences and work together. Remember, the business world can often be a very small one and you never know who you will need to work with again and again.  It’s a lesson Michael finds out in this clip when his least-favorite person returns.

Don’t fake out team members. Whether it’s telling a little lie or a big whopping one, not being honest with team members can quickly derail collaboration. Again, trust is key and even one fib or deception can damage the network needed to ensure everyone is on the same page. If different people have different agendas, collaboration will be ineffective, inefficient and could jeopardize the company’s future.  Watch this clip of the fire drill designed by Dwight and see how quickly things can get out of hand when honesty goes up in flames.

No planking. OK, this clip has nothing to do with collaboration, but I wanted to include it because it’s so funny. Wait….maybe you have an idea on what this can teach us about collaboration? Let’s hear your thoughts!















Photo Credit © Sarah Says Watch It

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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