That's What She Said

Speaking my truth about team-building

Litigation Value: Aside from a potential workers’ compensation claim for Toby, from having a paper airplane thrown directly into his eye, Dunder Mifflin is getting off light this week.

This week, we all got to relax a bit, as the Dunder Mifflin employees let their hair down and their competitive beasts out and took part in a paper airplane-throwing contest. The contest was structured tournament-style, much like March Madness, and ended in a showdown between Dwight and Angela, which is always good fun. Of course, Toby ended up with a paper airplane injury to his eye, which could give rise to a workers’ compensation claim — even though he wasn’t actually working when he incurred the injury — if he can prove that he was injured while participating in an activity that his employer made mandatory. Of course, he’s a bit culpable too, wandering across the “playing field” while Pam was throwing her airplane. Cue the collective “Tobyyyyyyy” groan.

But enough about Toby: I want to talk about an opportunity that employees often appreciate: team-building! Plenty of employers have found that the occasional fun activity — office parties, picnics, or little competitions — can do wonders for morale and, by extension, often has the effect of boosting productivity. Michael Scott had this concept mastered, although he often took it too far. (Indeed, several seasons ago, one of the employees — I want to say it was Phyllis, but I could be wrong about that — remarked that Michael distracts them so much that they then have to work extra hard to squeeze all of their work into a fraction of the day, thus boosting their productivity.)

Last night’s episode brought back particularly fond memories for me. Personal anecdote: Some years ago, at another job, I participated in a paper basketball league that my supervisor dreamed up. The “PBA” was exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of us standing at varying distances from the trash can, tossing wadded-up pieces of paper at it and distracting the rest of the office by occasionally erupting into loud cheers. But we turned it into something special. We had “league events.” We had competitions. We had a union. We had labor disputes. I was the league publicist; it was my job to post notices of “PBA Tournaments” all over the office, annoying everyone who didn’t participate. At the end of the day, we had a grand time, and we somehow managed to get our work done, too.

Of course, our PBA wasn’t organized — or sanctioned — by our employer, the way last night’s paper airplane-throwing contest was.  But if it had been, I’d like to think that the agency I worked for would have reaped some benefit, too.  After our “paper basketball” breaks, we always returned to our desks refreshed, energized, ready to input some data. (Yes, it was a data entry job.) I got through my work faster, and with fewer errors, after getting my blood pumping with some good, old-fashioned paper-hurling and fun with my office friends.

Indeed, early in my career, I stumbled upon the theory that employees are more productive if they feel invested in their co-workers. I did my best work when I felt I was working with friends, and my PBA pals certainly were friends. It’s the theory behind many an office picnic or March Madness pool, too. Give people something to look forward to — aside from just lunch and 5:00, that is — and they’ll work both harder and smarter.

Dwight won $2,000 in the paper airplane-throwing contest. And aside from Angela’s stalking off and Erin’s meltdown, the rest of the crew won a mental break and a fun afternoon. I’ll bet they really appreciated the opportunity to enjoy some time with their co-workers, away from their desks, and that they returned energized and ready to sell some paper. So Dunder Mifflin wins, too.

On a separate note, to speak my truth — all kidding or sarcasm aside — I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to geek out over “The Office” and share my enthusiasm for employment law on this blog.  Thanks, friends.  If you need me, I’ll be the one throwing wadded-up paper balls at the trash can and scolding anyone who gets into an office romance.  Cheers!

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