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No time for Office Olympics

August 16, 2009
by Tim Tolan
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While I don’t watch that much television - I am a huge fan of The Office. Regional Manager Michael Scott is the fearless leader of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The show has many great characters – all add a ton of laughs to the series. No doubt. However, I’m not sure the show would be as great as it is without my favorite character Dwight Schrute, the Assistant to the Regional Manager. His character is competitive and downright ruthless in his pathetic effort to shine and look better than anyone else in this comedic series on office politics.

I remember my own personal experience in dealing with what I call “Office Olympics”. As I look back on it now – it’s sort of funny to think about how much I stressed about it. In the end what I thought was important for me to accomplish – was unimportant in the game of life. This guy (former good friend) I worked with would do anything to make himself look good – and make me look…well you sort of get where this is going… I digress.

I’m talking about a co-worker (even a good friend) that you work with every day, go to lunch with, hang out with on weekends at cook-outs and in general – someone you enjoy being with. The difference is that the whole time you are trying to enjoy the friendship and camaraderie and the overall esprit de’ corps of what defines teamwork – your buddy is working night and day to get the right angle to make sure that the whole world knows he/she is the entire reason you even exist. Narcissistic, self-centered (ball hog) and yes…toxic (I could think of a few other ways to describe this person but I won’t) people that pretend to be your friend. Not even close. They only view you as a competitor they have to take down to advance to the next round.

Here’s the problem, these people are so competitive they will do anything to get ahead. It’s all a game for them. All they care about is winning - regardless of how they get there or how much broken glass and body-bags they leave behind or who they step on – on their way up the corporate ladder.

As a manager you need to spot super competitive co-workers and those that thrive on office politics and help them re-channel their energy for the greater cause of the organization. Being competitive is one thing – and let’s all hope we are. That’s good.

Being hyper-competitive in a team environment is not healthy. Not at all! I’m glad that experience is now a distant memory. If you have a “Dwight” on your team – keep them busy – or vote them off the island. I’m just saying.

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Comments

Joe and Anthony:

I agree with your feedback but it's amazing to me how few organizations offer executive level "coaching skills" to allow good managers to become great managers. And if you do have a "Dwight" you better keep them busy or help them find a new home.

though it may not be discussed, everyone knows when there is a "Dwight" in their midst. Good managers address the issue when it gets to a point that needs addressing bad managers ignore everything and let people "fend for themselves." The best way to be get ahead is to bring everyone along for the ride by helping them be their best. People who think they are being slick and "angling" are usually far more transparent than they realize.

Office Olympics could be adapted to be a good thing. Olympics are characterized as

1) being organized to bring people together,
2) be better than they would be without the competitive framework,
3) participants playing well defined, agreed upon games, and
4) doing so in a "project" structure - clarity on who, does what, by when.

Tim, as you and I have discussed before, office olympics / office politics get pathological when there isn't

a) clarity and appropriate placement of decision rights,
b) healthy and regular information flow, and
c) attention to motivation (that happens naturally through attention to relationships, including regular 1:1 meetings, coaching, and feedback).

If you have a "Dwight" on any team, keeping him productively busy is a matter of focusing on the ABCs (above).

Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

@@TimTolan

http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

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