Do You Play to Win – or to Not Lose?

How organizational culture makes you behave when targeting a goal.

I came across this article with HBR and thought that you may find it interesting. The concept is simple, yet very profound. It discusses two different styles that an individual, a team , or an organization may take (often naturally) towards targeting a goal or overcoming challenges.

I found this simple model applicable to organizations too. Just like individuals, the organizations have culture and style. You may have experienced bureaucratic organizations which are more risk averse than their rivals; very process oriented and the authority is mostly left to the process owners. These organizations play-to-not-lose. You may have also seen organizations that are very entrepreneurial by culture. They are risk taker and the authority is in hands of the line of business.

When the culture of the organization (or an individual) is formed around either of these approaches, the strategy, priorities, leadership style and many other key aspect of the organization will shape differently.

On the individual level, and from career development point of view, you will have a better chance to move up the ladder if you are in line with the organizational culture. If your style describes you as being goal oriented, acting quickly, open for new ideas, and actively involve your team and try to move forward and aim to win, your leadership style may not be appreciated in your company if the organizational culture is leaning towards to-not-lose style. An organization of such style tends to be very accurate in anything, slow, every single step is heavily controlled and qualified through processes, is prepared for worst and stick to tried-and-true way of doing things.

What do you think about this model? Does this model describe an organization that you worked in?


More to read:

Do You Play to Win – or to Not Lose? HBR


Recommended books on this subject: