Prisons Have Ping Pong Tables Too

Dominic Gourley, Relationship Manager, Human Synergistics Australia

Having a Ping Pong table in the office doesn’t motivate or make people happy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a ping pong table, a beer fridge or a funky looking office…I’d enjoy playing a game over lunch with colleagues…what I’m saying is that it doesn’t fix a broken Culture.

You’ve probably seen the articles about all the modern fancy offices – the tech companies in particular. They have basketball courts, cafeterias serving lunch and they get their washing done on site. That would be so cool right? A lot of other companies are now following suit because they believe it will make their people (and organisation) happier, motivated and more effective.

It got me thinking about another place that has those three facilities on site: Prisons. In prison they’ll do your washing for you. In prison they will serve you three meals a day. In prison the recreation yard has a basketball hoop. They have all this stuff…but not a single one of us would ever want to be in prison.

Organisations with Defensive Cultures can feel like being in a prison too. In the language of the Human Synergistics Circumplex: Aggressive/Defensive cultures are those in which decisions are made autocratically, members are expected to work long hours and be on top of every detail, internal politics and power plays are rife, people and teams compete rather than cooperate. Passive/Defensive Cultures are ones in which people ‘go along to get along’, they avoid making decisions and instead push them up the hierarchy, we all have to be nice, agree and be approved of.

Both of these Cultures can feel crushing and all the pool tables, foosball and snow cone machines in the world aren’t going to change that. It’s not that these facilities are bad or wrong…it’s that we mistakenly think having nice things will fix, or make up for, having a broken Culture.

If you want to create an environment where people are motivated, satisfied, work together and perform effectively…first, get the vision, structures, systems, job design and leaders which are going to create a Constructive Culture in place…then get the xbox for the break room.

About the Author:

Dominic works for Human Synergistics Australia – a leading firm in Leadership and Culture Diagnostics and Consulting.


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