WorkplaceDramaVisualA good friend of mine and former college roommate studied film and screen writing. He’s had a number of his screen plays picked up on option by hollywood producers over the years.

So, when I began investigating drama in the workplace I reached out to him to learn about how dramatic movies are structured. He shared with me the basic three act structure writers follow in developing a screen play for a dramatic movie.

It’s a simple structure:

  • Act 1 – Setup: Characters are introduced and the plot develops
  • Act 2 – Confrontation: Rising action occurs as the stakes get higher and stress builds
  • Act 3 – Resolution: Crisis peaks, action comes down and comes to a resolution

Workplace drama is similar.

As I see it, it also has three acts. Unfortunately in most organizational scenarios Act 3 doesn’t lead to resolution.

  • Act 1 – The Setup: Drama is introduced, usually by an individual or two, remains somewhat limited at the beginning
  • Act 2 – Drama & Conflicts Grow: Drama accelerates and becomes more common place. Ineffective conflict grows and becomes increasingly distractive to the work environment. The time leaders need to invest in playing referee expands as they try to deal with the symptoms, putting out fires. It’s often like playing Whac-A-Mole.
  • Act 3 – Toxic Workplace Develops: Unlike theatre and movies, workplace drama has no time limit and often is perpetually tolerated as leaders try to put out the fires dealing with symptoms. Left unaddressed the drama leads to a toxic work environment.

Workplace drama requires a fourth act in order to move towards resolution. Few organizations get to this level.

Pat Lencioni, author of “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” talks about his work in creating high-performing teams in the workplace with a term I’d like to borrow for this workplace drama process as well. Lencioni calls it “heavy lifting.”

“Heavy lifting” means participants in the process need to approach the situation with humility and vulnerability to work through the real issues and causes of the drama in the workplace. Some organizational leaders will need to look inside themselves to see how they may be contributing to it. It’s a scary place for leaders to step into.

Yet, the alternative is costing organizations billions. Gallup estimates workplace issues and lack of employee engagement costs between $450-$500 billion a year in lost productivity.

Even the small percentage of that figure that would be allocated to traditional small business is real money that would make a difference in most bottom lines, don’t you think?