When you step into your office, the games begin. Apart from various rituals that could be considered kind of games – like saying “good morning” – there are more abstract and sometimes quite childish games in play at work.
The first one might take place when you enter today’s first meeting, about strategy. Without even discussing the method, you immediately start playing the SWOT game. Each of you in the room feel inspired to say something new that the others haven’t thought of, and each idea is put in one of four boxes on the whiteboard. It is really a thrill to see your suggestion there and you are all having fun. What a pity that the game has to end due to other meetings coming up…
The next game is “show me your method”. Some consultants are going to tell you about the latest fashion in company improvement methods. This time maybe it is about Lean in some shape, and during the presentation you will no doubt be asked to use Lego bricks – just to illustrate something in the concept. But you love it, each and everyone in the room is enjoying putting together the bricks and you are laughing over each others’ funny constructions. Isn’t work great?!
Of course, after having so much fun with the Lego, you can all easily decide to move on with this fantastic and entertaining improvement method – if your employees will become just half as happy about it as you have been during the presentation, this will become the best working place in the world. And then the next game begins: meetings about or due to various new kinds of method elements of course require courses to be held first, at which the employees will play in a safe environment, pretending that they are doing the real thing but feeling safe and happy because it isn’t. Such a course environment is a fantastic place for just enjoying yourself, having a great time without consequences, a.k.a. playing.
Back to work they go, after all, but there these happy employees will keep playing – it will be fun to try to remember everything from the course and do it the same way. In the beginning somewhat ritualistic, following the exact style as learned from playing in the course environment, but after some time other games start mixing in.
The games of power and the games of being noticed. When children play it is easy to notice that they sometimes do things meant to drag attention to themselves. It is part of the game, and it is somehow mixed with the interpersonal positioning aspects of playing – maybe easiest to see when kitties or other animal children are doing symbolic neck bites on each other and in this way displaying their dominance.
Adults are exactly the same, even though the games in an office are most often of a more verbal nature – and are often felt to be more serious. Being noticed by colleagues and showing potential power may become the main topic of an employee’s inner dialogue when at work – and it may stick and fill up the thoughts even when being off-duty.
Being out of work – unemployed – might leave a big hole in the mind where before these games resided, and the emptiness felt may display to the surroundings as a depression.
All the other games at work are part of this overall positioning game, but there are other aspects as well – some of them probably being simply entertainment and… fun! Quite a lot of activities in a workplace doesn’t have any real value for the company. Maybe except for the fact that they participate in making people thrive.
And thriving, I suppose, is a precondition for being pleasant to be with. Nobody likes a sad person, and I have experienced several times in my life how people lost their job for not looking happy. So you can lose your job because you are not good at it, because you do something very wrong – or because your boss finds that you look a bit sad. Playing the games without thinking too much about their value to the company will most likely keep you on the payroll for a longer time than trying to optimize your time for the better of the company would do. In itself another game you must play.
It looks like if we humans – at work – are not very much concerned about reality? Of course, reality is a very difficult term to use for someone like me who believe in social constructionism (that reality is as we see it, on the basis of how we interact), but each person, social constructionist or not, sees a reality – and that one is not considered very valuable in companies. Some people stick to reality more than others, but we are all prone to escape from it – like when we are playing games… or telling stories.
Storytelling has been a fashion topic (one of the games you could play at work) for some time now. This could indicate that it had its time and soon will disappear but I don’t think so. 99% of what we buy is based on the story it tells – a TV, for instance, cannot have much real value. It exists because “everybody” has one and can tell about how this or that design, one or the other feature, makes them happy in some way or another. The story of the price is worth a novel in itself: it is a separate fairy tale that fascinates people to an extent where they buy things they never knew they needed simply because they are now half price.
Storytelling is also a main driver behind all the games at work. We do SWOT because “everybody knows” that this is something we can do. Or even something that we should do. Just because “everybody is doing it”. The story of SWOT is an abstract one – most people don’t even bother to catch up on it and read it all. Where it comes from and what it was meant for doesn’t matter – now SWOT has become a word in the ongoing story we tell each other about who we are and why we belong together.
Storytelling, like in ancient times when families gathered around the camp fire, tells the history, it tells about values, and it tells about mystical issues for the listeners to keep in mind when they would otherwise believe that now they understand everything.
Maybe the games at work are simply stories we tell by acting – like amateur theatre without a written script. Absurd theatre without a defined purpose but performed because we are humans – or animals. Social animals. Like our children, we just got bigger. And the stories we tell without playing them are the expressions of having a socially based sense of the abstract.
Not too absurd a thought, that “telling” and “playing” are social properties. We just need to be aware that these activities are controlling our lives to a much larger extend than we might have thought of before – even in such a supposedly rational environment as a workplace.