At dinner parties outside of your circle of colleagues, work tends to be fair game for conversation. In fact, it's often depended upon. "What do you do?" is about as common a conversation-starter as they come. But what about when you're hosting or attending a dinner party that's primarily made up of co-workers? To keep the conversation from turning into just another day at the office, there a few things that can be done.
Be sure to include dates. If everyone brings a date, then half of the guests, at least, won't be co-workers. And if everyone is mindful of not boring their dates to death, the conversation will surely not lean too heavily toward work. This will keep things fresh, balancing that pull to complain to each other about the climate control at the office or to run away with chatter about a new project.
Also, consider planning a jump-off topic. This sounds cheesy, but taking that step and actually posing a question for guests to answer at the beginning of the evening can really set the tone for conversations that may have otherwise succumbed to shop talk. Make it something open-ended. (Check out Chris's great post on dinner party talk with strangers for ideas. Your coworkers may not feel like strangers, but take away the common bond of your jobs and there can be a lot to learn about each other). This is also a great way to make dates feel included and give them some footing for talking with your colleagues.
Make it a family affair. If the timing is right, consider having a dinner party that includes your and your colleagues' families. It will add a whole other dimension to the party to have children present, and there's no quicker way to see your co-workers in a new light than through a glimpse into their family lives. You'll find that the tug of conversation toward clients and bosses gives way to childhood memories and parenting stories.