Don’t let history repeat itself: Pop culture examples to show you what not to do with your team

Don't let history repeat itself: Pop culture examples to show you what not to do with your team
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While we’ve already lauded the benefits of reading to improve your trajectory as a scale-up entrepreneur, that doesn’t mean books are the only sources of inspiration when it comes to the next steps. Corporate environments in a plethora of industries play prominently, and not only that; you can pick up some don’ts when it comes to designing your corporate culture from both film and television.

The Social Network

While Facebook has become an essential part of our lives, its growth trajectory, and the film that illustrated its rise from a project born out of a Harvard dorm to a Silicon Valley powerhouse can teach all scale-up entrepreneurs a valuable lesson. Which of the relationship dynamics could that be? It’s between Zuckerberg and his co-founder Eduardo Saverin and the events leading to the dilution of Eduardo Saverin’s ownership stake in Facebook (the only shareholder that saw a dilution) and his subsequent ouster.

The scene portraying Saverin’s eventual ouster is perhaps one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

While The Social Network focuses on the initial startup changes, you can be sure that some of the adverse side effects in scaling up are there for all to see in David Fincher’s masterful direction and Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting.

Twelve Angry Men

This 1957 classic about a New York City jury is a classic in just about any Organizational Behavior class in some of the world’s most prestigious business schools, but there are a lot of lessons one can take when it comes to leadership and group dynamics. Henry Fonda’s character, throughout the film, successfully turns the jury from making a rash decision based on prejudice to then arriving at the appropriate conclusion. The jurors didn’t listen to their initial instincts, and in the end, successfully arrived at a more responsible decision.

Office Space

Along with Twelve Angry Men, if you took Organizational Behavior at some point during business school, then there’s a good chance a few clips in Office Space also made it onto your OB class’s syllabus. This satirical look at mundane cubicle culture is a treasure trove of what bosses should not do. One of the aims of the HiOP is to think about the long-term, but a critical mistake that Peter, the main character’s boss makes is to have him come into work one weekend at the last minute to make up for not having enough employees and thus puts short-term thinking. Peter’s boss also flaunts his status with his Porsche parked in the best spot and the vanity plate with utter disregard for how that makes the rest of his team feel. Other sins that Lumbergh commits? They include treating your team members as positions in an organizational chart instead of people; ineffective communication exemplified every time someone inquired “did you get the memo?”, and of course, creating rules just to have rules.

Perhaps this scene about the TPS reports can best highlight the final two points:

The Office


Your first question might be which version we’re referring to. Not to worry: both of the bosses on this show on both sides of the pond can give us insights on what not to do. Let’s start with the UK. David Brent, the boss Ricky Gervais expertly brought to life, gives us an essential primer of what one should not do with his or her team. To put it bluntly, David Brent’s efforts of  “acting like a try hard comedian and purely assuming that everyone is happy with your management is inappropriate, and makes your colleagues less likely to want to do things for you in the future.” There is a reason why some claim that David Brent might be the worst boss of all time. If you doubted it, this quote from the first episode puts it into perspective: “I suppose I’ve created an atmosphere where I’m a friend first and a boss second. Probably an entertainer third.”

In the American version, we can laud Michael Scott for placing a high importance on Dunder Mifflin’s corporate culture, because after all, “[t]he people that you work with are, when you get down to it, your very best friends.” Despite that, Michael Scott’s management and the rest of what we can see in life at Dunder Mifflin, highlights some problems, especially when looking at the dynamic between Michael and the ineffective HR manager, Toby. The office is rife with inappropriate behavior, and Michael disliked Toby because Toby was trying to implement policies. Toby’s efforts to stop Michael Scott were unsuccessful. “Toby is ineffectual and weak and is not able to curb Michael. Toby can’t stop Michael’s clear favoritism of certain employees, nor is Toby able to effectively communicate with other staff.” Other behavior to avoid? Unclear boundaries between personal and professional, reading people’s private complaints out loud in front of the entire office, and of course, don’t make office politics the forefront of the workday. We can see that clearly throughout the show’s nine seasons: “The employees in The Office spend far more time spying, gossiping and posturing than actually working. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon in many workplaces, according to Kathi Elster, president of K Squared Enterprises and coauthor of Working with You Is Killing Me.”

Mad Men

One of the most curious things about this spectacular show about an advertising agency in the 1960’s and early 1970’s is something we warn against: there is no HR department. Indeed, the dynamic inside Sterling Cooper, then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, was often this: “…men as leering, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking corporate bosses and women as their buxom, romantic toys. The show gave us an example of what workplaces can look like without an HR department to enforce policies against sexist behavior and drinking alcohol on the job.”

Any others?

Like Mad Men, we can see the effects of sexist behavior in a workplace environment in the 1970’s-set Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy as Ron Burgundy and the rest of the group have significant trouble letting Veronica Corningstone enter the fold as Burgundy’s co-anchor. In The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly did wisely hire Andie Sachs by looking beyond the job description, but she bestows her wisdom on her employees in a tyrannical corporate culture. The news station crew’s dynamics also highlights how unfairly they treat Brick Tamland. And, of course, let us not forget Horrible Bosses.


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