Rules are everywhere around us.  Go for a walk or car ride and you will (hopefully) see the traffic lights, stop signs, and cross walks.  We have laws and regulations, and the penalties that go along with them if we don’t comply.  There is a rule book for every game and sport.

These rules are required to keep order in our daily lives and on the field.  They are formalized and documented.  We are expected to know them and abide by them as ignorance is not an acceptable defense or excuse.

There is also another set of rules that exist that are not as clearly defined and certainly not documented.  They are the informal rules of our organizations – whether they be companies, teams, etc.  The rules exist and may change without warning.  They are the rules around how things get done – how business is conducted.

If we are to be successful in our chosen field of play, then we must embrace the rules as they exist today and adapt as they change tomorrow in order to play, compete, and win.


Call it what you will – organizational norms, politics, the status quo – but these ‘things’ exist in our lives and where we compete on a daily basis.

Every organization has their way of doing business, and we can either embrace it and optimize our game to get things done, or try and battle against the current.  My past organizations have been this way, and my current client organization is no different.  And I will say, in all my experiences so far, battling against the current is not the way to play – not if you want to win.

My direct client operates in a very forward thinking organization as it relates to technology and collaboration.  This should make for a very exciting landscape, however our client management team is ingrained in the old ways of doing things and running a technology organization.  They also feel they know best – right, wrong or indifferent.  As a result, they remain combative and dismissive to the change and direction of the organization.  New teams are being spun up that seem to have overlapping responsibilities, yet there is a failure to acknowledge this shift and change our approach.

As a consultant, it is my responsibility to provide recommendations on how to navigate our projects and effectively deliver within the organization’s official processes and informal rules.  Unfortunately, our leadership’s current mentality is that the organization needs them to be successful when the reality is that they can be circumvented all day and every day, and be made irrelevant over time.

It’s just how the game is played, and if they don’t want to play it the game keeps going… without them.

As you can imagine it gets frustrating.  It’s as if you call the perfect play for the down and distance, and then someone jumps off sides.  The reality is that a great play for 1st and 10 is not going to be appropriate for 1st and 15.  You pay the penalty for not playing the game the right way and then go back to the drawing board.

The challenge and reward is to keep going back to that drawing board.  Keep giving it your all to call the best next play.  Keep your head focused down the field no matter how many penalty flags are thrown for not playing by the rules.

Know the Rules, Play the Game, No Excuses

Some rules – whether formal or informal – just don’t seem fair.  We can argue the merits of their fairness (or lack thereof), yet unless we have the direct power to change them, we need to spend our time honing our game to play within the rules – not wasting our energy on things we cannot control.

Therefore I want to offer up some guidance on the attitude and resolve we need to play a very challenging game while honoring the rules around how our team or organization executes.

Do not complain – The Inner Athlete doesn’t complain about the rules of the game that they play.  It’s a waste of two limited and critical resources – time and energy.  Rather, they embrace them and prepare to execute at the highest level given the reality on the field.

Complaining breeds negativity which creates a breeding ground for excuses as to why we don’t execute at our highest level possible – don’t pollute your head space or your team’s with negative crap and excuses.  “Why bother?”  “What’s the point?”  Don’t even let phrases like that enter your mind.

The only response to cheaters – Now some people will cheat.  There will always be those people that lack the integrity to compete fairly.  In response to that, I challenge all of us that there is only one suitable answer – no matter what field we play on or game we are playing in, the inner athlete never stoops to that level.

We play the game within the rules and WIN – no excuses, no exceptions.

Honestly, there is potentially no better feeling than to compete against someone who cheats and bends the rules and you still come away with the victory.

Be willing to change your game – The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you keep running the same play in your organization and it doesn’t work – change it up – train differently / prepare differently.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before – the only constant is change.

Unlike the long standing laws that may govern our society, the rules of an organization are far more fluid and can change as management or the industry changes.  We must embrace it and pride ourselves on adapting to the change as opposed to giving ourselves some invisible badge of honor for fighting it.

Get outside your comfort zone – sometimes the word ‘politics’ has a dirty connotation.  There are many reasons for that which I won’t be getting into here.

Specifically, I am talking about office politics.  I used to be of the mind that I would stay out of all the office politics and drama.  Honestly, it was a single quote that changed my mind…

One of my sources for professional development is the Manager Tools podcast.  During one of the casts, the co-host said something to the effect of, “what we call politics, the executive calls collaboration.”  I stewed on that for a long time.  It’s honestly that quote that planted this idea of playing the game by the rules (and winning).

We can choose to avoid the politics and drama – it’s easier and more comfortable that way.  Hell, playing office politics is far from my comfort zone, and I won’t sit here and tell you I know how to play them well.  However, I will tell you that I consider more and more angles around any decisions or recommendations I make.  Who will it impact?  Who will it piss off?  Will it actually help my objective get completed?  Incorporating this type of thought process is how I learn the rules and sharpen my skills.

The Challenge

Understanding the rules on your field of play is not easy and will be unique everywhere you go.  I want to close today by challenging you to take a step back and really pay attention to how decisions are made and business is done.  Don’t be part of the crowd that ‘doesn’t play office politics’ and stands on the sidelines.  Be someone who can effectively compete and win.


Discussion Question – How can you change your game to better compete given the informal rules of your organization?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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