People must sort out their differences to work well together, discovers Steve Hart

Key Points:

Your boss may have control of you while at work but, outside the 9-5 hours, the tables can often be turned.

At work, the normal rules of the top-down hierarchy are in place. But once outside, social standings and popularity with friends and colleagues can put an underling worker at the top of the heap - and see their boss panting for attention and authority.

It happened to Simon - he asked we didn't give his real name. He said he was the office geek, often ridiculed by his boss in front of his colleagues and never given any interesting work.

"Then one day I was asked to join the office badminton team,' says Simon.

"They were a man down. The boss loved the game and was always banging on about his matches and the expensive gear he had."

The manager didn't know that Simon had played badminton for his school as a teenager.

Simon says: "I thrashed my boss on court. The harder he tried to beat me the easier I found it to win. All the time I thought, 'I'm going to get it in the neck later'. But I couldn't stop myself from wanting to beat him."

Back in the office the next day Simon was put in charge of the firm's social committee.

"Everyone hated that job, no one had the time or inclination to do it - now I was lumbered," he says.

"I know it was the boss' way of putting me in my place."

Simon did what anyone would do. He organised an inter-departmental nine-pin bowling match, a sport his boss despised.

"On the badminton court, he was a wild swiper, no control at all," says Simon.

"So I guessed he'd be useless at the bowling alley. And he was. You could see the steam coming out his ears during the game as ball after ball went down the side."

Simon got a result the next week when someone else was put in charge of the firm's social committee.

Simon's story goes to show that bosses not only need to take an interest in their staff and their hobbies and skills, but that the pecking order among people at work rarely remains the same after 5pm. Outside of work, it is life rules that apply - not office rules.

Jamie Ford, manager at the Foresight Institute, says he has seen situations where a labourer ended up conducting a brass band and where a CEO was put at the back to play the cornet.

"Human beings are hive animals, so we naturally live together.

But, in any kind of hive, there is going to be a hierarchy."

And that hierarchy can change depending on where people are and what they are doing.

He says all groups of people go through four phases before settling down to get on with work - the hustle and bustle of people in a team finding their place. Ford calls it forming, norming, storming and performing.

He says if you get a group of people together (forming), they'll start out being polite and courteous to each other (norming). Then dissatisfaction starts to arise with differences of opinion (storming).

"A lot of groups won't go through with storming," says Ford.

"They become uncomfortable and will back out of that and never work through to the point where they can start working as a high-performing team. Us Kiwis overly personalise things, take umbrage easily and upset ourselves."

Which is probably why Simon's boss couldn't handle losing at sport when playing against his staff.

Ford says people like order and being a part of a hierarchy because it is natural to want to know where one is placed. If someone joins a group that they don't really belong to, such as a boss gatecrashing a colleague's after-work drinks party, then the boss will try and work out how to fit in. Think David Brent of TV's The Office.

"In the Territorial Army you might find a lowly office worker leading a platoon," says Ford.

"The military is looking for leadership, whereas corporates are not. Strong leadership at work can be fairly threatening."

In the case of Simon beating his boss at sport, Ford said any decent manager would see that as a strength and congratulate his worthy opponent on their return to the office.

"The boss would tell them they are a great asset to their sports team and to the firm."

For every Simon out there happy to beat their boss at sport, there is another who'll opt for the easy life and let their manager win. Or tell them how brilliant they are when outside work. There's a name for that and it isn't hierarchy.

Contact Steve Hart at www.stevehart.co.nz