Playing Big Brother: Surviving Workplace Politics

Big Brother, a summer series aired on CBS annually, is one of my favorite shows on TV. I almost always watch each season in anticipation of the new themes and game play twists. Although this is reality TV, there are some uncanny parallels to the real world. Further, there are many lessons to be learned from the players of the game and how it can further you in the real world.

So the way it works….I’m going to give you bullet points to keep it short.

  • 16 people live in a house together with no contact to the outside world.
  • They play weekly competitions for power to evict a house guest, secure safety and get ahead.
  • The last man or woman standing wins $500,000.
  • There are typically alliances formed, lies told, and varying levels of insanity.

Workplace Makeup

As a young, black woman, the first thing I notice in each season’s game is the diversity of the players. There are always majority white people and just a sprinkle of minorities. Unfortunately, in corporate America, this is the general makeup that many minorities have to face. Also in the game, the black players seem to always be voted off the show within the first 5 weeks. They never have the social, mental or physical game to outwit their housemates to make it longer. Let this be something that encourages you to work hard, no matter your ethnicity, gender, age, or religion. No matter your differences, you are able to compete in a world that is dominated by people unlike you. This is possible by having a strong sense of empathy, knowing your strong skillsets, leveraging them, and consistent hard work from week to week.

People Lie to Get Ahead

Every season there is a sneaky player that successfully makes false promises, instigates conflict, and still makes it very far. This is an ugly truth in our reality as well. Even in organizations built on Christian principles, and high moral standards, there is always a level of politics to deal with. Your mission is to overcome them! Despite your thoughts and feelings, if you want to excel in your work environment, understanding how to navigate the playing field will be your first step. Many people lie, cheat and steal from other if they see it necessary to move up. However, you have the ability to still be successful without employing any of those tactics. It is a harsh reality to accept that it happens, but knowing how to combat it is key.

You Are Your OWN Biggest Ally

The best part of Big Brother is the formation of alliances. Many come together naturally early on, while others develop as players understand each other strengths. However, when the game is down to four people, alliances no longer help the players. Everyone is out for themselves in hopes of getting the $500,000. You may find others who you find comfort in sharing information with or you think has your back in difficult situations. However, everyone is out for themselves…ALWAYS! Keep that in mind. My mom always taught me to keep certain things close to the chest: your salary and super personal information. Don’t give away all your goods! Only share enough with others to demonstrate your ability to help them and vice versa. It’s a game, and you’re in it. Might as well know how to play it well.

Go With Your Gut, Not the House

The strategy of most players in the last few years of Big Brother has been to “go with the house”. A large majority narrows down on targets for the week to vote out, playing it safe each week by targeting a “lone wolf”. Beware of this in the workplace, because the majority is not always right. Has there ever been a time you strongly believed something that went against the majority? That didn’t make it wrong, that made it different. Confrontation, friendly disagreements, and small debates foster growth. Disagreement sometimes pulls out the best of a situation, drawing the team to an even better conclusion. Do not feel like you have to go with the majority, they’re not always right.

So there you have it, a few life/work lessons to take from Big Brother. Do you watch the show? What other workplace parallels exist with the game?

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