Over the years, I guess I’ve attended thousands of corporate get togethers over dinner. I have, either as an out-of-towner, or hosting out-of-towners attending a conference or workshop, observed the behaviour of individuals and teams at dinner reflects the corporate culture.

There are five corporate cultures which I have identified with behaviours at dinner.

The Alpha Male Dinner

The alpha male dinner environment is, of course, no longer exclusively male, although the behaviour is still easily identified as masculine. This is the dinner where at least some of the boys try to outdo each other. Whether it is their knowledge of wine or the selection of the most expensive menu items and restaurants or the telling of the most outrageous jokes or the heaviest drinking, this dinner is about competing.

There is no gentle discourse at this dinner. Some of the attendees are likely to be loud. Competition descends into being heard above the din of people talking over each other.

I have mostly found that this behaviour at dinner is repeated at work, even in teams I did not really know. People did not just work in silos unaware of what other teams were doing or how they affected each other. They worked in fortresses, well aware of the impact they were having on each other. They would protect their turf and their ability to promote their personal cause at all costs.

The result is an organisation with multiple tactical, personal foci and no strategy.

The Home Early Dinner

Dinners where the participants talk a little about work, a little about social events, rarely about themselves or political events and finish at nine thirty. This dinner reflects teams that do not know each other well. Not only do they not know each other well, they have little interest in knowing each other well.

If they are not really a team but perhaps a group of individuals thrown together for a course then it is perhaps understandable. However, one would hope if they were from the same organisation they would have at least enough common identity to warm to each other a little.

When, however, a team which does actually work together displays this behaviour at dinner, I find them at work to be very silo based. Moreover, I find there to be almost no interest in what the other team members are doing. There is little energy in what individual departments do. The result is an organisation with no focus at all and no strategy.

The Let’s Have a Blast Dinner

There are usually two objectives of the participants of this kind of dinner; laughter and intoxication. Participants all share the first objective and some share the second.

It can be a good sign for corporate culture. If, at the end of a hard year, difficult targets are met and arrangements for dinner are made ensuring noise created from what is more of a party rather than a dinner does not disturb others, it can be a good sign.

A deliberately thought out celebration of a great result brought about by teamwork usually reflects a team that works hard together and plays hard together. The implied organisational culture is not for everyone but can be a fun, energising and demanding place to work that rewards team success.

Frequent, opportunistic parties at company expense with no correlating rationale for celebration, reflects, I find, a culture of getting whatever you can out of the organisation and damn the consequences for others. The implied organisational culture can be fun, but not meaningful.

The Indigestion Dinner

Dinners where the participants talk about nothing but work can be a bore. When they do so in an unproductive way, continually analysing and re-analysing but never solving the problems of the organisation, they rate high in the boredom stakes.

When the topic has been workshopped for two days and dinner is still full of the analysis of problems and not creative or even obvious solutions, they imply an organisation paralysed by analysis.

It typifies an organisation where analysis is so shallow, that real solutions are not highlighted by the analysis and blaming internal or external “others” is the norm.

The Paper Tablecloth Dinner

My favourite kind of corporate dinner, where there is analysis of work issues but the majority of the time is spent creating, communicating and testing solutions between the team members by using the tablecloth as a brainstorming board.

Pens at the ready, ideas are swapped, added to and amended at will by anyone with a good idea for a solution whilst relaxing and dining. The creative juices are encouraged as the formalities of the office drop away.

Corporate dinners such as these indicate at least a team of people willing to work on solutions rather than problems, and working as a team rather than individuals.

What kind of corporate dinners do you have? Do they change with different teams of people? What do the types of dinners you have with different teams say about the culture of your organisation?