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Monday, February 11, 2008

Great games -- and the Great Game of Business

Eric (top left) with some of his hockey team mates just before the tournament final. His team came in second out of 15.

Mid-way through Eric's Pembroke hockey tournament, I took a few minutes to read a couple more chapters of Jack Stark's The Great Game of Business. Stark's thinking -- of encouraging employees to think and act like owners (in part because they can actually become owners) of the business -- intrigues me and reflects my values, largely. I certainly know simply handing ownership stakes to employees doesn’t work; ownership, in a tangible rewards sense, is very much a delayed gratification exercise and if the employee doesn't 'get it', the concept really doesn't sink into the mindset. Equally, 'gaming' employees with motivational gimmicks and incentives leads us down a slippery path of expectations.

I like a lot of Stark's suggestions for solutions to these dilemmas, though I’m not sure he has found the magic answer; there are elements of instability and impermanence in his business model, and long-term sustainability is a real question. Even in the apparently 'perfect' employee owned models; if you dig deeper into the actual workings of the businesses, you can see imperfections and flaws -- and these are rooted at the most fundamental, human, level. We aren't all the same, all the time, and even if we have similarities, we change over time.

And we can't win them all. (Don't tell this to the preachers of positive thinking and self-talk of course.)

Take that hockey tournament, for example. We took our boys on a two hour drive north of Ottawa to
Pembroke for the team's first out-of-town tournament (in fact, as we are a house league team, this is our first ever overnight tournament experience.) On Saturday, the team won its first two games, and Sunday morning the third, meaning we advanced to the semi-finals. Then after a nail-biting overtime win, the kids won the semi-final match, moving us to the grand finale -- the championship game. Parents and kids found our time in Pembroke extended as we prepared to win.

In the end, our team lost 4 - 3. We were left with the consolation prize; T-shirts with "Finalists" logos and a second-place trophy. But in the competitive spirit in the dressing room, you couldn't find much joy in being second. Competition is like that; when you are fighting to be the best, coming in second doesn't seem that great, even though you had to beat out 14 other teams (out of 15) to do it! (Today, however, Eric still had some pride in wearing the "finalist" T-shirt, and he certainly is fit from all the exercise yesterday.)

Certainly, however, I agree with Stark that games work in bringing out the best (and perhaps in some circumstances, the worst) in people. For the tournament, parents had to pull together resources, time and money -- and make sure their kids didn't forget other essentials, like school and homework. Both parents and kids had to overcome logistical issues and challenges -- hockey is one of the most energy-intensive sports; it is a challenge to play one game in a day; take it to three -- at championship level -- with overtime -- and you are really going to need overdrive. So it may not be surprising that Stark suggests one way companies can build teamwork and ownership among employees is to sponsor company teams for sporting activities, whether it be bass fishing, golf or baseball (or, I suppose, once our business is a little larger, hockey.)

2 comments:

Sonny Lykos said...

Eric should be proud - very proud, of himself, as should his team members.

They did what most people would never even attempt. That shows tremendous courage.

The fact that his team came in 2nd, and by only 1 point, means that team accomplished what 99% of others have not done. I'd say that being in the top 1% at anything is one heck of an accomplishment to be proud of because no one gets there with our perseverance, hard work, and dedication - character traits that are desirous by everyone.

Congratulations to him from me. He should stand very proud!

And in the "game" of business, I'll take that position any day.

Mark Buckshon said...

Sonny, thanks for the comment.
Indeed, as the day progressed, Eric and his teammates realized the scope of their accomplishment. Despite being bone-tired from all the weekend activity, most of the team showed up for an early-evening practice; and Eric got all his schoolwork done, too.
Teamwork, in its purest form, is a wonderful thing to see.