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The Office’s guide into the art of building strong work relationships

How strong are the relationships within your team?
Do people take time out to get to know each other personally?
Do team members feel safe to openly share their thoughts?

‘The Office’ is a popular American comedy that shares serious relatable lessons about people and relationships at work.

The show is about workers at Dunder Mifflin, a made-up paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The characters have different personalities, which makes the show a good place to learn about relationships at work.

The List

The first episode, ‘The List’ in Season 8 stands out. In this episode, the staff find a mysterious list that the new CEO, Robert California, made. 

California is trying to find out who leaked information about the company’s profit results. To do this, he uses an unconventional test.

He asks the employees to write their names on a piece of paper. He puts these into a notebook. He then asks them to imagine they’re stranded on a desert island. 

They write down the names of 5 people they’d bring with them on the island. Based on their skills. Personality. And ability to survive.

Robert California divides the names into two lists:  ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.  The employees are shocked and confused by the lists. Why were they placed on one list or the other?

This makes them scared and they don’t trust each other anymore.

Watching it, I felt a familiar knot in my tummy. This situation reminded me of the tension I felt being in companies who ‘restructured’ to cut costs under the mask of ‘transformation’.

The CEO Robert gets mad at those who try to understand his list. Then, he lies by saying the list is just a doodle. This makes the staff trust him even less.

He invites a few people to lunch. The ones left behind feel left out.

When asked why he picked certain people for lunch, Robert says, “I just thought you guys were winners and I wanted to have lunch with you”. 

This makes those not picked feel even more left out.

Disconnection causes mistrust

The episode highlights the dynamics of workplace relationships. And the importance of inclusion, trust, and transparency. Any time. But especially during restructures and other changes.

We’re reminded of the how leaders have the power to create a sense of belonging, regardless of individual roles and responsibilities.

Strong relationships are the lifeline of teams

Just like a heart can’t pump blood when it’s broken, a company can’t do well if the relationships within it are broken. 

Bad relationships cause tension and slow down progress.
Good relationships are the lifeline of a team, helping it work at its best.

Good relationships create a positive atmosphere and make workers feel good. When employees feel like they belong, they’re more likely to be excited about their work.

Studies show this, too. If you have a best friend at work, you’re more likely to enjoy your job. It’s not just about working hard. It’s about making workers feel connected to each other and the company. 

It only takes one really good moment of connection to create a positive cycle of care between people.

Relationships are key to wellbeing at work and everywhere else

Relationships change the way we serve our customers, form our teams, and lead our people. In the end, they shape our wellbeing at work and in life.

But building and keeping good relationships at work isn’t always easy. 

To help you with this, I invite you to download our guide, “The Bad Work Relationships Playbook”

“Relationships are like power plays. It’s all about control. The moment you let someone get too close, they have power over you. Keep them at arm’s length, maintain the upper hand, and you’ll never be vulnerable … never let your guard down.”

– Robert California


Founder & Director

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