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'The West Wing': A lesson in management training?

(MoneyWatch) Songkick is an online music-listing business where bands can promote their gigs and fans can follow artists. It's a smart idea, addressing the frustration most of us feel when we discover, a day too late, that our favorite musicians are playing our town and tickets have already sold out. But what I like even more than the site itself is the way it treats its employees: All new hires are given a video box set of "The West Wing."

Why? "The West Wing" shows teamwork at its finest. Lots of highly committed, smart people argue, yell, flirt and sulk their way through years of demanding, exhausting work. Working in the White House, they're up against insuperable odds -- trying to change America -- and they have only a short time to do it. They understand the difficulty of their mission but are determined to achieve whatever they can. That they're wildly different personalities makes this good television, but it is also what makes a good team: Members do not share the same skills and values but offer a variety of skills, talents, experience and attitudes that enriches their debates and provides a broader range of options. The emotion displayed by the cast also expresses an essential truth: All great work is emotional. If there's no passion in your company, there's unlikely to be much productivity.

Michelle You, Songkick's co-founder, said the series represented what the company aimed for: "a place where people trust each other, are high performing, accountable, hold each other to high standards and are honest with each other."

It helps, of course, that everyone in "The West Wing" works for the quietly charismatic president (Martin Sheen) who rarely intervenes but when he does in a thoughtful manner. But he isn't a magician and he is flawed. No one in the series ever has all the answers, and just as in life, outcomes are frequently imperfect.

My only beef with the series is the work hours of Leo McGarry, C.J. Craig, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn. They're frequently shown at their desks at 2 a.m., on Saturday mornings and on holidays. How they stay so handsome and healthy is a secret known only to Hollywood. But the regime ultimately kills Leo McGarry -- one aspect of "The West Wing" most companies might not wish to copy.

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