Playing Games with Clarity - What Happens When The Rules Change

The other day I was playing a game with my boys.  They love to make up games and try them on me.  Yet, after awhile it’s hard to play the game with them - they keep adding rules and changing what it looks like to win.  It’s hard to play a game when you aren’t sure how to play or how to win. It struck me that this was not all that different from feedback we get from employees and volunteers of some of our clients.  Or for that matter, from some of the personal experiences of our own Spark Mill team with the churches, boards, and organizations we serve.

It’s hard to volunteer for a place when it’s not clear what is wanted or if you are even needed?  It’s hard to show up each day and bring your best to work when you don’t know from day to day what success looks like or how your work directly contributes to that success.

I don’t think organizations and companies start out with the intention of leading with a lack of clarity.  Life happens.  Business happens.  The schedule gets full and we find ourselves working so hard to manage the day to that we struggle to take time to look at the big picture.

In their 1998 book, Leadership on the Line, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky use the analogy of a dance.  They suggest that sometimes we have to “stop dancing” and go up on the “balcony" to be able to see the whole dance floor.  Organizations need that perspective.  It helps to align our resources and structure.  It allows us to make sure we are focused on the most important aspects of our business.  It creates space for us to be able to describe with clarity for our volunteers, staff, clients, and guests what success looks like and how their participation directly contributes to that success.

 Likewise, if our employees or volunteers don’t feel like their work helps contribute to a clear goal, they will become disengaged, make up their own goals which may or may not align with the organization’s goals, or choose to walk away.

Why is this clarity important?  I continue playing my boys’ crazy games despite the lack of clarity around rules and winning because I love them and love to spend time with them.  We don’t necessarily have that natural connection with our guests or customers. If it’s not clear how to participate in our organization and people have a bad experience, they will rarely give us a second chance.  Likewise, if our employees or volunteers don’t feel like their work helps contribute to a clear goal, they will become disengaged, make up their own goals which may or may not align with the organization’s goals, or choose to walk away.  

Our organizations and companies are more than just a made up game.  They are created to do good work and make a difference in the world.  How much more important then is it for us to be clear about how volunteers, clients, and guests engage our organization?  How much more important should it be for us to be clear about our vision and how volunteers’ and employees' work directly contributes towards making that vision a reality?

We are responsible for making sure that from time to time we climb to the balcony - to see the bigger picture, and then, with clarity, tell everyone what we see.  If we aren’t willing to put the hard work in to do that, well then we might as well just be playing games with our people - at least they are clear about rules and winning…unless, of course, my boys made them.