Principles that apply to popular games like soccer, chess or cricket, also apply to relationships, religion, economy, training and sheq performance, says corporate culture change guru Steve Banhegyi and his team, who have worked with management at a long list of leading South African state and business employers. Some of their experience is posted below.
Use play to build teams
People’s attitudes and behaviour in their key relationships change when they understand, experience and participate in the underlying ‘gameplay’ nature of all collective human activity.
We have found that people engaged by gameplay, feel a little more, empowered, lighthearted and creative, and their efforts are better co-ordinated.
In the context of organisational functions, people may try to have fun, but do not expect to have fun. People talk about work as being ‘serious’ and their leisure activities as ‘fun’, but true game players have uncovered the secret of having fun and getting planned results by simply understanding the ‘game’ and applying principles of game theory to everything they do.
The way you think and talk about your experiences creates your reality and relationships. Understanding that game structure underlies human experience is helpful and empowering.
People who see work as ‘real life’ tend to take a serious approach that is not really helpful in the creative process of improving results. Serious thinking may also set people up for anxiety and precursors to stress related disorders.
Corporate culture’s eight elements
Our trademark application of harnessing gameplay motivation at work, is based on the concept of game as a learned cultural sequence, characterised by eight elements that interact with each other continuously, thus representing a living system.
Changes in one element impacts on the entire nature of the game. Think of eight game elements as eight team members in a sports field around you;
Rituals, Rules, Roles, Resources, Goals, Language, Values and Style.
1 Corporate culture goals
Goals (direction east) are serious and require clear expression. The attitudes of gameplay should be light-hearted, but often the outcomes of games such as M&A, restructuring, rightsizing and day trading could be deadly serious.
Every game has a goal, even if the goal is to simply continue playing in a sustainable manner, or to exercise, or to gain prestige. Soccer, rugby and cricket matches end with winners and losers, but the game continues every season.
Typical goals of business games are sustainable profits, wealth creation, and rewarding interpersonal relationships. Organisations often articulate their goals in vision and mission statements and strategic plans.
On a personal level, your narrative or ‘story’ articulates your goals as experienced through your identity constructed within a game or set of games. An example of this could be the story you tell about a contract or a career. Do your goals contradict each other? Are your goals worth the effort? How have you reached clarity and agreement with fellow players about goals and the nature of the game?
2 Corporate culture language
Language and stories (direction south-east) differ in each game that allows participants to talk about and even create common experience.
The game of Law, for example, requires many years at university and in practice, doing articles. Budding lawyers learn a language that allows the experience of law, and acts as a barrier to non-lawyers. Likewise in the aviation game, or sheq game.
Every field of human endeavour its own language, set of symbols, metaphors and figures of speech that are repeated and evolve over time. What language do you speak? Does it allow creativity, opportunity, teamwork and success? Could you appropriate language from other areas to expand your experience to describe and create your world?
3. Corporate culture resources
Resources (direction south) includes budget, money, emotional support, know-how, process knowledge, equipment, networks, access to information, systems and personal connections. Clarify what you need to make your game work. The quality of other game features like goals, also determine your health and safety resource level.
4. Corporate culture style
Style (direction south-west) is the way you play the game. Style embodies your behaviours, thoughts and words. Irrespective of what you are playing, you bring your own unique personal style to the game.
Style is learned and developed over time and is strongly influenced by role models, self perception and particularly by feedback. Much as sportsmen view videos of their performance in order to improve themselves, feedback allows you to see which behaviours provide desirable outcomes.
Where do you get your feedback from and is it helping you to achieve desired results? Are you flexible enough to question your own style, open enough to ask for feedback and creative enough to experiment with new styles?
Are you aware that much of your style is influenced by your early childhood experiences and from observing how others respond to situations?
5. Corporate culture values and standards
Values (direction west) are standards or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable. They are abstract ideas about what an organisation, society or community believes to be good, right, and desirable.
They represent your deeply held beliefs demonstrated through day-to-day behaviours and are the fundamental principles that guide community-driven processes.
Values provide a basis for action and communicate expectations for participation and make a public pronouncement about how the organisation expects everyone to behave.
Values should endure over the long term and provide a constant source of strength for the individual or organisation that holds them.
It has been suggested by a number of writers that values create conditions that make certain beliefs and behaviours more likely. It is important to understand that while these values are influenced by the culture from which you come, you are ultimately responsible for constructing your personal values.
Spending time on your values is an important exercise that becomes more useful as you read over and update them from time to time. What values do you need to support in order to play a particular game?
Are these values reinforced and expressed in both your language and behaviour? Is there a discrepancy between expressed values and behaviour? How do you come to know what values are required to successfully play the games you are engaged in?
6. Corporate culture: Rules
Rules (direction north-west) require clarity in written and unwritten form. Work within rules to stretch your own boundaries. Rules stipulate what can and cannot be done, at risk of penalties, or even exclusion from the game.
Which rules could be bent or questioned? Are rules applied consistently? Are rules stifling innovation and creativity? Is everyone clear on rules?
7. Corporate culture roles
Roles (direction north) vary, and every person being plays a number of different roles in daily life, like kinship roles as child, lover, brother, sister, father, mother, and workplace roles.
Most people play at being a friend, confidante, coach, mentor, boss, subordinate, or even petty tyrant, within their formal roles/
Are your roles clear? Are there better ways to perform these roles? Are you expending appropriate energy in crucial roles? Who gives you ratings and feedback?
Some organisational theorists have suggested that organisational job titles are the same as roles performed by actors on stage. The only difference is that you interpret, direct, script and perform the role yourself.
The challenge of your roles is to perform as best as you can without attachment to certain actions, and to remain open to new experience by changing and evolving your performance.
8. Corporate culture rituals
Rituals (direction north-east) refers to speech, action, singing, and other activities which often contain a symbolic meaning, performed in a specific order. In organisations, audits, year-end functions, teambuilding and weekly meetings are examples of typical rituals.
A characteristic of ritual is that it has the quality of ‘collapsing time’ – a 15 minute presentation by an MD could encompass many years of the organisations’ history.
Another characteristic of ritual is that they can be performed so regularly that they start to lose their meaning and many people ‘go through the motions’ without quite understanding what they are really doing and why.
Be clear about rituals you engage in and their outcomes. Which ones are necessary? Could they be changed, simplified or removed? What is the relationship between rituals and outcomes, or are they disconnected?
Play and enjoy!
Realising the game nature of all human activity is empowering in that it allows you to be light-hearted and playful, traits associated with creativity. Not understanding that you are in a game is a sure recipe for confusion and helplessness.
Experienced and effective game players know that it is possible to change positions while deeply embedded in the game, without losing face.
Conceptualising human activity as a game is an empowering and a strategic tool that helps you get what you need and want.
Game ideas and experiments
Raise your own awareness of the different games you are playing. Try to identify and name the games around you, big games like economy, science, love, poverty, culture, politics, medicine, parenting, war, and relatively smaller games like business enterprise , training, corporate health and safety, for example.
Remember the root of the words delusion, from delude, Latin for ‘outside the game’, and illusion, from inludo, Latin for ‘in the game’. Are there some games you want to enter? Are you in some games you wish to leave?
What do you have to sacrifice in order to play? Can you be flexible enough to play in different ways? Who is inviting you to play?
What do you perceive? How do others see it? Seeing a particular game is a product of your perception and creative ability. Your leadership ability is about seeing a new, empowering game and somehow influencing others to see and experience it in the same way you do.
Deconstruct your key relationships in terms of a game. What are the Rules, Roles, Resources, Goals, Rituals, Language, Values and Styles required to play the game better?
• Game model is inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, Glass Bead Game, Medicine Wheel, cairn or Isivivane, Thomas Szasz, Tim Leary and Alan Watts.
• Steve Banhegyi is a facilitator, consultant and educational media developer, as partner at Steve Banhegyi and Associates, specialising in organisational change, culture, learning and feedback systems.