Book Review:The Culture Game

November 28, 2012

The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager

What is a Culture Game? How does this relate agile management?

Dan Mezick’s perspective is that every 1-on-1 interaction, every meeting, and even an organization’s corporate culture are structured as a game. There’s an important key word in that last sentence. Dan isn't focusing on the objective of winning in The Culture Game, instead he’s asking us to examine the structure.

Consider how your work environment is structured and reflect on Dan’s assessment that, “Some of these games are well-structured, fun to play, and actually stimulate the pleasure regions of your brain. Good games frequently generate feelings of control, progress, optimism, and persistence. Games that are poorly structured generate feelings of frustration, lack of control, lack of progress, isolation, and despair.”

Agile development targets these key issues, and experienced agile practitioners routinely point out that agile is a cultural change (I've been blogging about organizational culture in my recent posts). Since the ground rules change with agile, and it is best that everyone understands those rules and knows what the goal is so that everyone is playing the same game.

The Culture Game provides an excellent blend of theory and actionable tools for you to use as you transition to agile. Case in point, I discussed Dan’s expansion of the Results Pyramid in my last post, which is a critical piece of theory to understand when introducing change because, as Dan states, “All learning is change, and all change is belief-change. …People who are always learning are constantly changing their models. They have become adept at responding and adjusting to new information and knowledge as it becomes available to them.”

Dan argues that “behavior is the key leverage point.” This is because the results that we get come from behaviors. We can try new behaviors without changing our beliefs. And if we experience good results from adopting a new behavior, then we have something tangible to assess our current beliefs and change what we believe.

Dan covers a variety of other topics in The Culture Game that you can put into your toolbox, such as Core Protocols (formulated by Jim and Michele McCarthy). These are a set of structured interactions that great teams use. The Core Protocols include structured interactions for sending and receiving feedback, investigating a person’s thinking, making decisions, creating a shared vision, and other common interactions that occur within teams.

Dan is confident that these Core Protocols will work for you, based on his own experience: “I have been able to advance the work of teams I have coached significantly by introducing these protocols.” Dan says.

What we’re after is with agile is continuous improvement, and Dan tells us that “Reflection and examination of habits is a hallmark of genuine and authentic agile practice and a learning organization.” One trick is that reflecting and examining must be performed safely, without finger-pointing and blaming, plus avoiding making it feel personal in nature. According to The Culture Game, the best way to do this is to “…create a normal behavior of examining everything periodically.”

Ultimately, Dan says, playing The Culture Game doesn't require that someone lose. The Culture Game is an ongoing activity, one that “…is opt-in, and has a goal,, rules, and a way to keep score. That’s it.” Dan continues. “Winning simply means that a play reaches the goal, whatever it is. You win by reaching the goal.”

If you’re considering a transition to agile or in the midst of one, I highly recommend The Culture Game. It’s a well-written guide to implementing agile change in practical terms, explaining what to do and why.