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BlogGames at Work in Lehman Brothers

Games at Work in Lehman Brothers

By Phil Read

Lehman_BrothersAs the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers has just passed, I think it is important toreflect on the casuses of its demise. Many explanations have been offered, but one important angle has been overlooked. Lehman Brothers was in the grip of four games, which were played consistently by the senior management over at least the last two years.


Instead of looking at their mistakes and correcting them, they spent much time assigning blame for their plight to others. Even after the collapse Fuld was still at it. "Wearing an unapologetic scowl, Fuld spent three hours explaining to Congress this week why it wasn't his fault that a 158-year-old institution evaporated under his watch. In scattergun fashion, he blamed the Federal Reserve, naked short-sellers, a "systemic" lack of confidence, media sensationalising and inconsistent regulation."

"No Bad News" and "Shoot the Messenger"

Negative data was never taken at face value, and those bringing it were punished. "Fuld had used this aggression to consolidate his reputation as the most successful chief executive in the banking business and one of the most respected corporate leaders in America. But the style also contained the seeds of disaster. It meant that nobody would or could challenge the boss if his judgment erred or if things started to go wrong."

"Old War Hero"

The organisation was repeatedly told that they had weathered storms like this before and come out stronger, and that there was no need for change or panic. Fuld had had buyers for Lehman Brothers months before the collapse, but had refused to even consider them saying that "the company was independent and had "risen from the ashes" even in very hard times, and that this was "just a rough patch".

Games at work can cause real damage to the livelihood of the those who depend on our companies - shareholders, employees, suppliers. All the more need to understand and minimise their impact. 

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Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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