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March 30, 2012
Finding the Office Culture 'Sweet Spot'
 
This past weekend, my husband and I were invited over to a friend’s house for dinner, and afterwards, we played “Catchphrase.” If you haven’t played it before, it’s sort of like the verbal companion to the game of Pictionary…one partner describes something (versus drawing it) and the other person has to guess, all while racing to beat the clock. As soon as the correct phrase is guessed, the Catchphrase gizmo is handed off to the other team. The goal is not to be stuck with it when the timer runs out.
As we progressed in the game, I realized something important.

My husband and I hit that awesome zone where we were getting a lot of questions right based on the common language we had between us. We were totally reading each other and barely got started with the guessing before the other person already said the right answer. We were on fire!

In order to be successful in guessing the right phrase, it helps to have that shared understanding of how you and your partner think and communicate. Even though each round went by in a flash, I found myself pausing for a second to think about how to describe the phrase in a way I knew that he would best respond. It took a moment to come up with those reference points using ideas and words that he would “get.”

In a way, what he and I share is a mutual culture that we have developed between the two of us. This “culture” is the result of shared experiences, ideas, and a familiarity with each of our individual communication styles. 

A similar parallel can be drawn between employees and the workplace. In order for a company to be successful, we need to build that same interpersonal synergy that enables us to collectively drive towards common work goals.

So how do you get to that “sweet spot” of a really great workplace dynamic?

A lot of times, it happens naturally. As sort of a natural gravity, we tend to get pulled towards certain people. But a lot of times, building that kind of connection with office mates happens through a series of interactions. Once you take the time to get to know the other person, you are paving the way to evolving your business relationship into a higher level of collaboration.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever connected to someone on the job that you would have probably never otherwise had anything to do with?

At one of my previous jobs, I was fortunate enough to see how polar opposites can find common ground while working together.
 
This co-worker was not someone I would have probably reached out to, based upon our differences of opinion on many things. But, after being thrown together on a project, we built a strong collaborative relationship based on familiarity, shared experiences, and ideas. And respect.

Soon, it wasn’t long before we were both stopping by each other’s office to bounce ideas off of each other or get the other person’s opinion. We came up with some really great projects that ended up having tremendously positive impacts on the company.

I really miss this person…we both were big thinkers who could also get down to the ground-level detail, which isn’t a trait many people have.

My point is that while you should allow yourself to be magnetically pulled towards the people with whom you connect most easily, you shouldn’t rule out the potential of developing a strong connection with the polar opposites either.

Sometimes, it is those respectful differences of opinion that can really bring out the best in people, too.

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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