Knowledge @ W.P. Carey has an article about the importance of water cooler talk:
It is an idea that Ashforth advances under the banner of “tribalism” in a chapter he authored for the forthcoming SAGE “Handbook of New Approaches in Management and Organization.”
After all, says Ashforth, a pack of paralegals or a covey of consultants drinking java or hanging about the proverbial water cooler is not so different from a tribe of Neolithic hunters sitting around a campfire. We as a species have come a long way since the days when the morning commute meant braving saber-tooth tigers but, at our core, people are still very much the same social animals we’ve always been. We want to feel like we belong and we value our closest connections beyond people we don’t know.
In a very real sense, organizations big and small would benefit by seeing themselves framed by a variation of Former U.S. House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O’Neill Jr.’s maxim, “All politics is local.” People care about the big issues, but place a very large importance on whether the potholes on their street are fixed and if there are jobs to be had in their town. So it is with organizational culture: The big issues matter but employees are most likely to judge an organization by their most local contacts — their boss and immediate coworkers.
Ashforth says an organization’s success is largely linked to its smallest social units, the tribes who congregate around the coffee maker.
Ashforth does make a worthwhile point about the connections made and the translation of higher-order communication to the lower level, he neglects to mention the downside of such talk: office gossip. Every office has it, and I rarely ever see it as a positive. Generally, the gossip is negative in nature and really doesn’t do anything to benefit the organization. I don’t really see the groups that gather around the office as tribes…I think they more resemble packs of hyenas looking for tidbits of news to prey on.