Monday, 23 October 2006

NCIS vs 24: the workplace in pop culture

I wasn't feeling well over the weekend, and spent a lot of time in front of the TV, trying to stave off a cold. Two programmes caught my attention for the same reason: their depiction of the workplace.

NCIS is an american show about a Naval Criminal Intelligence unit solving crimes involving sailors. It isn't very good. What is interesting about it, though, is the way the leader of the team, Gibbs, bullies and intimidates his staff. The writers probably think they are showing him as a strong leader, but to me he comes over as rude, aggressive and hectoring. He clips his staff behind the ear. He tells them he will fire them for the most minor infractions. He never gives them a break. In short, he's the kind of arsehole you would never want to work for. And the worst thing about this program is that it encourages people who behave that way at work to think that it's OK. And I bet it is net negative for Navy recruitment.

24 in contrast, although it is deeply unrealistic in many ways, shows workplace conflicts with some measure of realism. It portrays much more nuanced inter-personal relations. The office is political, and people bear grudges and have their own agendas, but somehow they manage to work together, more or less. In 24's CTU people with different points of view cooperate, imperfectly but adequately: this is how real organisations work. Command and control is dead: long live the adaptive organisation.

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