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Games at Your WorkGames from readers

Games from readers


Surprise lunch

 One colleague suggested to have lunch with a group of executives. The objective was to create bounds among leaders and settle a good atmosphere.

 In the middle of the lunch, this same colleague said " taking the opportunity of having you here, we can talk about the changes you are promoting inside the company". From that point, the rest of the lunch was dozens of direct questions  to me. 

The inicial objective got changed and it created such a bad atmosphere that some colleagues came to apologize in the afternoon... 

Nostalgic_management Nostalgic Management

There is in my company a typical behavior among managers: Nostalgic management. The company promotes rotation among its managers, so each one has been on “top” of at least two functions. In spite of an increased knowledge, my colleagues-managers have adopted some kind of selective nostalgia, when they talk about their achievements while managing other functions... .

“ In my time it wasn’t like this”; “Ah but they softened”; “No, It won’t work that way”, etc… theses are common sentences when they meet with the board, reviving the flames of their own glory.

I_was_just_stopping_byI was just stopping by

In my organization, people who perform my work are recurrent contractors under a collective agreement.  Since hiring criteria are at best unclear and at worst  murky and erratic, a common tactic to ensure continued employment is to simply pass by, under some administrative pretext, as a subtle advertisement of one's availability.

This works because it gives the contractor a sense of control one one hand, and on the other,  the administration no longer has to do the leg work of figuring out who's available.  It also subtly re-enforces an assertion of the administration's total control of the situation.  "You better be nice to us, because we can stop or start hiring you at any time"

 Please make it sweet.

This game happens when both parts choose to not have difficult conversations. In order to avoid pain and discomfort everything is sweetened… but fake.

Example: An employee doesn’t meet his requirements. His manager tells him he has to let him go, not because of his bad performance but because of an external element (economical crisis, restructuration of the company, cost cut…).

Consequences: The boss did not manage well his employee otherwise he would have had a real conversation before it was too late, so after all he may feel bad about this situation. The company will have to find and train someone new which will cost time and money, and if this game starts to spread, the climate will become uncertain for everybody. The employee did not have a chance to work better and will probably never know what he should improve.



pato_do_cirio_2The duck of the Cirio by M.

There is a very typical situation here in Belem (Para State, Brazil) that I need to describe for you to understand this game at work. During the festivities of the Cirio de Nazare (October), it was very common in the 70’s to use a duck (alive), put it into a wooden box, with its neck coming out of a hole on top of the box. This box would stay in the middle of an isolated area, and from a certain distance, people would throw rings, trying to get them around the duck’s neck. To get rid of them, the duck would throw its head on each side, but anyway would end up with the neck full of rings.

In a company I know, there is a game at work that we call “the duck of the Cirio”, happening when managers go defending some process in the meeting with their director. Being a professional that adopts destructive criticism, he finds something he doesn’t like and criticizes it; from this moment, the managers start to throw the rings , supporting the Director as a way to protect themselves; and the poor manager that is defending some idea (there in front of everybody) ends up like the duck, trying to avoid the “friendly fire shot”.


 Run! By G.


This game is very commun in my department. It happens after an emergency when my manager calls me and says:

“I want you fulltime on this project. You can give up everything that prevents you from focusing on this new routine!!

The following week, with the selective memory of who plays, he asks me the results of my other activities. Then I tell him:

“Boss, you asked me to focus exclusively on this project”

Then he replies:

“Run, you have to make time for everything!!”



embarque_no_meu_bondeHop on the train By P.

I would like to share an interesting game being played in my company that I would call hop on the train.

Sometimes, I or other people are asked questions that seem harmless such as: “compared to the sales volume, what is the percentage of air freight cost on your market?” (This question is fictitious). Unsuspecting people reply to this question that doesn’t seem to be important. Weeks later, arrives a full project with decisions made about how the freight quotation process will have to be handled, because, based on this project, all the entities have been consulted and confirmed that freight costs are way too high. So based on their reply to a question that seemed irrelevant, people end up being part of a project they were unaware of.

It looks like politician talk, that replies what he wants, and not what he was asked for, you know? People who have been for a while in the company know about these habits and don’t reply, they ask first why people want to know, who is asking and if this is part of a project etc… Actually, I don’t like any of those two attitudes, neither the one that gets you into something without you knowing, nor the one that refuses to reply unless he knows exactly what you are going to do with his reply.



After work beer at the Club

In a company I know, having a beer at the club with the directors is a compulsory attribute for eventual promotions, and even to keep your actual job.

Who doesn't have this availability to go frequently to the club having a few drinks ends up being disadvantaged.



The_Wolf_that_turns_to_a_LambThe Wolf that turns to a Lamb By G.

It is the game played by a manager who has two personalities, depending on who he is talking to.
In general, when he is dealing with a “subordinate” he is an impulsive and demanding “collector”.
When he is chased by his boss, he is a lamb, a domesticated and docile cat.


Naming_and_shamingNaming and Shaming By B.

Sometimes people try to manipulate you by sending you information specifically and not with transparency to others it affects. The aim is to influence you without having the input or position from the other relevant parties. 
Depending on the situation I will send the reply copying all the relevant parties - so as to cut through the "games" and getting everyone on the same page. If you do this a couple of times then people give up on trying to use this tactic.
Transparency is generally a great way to avoid games - particularly in management teams. Consistency and regularity of reporting milestones, deliverables, targets etc makes it much harder to try to avoid or change direction, focus or commitments.

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Games of the Month

Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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