Gamesmanship in Process Implementation

Remember the childhood game, “Chutes and Ladders”? We’ve actually used the elements of this game with a group of 200 scientists and engineers to capture how they are using one and the same process in different sites and functions globally. Yes, “Chutes and Ladders”!

The task is not to discuss changing or improving the processes. The challenge is simply to identify and describe the ways in which technical leaders and their business partners around the world use different tactics or behaviors to operationalize one and the same process. This is more difficult that it may seem – simply describing actions and behaviors; the tendency again and again is to suggest what’s wrong with the process or a particular protocol.

For example, the need for coordinated in-country strategies that interface well with the respective cultural as well as market realities of a particular region is one such “process”. Working in break-out groups, each group documents the “ladders” which represent ways in which one could accelerate or “cut a few corners” as well as “chutes” which represent traps, pitfalls, or other liabilities which result in going backwards.

The outcome is not playing a game; rather a graphic representation is made visible of how leaders actually work one and the same process.

Knowing there are “chutes” and “ladders” in every organizational system reflects an understanding of “gamesmanship” that also exists, for better or worse. Knowing when it is O.K. to “break the rules” and when one ought to “follow the leader” is a kind of political skill. It can be cultivated if acknowledged. Both are necessary if innovation is to thrive.