The 1980s smash sitcom “Cheers” introduced us to a Boston bar filled with unique and interesting characters. No two were alike, and the collection of individuals was greater than each one alone. Although the show struggled in its first season, “Cheers” lasted eleven seasons and became one of the great sitcoms in television history. So, what does an eighties TV show set in a bar have to do with the modern workplace?
The show’s creators set out to develop a comedy around a group of colleagues and customers who related to each other like a family. Effective teams, organizations and entire companies work best when everyone is focused and collaborating together. Cohesion is important, whether in a comedy setting or in a work environment. But, perhaps even more importantly, a team that works effectively together is not a homogeneous, ordered group where everyone thinks and acts the same way. On the contrary, the key to an effective workplace culture is variety.
What was once a formal culture based on hierarchy and structure, the modern workplace has evolved into an environment that is flexible and collaborative. The synchronous workplace, where people arrived at the same time, ate lunch at the same time and in the same place, and worked in one location, has become asynchronous. Workers come and go throughout the day, work in remote locations and juggle multiple tasks. The characters on “Cheers” exemplify this notion, with their lively entrances, sarcastic-yet-supportive relationships, all-hands-on-deck attitudes, and loyalties to one another—loyalties that were perhaps never more apparent than when we watched them band together during challenges posed by the characters from the hated rival bar.
Marcus Buckingham, a leading expert on high-performing teams and organizational performance, has led discussions about the modern workplace. Buckingham advocates a focus on individuals’ strengths as key to improving workplace culture. A high-performing team is not a collection of similarities; rather, it is comprised of individuals with different strengths complimenting each other. “Cheers’” odd-couple bar patrons Norm and Cliff were perfect complimentary characters, just like waitresses Carla (the argumentative cynic) and Diane (the academic optimist). Sam, the bar owner, was the lovable leader—arrogant for sure, but not so full of himself that he overshadowed the others. “Cheers,” like a superior sports team or an efficient organization, was a collection of colorful personalities and diverse talents. It can be argued that any team, department or organization should reflect the same.
In order to be successful, companies must encourage and nurture organizational dynamics that focus on building collaboration into the organization’s DNA. Executive leadership is not a nice-to-have bonus, but a must-have requirement. Business leaders should mandate hiring and building teams that reflect a variety of skills, backgrounds, knowledge and personalities. But, leaders must also break down silos if employees can’t do so themselves. Differing points of views, when shared openly, do not bog down workflow; instead, they enhance the discussion and ultimately lead to better decision-making.
Today, leading companies have embraced collaboration and effective communication throughout their organization. This is one area that sets market leaders apart. These are the companies where everyone wants to work, regardless of the type of product or service being offered. What these companies have that others don’t is an organization that makes people want to do their best work. And, thanks to improved collaboration and a lack of silos, they are places where it’s possible that every colleague knows everyone else’s name.
Are there other television shows that embody the ideal workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.