What You Can Learn By Observing a Company Dinner…

Human nature is a funny thing.  Many times, if left to our own devices, we simply do what is comfortable.  The following is an example of how people are challenged to get out of their comfort zones!

An organization I worked for had 26 offices spread throughout North America that provided tax consulting services to Fortune 1000 corporations.  Many times our services were multi-jurisdictional.  For example, say our client decision maker was located in Seattle and we were doing work for them in New York, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and Washington.  We would have our respective experts in those states do the work and report through a centralized person in our Seattle office to the client decision maker located there.  Therefore, it was necessary for our consultants throughout North America to work together and coordinate our client services.

To facilitate our desire to improve our internal collaboration and client service, the organization routinely provided continuing education for our professionals, some of which was done in-house.  Our most focused effort was an educational event that was held for our top 100 or so professionals every other year.  It was set in stone that collaboration, communication and teamwork was a substantial part of every agenda.

You would think that all of the participants would want to spend as much time with their North American counterparts as they possibly could.  Well, you would be wrong!

Our opening “reception” was set up to facilitate intermingling.  We chose “standing” cocktail tables purposefully so individuals would not become ‘attached” to their chair.  Here is what we observed.  You could go to table 1 and find our Houston office, table 2 and find our Phoenix office and so on and so on.  Sure, you had the occasional extrovert break out from their own table and visit another office.  Sometimes, you could sense a “what is he doing here” type of feeling when this happened.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner – same thing. 

Being the observant team-oriented individuals that we were, we quickly realized that seat assignments during lunch and dinner would enhance our desire to facilitate collaboration and sharing among the various offices. 

So, why does this happen?

Why did the conference attendees initially choose the pack mentality and sit with their home office teammates? 

  • It is the safe choice. Sitting next to people you know is easy. No effort required
  •  There is less risk sitting with people you know
    • There may be competition between offices in regard to investment, controlling client relationships and things of that nature.
  • You may not want to expose yourself to a professional or technical conversation that may be “above your head” and illustrate your lack of experience or knowledge.
  • Some people are simply shy.
  • Sometimes, extroverts may labeled as obnoxious, and are best avoided.
  • Unknown or underlying politics that management is not aware of can inhibit collaboration

In general, there are many potential factors that push most human beings toward making the “safe” choice.


A funny thing usually happens when you get out of your comfort zone!


Many times, AFTER you take a little risk and break out of your comfort zone you experience a sense of accomplishment.  You may have a “that wasn’t so bad or they weren’t that bad after all” type of moment. 



Usually, you have a sense of satisfaction of just doing it.



You enjoyed the interaction of simply getting to know someone a little bit better. You expanded your network. You never know how that might come back to help you. You practiced a skill called networking.



These are all good things.


The Collaborative Habit

Twyla Tharp is a world-renowned choreographer and has worked with thousands of dancers, musicians and companies such as the Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet. She has collaborated with artists and dancers as diverse as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Billy Joel and Elvis Costello.


She is the author of three books, one of which is The Collaborate Habit, Life Lessons for Working Together.


In the book she shares:

Collaboration is a habit – and one I encourage you to develop. At first it may seem unnatural to show up and care more about a collaborative project than about your personal advancement, but once you start ignoring your comfort level, you’re on your way.  Even if your collaborators are smarter than you? More hardworking? Quicker-thinking? More imaginative?  Yes.  It’s like playing tennis; you improve only when you play above your level.

So, if you have any say in the matter, gravitate to people who are smart and caring.  Watch them, learn from them. And see if you don’t soon feel that, far from being burdened with a partner, you’re beginning to find new options and new ways of thinking.

Step out.  Reach out.  Make a new acquaintance.  You might just end up collaborating on something that makes a difference!

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