Just before the opening ceremonies in Beijing, Tavia Grant from The Globe & Mail sent me an e-mail and interviewed me for her story on how managers should deal with people watching the Olympics at the office (“World’s Watching: Who’s Working”, August 8, 2008).

As the Globe & Mail so often is, her story was very timely. It also raised key leadership questions. This issue is a great way to contrast enslaving and overbearing cultures and their heavy handed bosses with more open, fun, and team oriented cultures with their people focused leaders. I wrote about this in an excerpt entitled “Might is No Longer Right” from The Leader’s Digest.

If engaging and retaining top people is a concern (as it is becoming for many organizations), a much watched event like the Olympics could be a time to build a stronger relationship between the manager and his or her team and with team members. Some of my perspectives on this broader issue can be found here.

Here are a few other leadership points this issue raises:

  • People are going to do what they want to do. No amount of bossing is going to stop that. Leadership is getting people to work towards a single goal or purpose. The Olympics are a great way to show how teams come together to accomplish great things.
  • A group’s “laughter index” or the amount of fun there are having at work correlates with their commitment to the organization, innovation, customer service levels, attendance, etc.
  • Draconian rules may bring about short term productivity and keep people from “goofing off.” But when the bigger picture of attraction and retaining (both very dependent upon organizational or management’s reputation) and engagement are considered, heavy-handedness will always hurt and the organization.
  • The “dog days of summer” can cause some “dogging it” and slacking off during August. But in today’s competitive and tight cost environments, organizations need strong levels of productivity from those who aren’t at the beach or cottage. Clearly everyone can’t be sitting around watching the Olympics all day. But managers can post medals charts in common areas with updates or put a TV in a common area. Managers should also have a discussion (in person rather than sending out an e-mail) about web usage for watching Olympics and get agreement on how everyone will refrain from tying up organizational band-width or time watching events on their computers. And that this is once every four years.