There’s a conversation that operates in most large workplaces about playing the game. Often this conversation is configured in terms of how to get ahead, how not to be the one who does all the work, how to make sure that when the shit hits the fan that fan isn’t on your desk. Playing the game is a practice of self interest: it is a posture tilted toward the delivery of a precautionary fend away from our colleagues, a fend that makes certain that collective responsibility is never too generously shared.
But that’s only the half of it really because what management really want is for us to play the game. Playing the game means we’re engaged with the collective project. It means we’re focused on the tasks at hand and are fixedly aware of everyone else also doing so. Playing the game means a thousand conversations about the task at hand and the political economy of making it happen. Playing the game means paying attention.
Playing the game means engagement. That engagement is half the battle for our bosses. It means we’re not dealing with our online Tupperware business, or planning the next round of golf, or adjusting the arrangement of porcelain mice on our windowsill. Engagement means that we’re shaping our practices, the very attitude of our bodies toward the best possible outcome for the collective project. The thinking here is that if everyone individually gets a good result then we all get the good result collectively. Everybody wins!
But they don’t. Game playing like everything is often a matter of skill mediated by ethics. There are great game players and there are poor game players and there are those that refuse to play. In every game there are losers and they are often on our team, even when our team wins. For some the fending gesture is just too discourteous, or teams are simply distasteful, or self promotion too depressing, or the whole idea of posing just inconceivably stupid.
Losers, in this structure, are simply collateral damage and that probably doesn’t matter too much. After all if you’ve lost out in the great game playing then chances are you didn’t (and likely can’t) contribute to success anyway. So if you’re a loser or a refusenik don’t expect to be included when the lollies get handed out, quite the contrary you’ll be sitting at your desk beavering away and BANG! someone has stuck a fan on your desk.