Alexis Monville (en)

ace cards casino deck

Are you at the right table?

In Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, shared how he learned to play poker out of boredom. Poker is not like the other gambling games played in casinos with odds stacked against you. With Poker, you don’t play against the casino. You play against the other players. So, if you know the rules and you understand the statistics, then you can win. The question then is to pick the right table to play.

“Act weak when strong, act strong when weak. Know when to bluff.”

― Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Do you want to compete with excellent players with no money on the table? Or do you want to play with not so strong players with a lot of money on the table? It depends on your motivation behind playing.

Two big learnings from that experience in Poker:

  • Know the rules of the game you play,
  • Pick the right table.

All that brings a question: Are you at the right table?

Let’s bring back Igraine from the Primary Team story. As you may recall, Igraine is a fictional character who leads the global company’s EMEA Field Organization.

Emile is one of the consultants in that organization. Emile is passionate about Leadership and Organizational Development. He joined the company mainly because of its higher-purpose communication.

He thought he had found one of the rare “Stage 5” organizations to use the denomination of the book Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization.

Organization stages from Tribal Leadership

These are tribes whose members are despairingly hostile—they may create scandals, steal from the company, or even threaten violence.

The dominant culture for 25% of workplace tribes, this stage includes members who are passively antagonistic, sarcastic, and resistant to new management initiatives.

49% of workplace tribes are in this stage, filled with knowledge hoarders who want to outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. Each employee is a lone warrior.

The transition from “I’m great” to “we’re great” comes in this stage where the tribe members are excited to work together for the benefit of the entire company.

Less than 2% of workplace tribal culture is in this stage—where members who have made substantial innovations seek to use their potential to make a global impact.

Emile is frustrated with some aspects of the current organization. He sees the stages as:

  1. Gang: Life sucks. Life is constantly threatened. You have to join a gang to survive.
  2. Dictatorship: Your life sucks. You are under the pressure of an authoritarian boss.
  3. Individual Greatness: People say: “I am great.” They hoard information in one-on-ones to outthink their competition. They made jokes at the expense of others to demonstrate their greatness.
  4. Organization Greatness: People say: “We are great.” They collaborate to outpass the competitors.
  5. Life is Great Culture: People say: “Life is great.” They collaborate and cooperate inside and outside the organization to create a positive impact on the world.

Emile believes that the individual incentives, the individual awards, not speaking of the crazy number of one-on-ones, prove that the organization is at stage 3 at best, far from the promise of stage 5.

Furthermore, when he shared to one of his mentors about his willingness to develop leadership in the organization, the response came as a shock:

“I understand that you want to develop leadership in the organization, but is it the kind of leadership the organization wants?”

Emile’s anonymous mentor

Do you believe Emile has to leave the table to find another one?

The first thing to realize is that similarly as human development stages present simultaneously in all of us:

  • baby: me,
  • child: us,
  • teen: all of us.

The same applies to organizations. Part of the organization, or even people in the organization, could be operating at one stage while others operate at another stage. So, what can be observed in one part of the organization is probably not true somewhere else.

“A great question for coaches to ask is this: “What triads, if built, will fix this problem?” The “black belt” version of the question (most useful in stable Stage Four cultures) is “What triads will help us spot and fix problems so big we can’t even think of them?”

― Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright, Tribal Leadership

The second thing to realize is that your influence level in driving behavioral changes is more important than you think. If you adopt new behaviors, like having one-on-ones only for getting to know people or for development purposes, and stop having one-on-ones for “problem-solving” or “influencing” (the classic “information-hoarding” of stage 3). Then, you can start a movement because other people witness the efficiency of the approach.

The third thing to realize is that it could be the right table to play at if you play according to the rules of the stage. You cannot play “stage 5” with people at “stage 2”. But you may start to play “stage 4” with people at “stage 3” who realize that something has to change in their organization.

With all that in mind, what proposal Emile can make to Igraine?

Assume Igraine is at stage 3; based on the previous story; it is probably not changing everything in her way of working.

Emile wants to identify one thing that a triad could fix (to use the terminology of Tribal Leadership). Shifting from one-on-ones to a group of three people who can, by connecting, build momentum and bring lasting change.

Because people at stage 3 complain about the lack of time, Emile has to pick one thing that gives back Igraine time.

And because people at stage 3 complain of the lack of drive of people reporting to them to solve problems, Emile has to pick a crucial problem for Igraine and the organization. Something that improves the balance on the BEPS Axes of a Leader.

Emile has to bring the idea in a typical “stage 3” way: many one-on-ones to make sure the idea has chances to get through. Emile has to pick the right table, in which he plays the rules of the game even when the goal is to change the rules.