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The “I Win, We Lose” Paradox

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“A great team doesn’t mean that they had the smartest people. What made those teams great is that everyone trusted one another. It can be a powerful thing when that magic dynamic exists.”

– Gene Kim

Last week we explored the impact of ‘talent hoarding’ on organizational success. Holding on to your best people as a manager is a great example of the ‘I win, we lose’ paradox because while you may, at least for a while, get to cling on to a high-performer, there will often be down-stream consequences that ultimately mean everyone in the organization pays the price. Including you.

 Self-defeating behaviors dressed up as healthy competition can lead to toxic cultures that will, at best, hold a company back from achieving their true greatness and can, at worst, put that company out of business. Here are a few more examples for you to contemplate:

  • The high-performer that completes all his work well ahead of schedule and sits back to bask in the glory while other members of the team struggle to meet deadlines, performance or quality targets;
  • The sales rep that hits her quota by selling old solutions, avoiding the innovative new offering that the company is betting its future on;
  • The product marketing manager who paints a picture of the dream solution that, in reality, the implementation team could never deliver on
  • The engineering manager that undermines her peers to ensure her team wins the quarterly performance prize;
  • The finance director that artificially inflates the quarterly numbers to keep the stock price up.

In each case, hopefully you can see the paradox: The individual might win in the short term, only to lose in the long term as the repercussions of their actions hit home. I win, we lose. 

Aggregate analysis of our Whole-Mind Manager results, gathered across many managers working in lots of different companies, reveals that “Putting the needs of the organization before the needs of the team” is one of the most challenging competencies for managers to embrace. Unless you’re willing to do that, you’re often engaging in the I win, we lose paradox. 

This week’s inquiry…

Where might your need to win as an individual be threatening team or organizational success?

Dive Deeper…

David Logan talks about the five kinds of tribes that humans naturally form – in schools, workplaces, even the driver’s license bureau.

Pay close attention to Stage 3 – that’s the mindset we’re talking about in today’s blog. Sound familiar?

“People form tribes; they always have and they always will. But not all tribes are the same. What makes all the difference is tribal culture.”

While for many this book is the ‘DevOps Bible’ – it’s also a great exploration of systems theory and the impact of the I Win, We Lose mindset. Anyone that has worked in IT will find this to be an eerily familiar story of organizational and cultural transformation. 

Written in an engaging narrative style, our protagonist Bill finds himself leading the company’s new IT initiative, code named Phoenix Project, but the project is massively over budget and very late. What could possibly go wrong?

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