Have you noticed how many organisations undertake a very strange form of ten-pin bowling? Organisational ten-pin bowling shares many elements of the conventional game. For example, you and your colleagues are arranged in teams and are expected to be loyal and energetic. You are allocated a lane in which to perform. You are given targets (the pins) and resources (a ball) with which to hit those targets.
But organisational bowling differs in two major respects from the conventional game.
First of all, there is a blanket draped over the lane, about halfway down. This means you can’t see what you are aiming at.
Now, you are pretty sure that ten-pin bowling involves ten pins because everybody says so. It’s in the rules, there are numerous books on the subject. More than that, the nice person who interviewed you for the job promised that everything possible would be done to help you be a very successful bowler. That, you assumed, included a clear view of your target.
So your guess is that behind that blanket there are indeed a number of pins that you have to knock over. And you also know that knocking over as many as possible is pretty much the aim of this activity.
The blanket perplexes you at first. But this seems to be the version of the game played around here. So don’t rock the boat, keep your head down and just get on with bowling.
You chuck your first ball down. It goes with some velocity and you watch it with satisfaction and anticipation as it speeds on its way straight down the middle. Then, it disappears behind the blanket. You stand there. You see nothing and hear nothing. So you pick up another ball and bowl that one. Your manager appears. “What the hell are you doing? Pull your finger out! You’ve got to do better than that. The other side are miles ahead.”
Something appears to be wrong, though you are not sure exactly what. You bowl a few more balls. You try pretty hard. You experiment. You chuck a few with more force and some of these end up in the gutter. You try less force and concentrate on accuracy, hoping the ball has enough momentum to cause damage somewhere down there at the end of your lane.
Your manager reappears. Oh dear, could this be more bad news? “Terrific, terrific,” he says. “Keep it up, well done. Must fly – got to go to another lane.”
The second difference between organisational ten-pin bowling and the conventional game is teamwork. You know you are in a team because you’ve been told so – the person who interviewed you for the job was at their most earnest when they talked about teamwork. But, there is scant evidence to suggest that you are in a team.
You spot people going to the bar to get a drink or a sandwich. Maybe they are in the same team as you. It would be nice to find out a bit more about these other people. Do they have a blanket too? Do they prefer light balls or heavy balls? What shoes do they wear? What scores have they been getting?
But no, nobody appears to view gathering in the refreshment area as a productive activity. The gatherings are subdued and fleeting. As soon as three or four people congregate, a manager appears and people melt away. Obviously these are all dedicated bowlers. Serious bowling is going on around here somewhere.
You return to your lane with more questions. How am I doing? How is the team doing? Does anyone keep the score? Could the others share their expertise to help me do better? And do managers spend more time checking who goes to the bar and the loo than….. well, I don’t know. What do managers do?
So there you are – organisational ten-pin bowling. A curious activity with no objectives, no feedback on individual performance, no sharing of ideas but high on strong management control.