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  • Michael Philp

The game gets played even if you don't want to participate

I've been talking to several people recently about difficulties at work. We spoke about this concept of "the game" that gets played in organisations. The game is different to office politics - office politics is a strategy to 'win' the game. But you never really win the game. That's because the game is played on many different levels. Sometimes the game is to keep the status quo. Sometimes the game is create a change culture. I could write a book on the types of games that get played in organisations, so let's choose one to focus on - fitting in at work.

The game of fitting in is not to be nice to everyone. That's not sustainable. In any organisation there are people that if we didn't work with them, we would probably choose not to have much to do with them. Fitting in means working together in a productive way, but also being 'seen' to be working together. What I mean by that is not in a manipulative way, but you do need to be seen around the office for your colleagues to know what you do all day. For example, a colleague of mine a long time ago was having difficulty getting along with her team. She told me she couldn't understand it - she worked all day, often without a break, but felt she didn't get any recognition from her colleagues for her efforts. I told her that's because no one sees her, so she can't message to anyone how hard she is working. The game needed to be played in this organisation was how to develop supportive colleagues because the work was demanding, with limited support from management. What she needed to do was to be present in the lunchroom to talk to her colleagues and ask about their day and sympathise with their workload, and be supportive where she could. This would allow her to let them know how hard she was working. Because she was absent (due to her work) the assumption from others was that she was not helpful, avoided work, and was not a good colleague.

Fitting in means making time to attend work social events. It means there are times you need to stay back and help out a colleague. It means asking about your colleague's holiday in the tea room (which conveys to the other person "I noticed you weren't here and I'm interested in you as a person"). Fitting in means doing the 'work' so that when the going gets tough, your colleagues are more likely to support you rather than let you hang out to dry. It also means that you have support with your ideas. Ideas get support not always because they are the best idea (or have the most evidence) but because the right people support them. But this is a long-term game. It's different to office politics, which is short-term. You'll have more long-term success asking yourself how do I become an agent for change rather than how do I get a promotion. You will also have more supportive work connections and I'd argue a more enjoyable work environment. But remember, the game gets played whether you participate or not.

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