If you’ve ever sat in a conference room for a meeting, you’ve experienced games. Everyone plays games; even you. It is possible to eliminate the games if YOU decide to stop playing. Games kill innovation, progress, and culture. The only game that is worth playing is the game of no games. How do you do it? First, you have to recognize the games that are being played and why people play them.
People play games because they want safety, approval, or control. Something will trigger their need for one of these three things, and they create a story to get it. Here is a list of the games we’ve seen. These games happen in organizations, and they happen in our personal lives.
We put people into these roles. Someone is the bad guy, someone is the victim, and someone else is the hero. We even see people collectively agree on these roles as they look to solve a problem they’ve identified. This doesn’t exist. There are no heroes, villains, and victims in business. There are only people with unmet needs for safety, approval, and control.
We see this most prominently when someone tries to pull rank in the organization. They put others down as less than them: less smart, less successful, or not part of their “class”. We also see this from the opposite spectrum, people working towards achieving a certain status or a certain job title because they think that will make them happy. Unfortunately, a job title will never make someone happy.
We’ve all experienced this one. It’s the person who always treats you like you are one of their kids. These people micromanage you because you can’t be trusted to make the right decision. Or this can go in the reverse, where someone plays the child game and constantly looks to someone else to make decisions. They are scared to take risks, and look to someone they’ve put in a parent role to provide approval. There is an adult-parent role that provides guidance without telling someone what decision they should make. They don’t treat their employees as children, but rather as equal adults. People who are acting in the adult-parent role are usually fantastic mentors in the organization and a source of wisdom. However, when someone is playing a parent/child game, they reinforce the insecurities of the other, and it can create a vast amount of tension between them as they rebel against each other.
I’m Right/You’re Wrong
This game could be the most prolific in organizations. It’s the game of winners and losers, where someone always has to be right, which inherently makes someone else wrong. It creates a battlefield of everyone fighting to be right and leads to stagnation where nothing can move forward until the ultimate winner is decided.
This is the game of keeping up with the Joneses or trying to manage or measure your reputation. This is a game we’ve all played. We show up to our class reunion to show how successful we are, we boast about our latest success on Facebook, and frankly we make sure everyone knows just how successful we are. Unfortunately, the minute you start measuring your success against the success of others or your reputation, it never ends. You can never be successful enough for yourself. Your reputation will always take a hit that you struggle to recover from. The funny thing about measuring these things is that it will never be good enough. It’s a game you can’t win.
I’m so different
This is the game of rebellion against the norm. You are so different from all those other group thinkers in your organization, and you do everything you can to make sure everyone knows that you aren’t like them. We also see this when individuals claim their organization is so complex or so unique that what works for another organization couldn’t possibly work for them.
I’m so smart
Have you ever worked with someone who wants to make sure you know they have an ivy league education or calls every idea that isn’t their own stupid? They make sure everyone knows how intelligent they are because, in this game, they have to be the smartest person in the room.
I belong (to the tribe)
This is an approval game of wanting to fit in. It’s fighting to be a part of a collective group because being different is terrifying. People playing this game will do incredibly interesting things to show that they belong.
Filling a void
This is usually a personal game someone plays alone. They feel something is missing and so they look to find something to fill that empty void. They need something to fill that pit in their stomach or that ache in their heart and so they turn to something that makes them feel full again, even if it’s something dangerous. They could fill it by self-medicating, extreme sports, or even playing online games. This is one where people attach to something that they think will fill a void that has been left by something or someone else.
We’ve all seen this game. It’s the person who fights for control and will go to impressive lengths to get it. This can manifest through manipulation of people and situations. They may not share information through the organization because they think, if they are the only one who knows everything about their area of expertise, they can’t get fired. Or they may go and lobby for their pet project to leadership behind everyone’s back.
Keeping the peace
This is the game of avoiding confrontation at all costs. They are the peacekeeper on the team who makes sure everyone is happy. We see this a lot in organizations that require a unanimous decision to move forward on an initiative. They usually have a leader who is playing the game of keeping the peace.
Have you ever felt like everything is a priority, and it’s all due right now? You would think that we are finding the cure to a major pandemic or something. Half of the time, the projects get done quickly and then stop because they weren’t actually all that urgent. Or they get finished, just to sit on someone’s desk.
This is the game of never having enough ________. You can fill in the blank. We never have enough of something to do something else. These are the people who complain about a lack of resources, lack of budget, lack of time, or a whole slew of reasons why something can’t be done.
Do any of those games sound familiar? How many of these games have you played? The funny thing about games is that we may recognize them in other people, but we fail to look in the mirror at how many we play ourselves.
Can I stop games in my organization? My life?
Absolutely. The only way to stop games is to stop playing them. The best thing about games is that it only takes one person to stop playing to completely eliminate every game. There are a variety of ways you can deal with games. You can just call out the game that is being played and say, “I’m not going to play the game”. You can simply not entertain the game and provide no response. Or you can just walk away from the situation. Even if it doesn’t lead to a dramatic transformation in your organization, at least you can lean back and feel the stillness and peace that comes with a life that is free of games. The crazy thing is that the game of no games can be contagious; but even if it isn’t contagious, it’s worth it for your own sanity.
Why do we need to stop the games?
How many initiatives have been completely derailed by games? How have games completely halted forward progress? How much of your company’s culture can be defined by the games people play? Think about those questions for a second. The reason to stop games is because all of these are games you can’t win. They are games your organization can’t win. They are games that aren’t worth winning.
Now you have a way to articulate what’s been holding you back. You can articulate what’s been holding your team back. You can articulate what’s been holding your company back. You know that you hold the keys to stop it. The question is whether you will take the key out of your pocket and open the door. Once you open the door, it can never be closed. The game of no games starts a journey to truth, and truth is the only thing worth fighting for.