How to avoid dysfunction at work – tips for the (fictional) BBC

BBC series W1A

“This is a fiddly one, isn’t it? It’s really bad luck…”
Simon Harwood, BBC Director of Strategic Governance, W1A (BBC2)

My Wednesday evenings have been brightened recently by the arrival of W1A. Set in a fictionalised New Broadcasting House, the BBC comedy stars Hugh Bonneville as the Beeb’s unfortunate Head of Values. It's a gloriously dysfunctional portrayal of the BBC, as enjoyable as it is excruciating.

First, a disclaimer. I used to work at the BBC – alongside many talented, sparky colleagues wholly unlike those in W1A. Yet there are elements of the show that feel deliciously real. And, I admit, I watch with all the delight of being in on the joke.

But these characters aren’t the preserve of the BBC. In fact I’m sure their recognisability greatly contributes to the show’s success. Most of us have met them at some point in our careers, wherever we work. And, sadly, they’re not nearly as entertaining in real life.

There are often reasons underlying poor performance and/or behaviour, from personal insecurity, to team incohesion, to a breakdown in trust. And there’s plenty of advice out there to address these issues, whether they affect one person or a whole team. (Not least from Chirp!)

There is another approach, however. Not "nipping in the bud" so much as "not sowing in the first place". And I’d like to suggest this to my former employers or, rather, to their fictionalised counterparts in W1A­­­.

Hire for talent

It’s really pretty simple. Hire talented people who are right for your organisation, train them well, and treat them with respect. It sounds obvious. (Who sets out to hire unsuitable staff?) But it doesn't always happens. 

Train them well

Beginning with excellent – and excellently placed – people empowers you to address gaps through training. It’s far harder to train people to excel in the wrong job at the wrong organisation. It's also miserable for them, their colleagues and, ultimately, the organisation.

Providing effective training also helps to boost staff retention. Colleagues feel supported to take on fresh challenge, and motivated to rise through the organisation as they learn and develop.

Show some respect

Finally, treat people with respect and they’ll want to shine. Not just for themselves, but for their colleagues, and for you as their employer. After all, most of us want to work with (and be) decent people.

So that's my short, straightforward advice to keep in mind with every employee, at every level. I sincerely hope it won’t be followed by the BBC of W1A, though. They’d have to sack most of the cast for a start. And that would make my Wednesday nights far less fun!