Paul Greenberg

The office is a kind of second family for those of us who work in one, with just as wide a range of characters.

One day the office can resemble a scene out of Dilbert ("I don't suffer from stress; I'm a carrier") or from "Mad Men." ("You are the product. You feeling something. That's what sells.") Or any scenario in between, depending on which characters are doing what at the time. The plot varies. Sometimes it thickens, sometimes it thins. Depending on the day, you may find yourself in a cardboard drama like "Executive Suite" or a slapstick comedy like "The Front Page."

Every office needs a full cast of characters, admirable and un-. Roles change, moods and role models vary. Today's goof-off can be tomorrow's hero. And vice-versa. There are those who observe the proper boundaries and those who transgress them. The troublemakers and the healers. Those who smooth the way and those who set stumbling blocks for others. Those who don't fit through no fault of their own, and those who refuse to fit for good reason. There are the talented and those who only think they are, the competent and the not so.

Strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely, the most talented may be the least temperamental. People, being people, will surprise you.

For viewing a variety of human types in action -- or inaction -- it's hard to beat an office, that combination of business operation and social menagerie. Doubtless there have been reams of studies, psychological and sociological, about how organizations operate or don't, but nothing offers a better perspective on office life than being part of one. But being part of an office may also distort perspective. Or just eliminate it. How expect the figures in a picture to see beyond the frame?

Offices -- whether private or public, military or civil, church or state, educational or correctional -- have some things in common. For instance: how well each office works depends on the workers. Personnel is policy. Find the right people and policy may not need to be spelled out; it just flows.

But finding the right people isn't easy. To repeat a Reaganism, mistakes will be made. The wrong people have an unfortunate tendency to do wrong things. But when the right fit is made, it's beautiful. Work gets done, people get along, even grow fond of one another. Office politics withers, supplanted by trust. And things get done. For the most efficient force in the world remains good will. Accept no substitutes.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.