Organisational Transformation is an infinite game

In this post we look at Organisational Transformation through the lens of Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game. To quote Wikipedia:

“Sinek claims that leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, aligned with infinite play, will build stronger, more innovative, inspiring, resilient organizations, though these benefits may accrue over larger timescales than benefits associated with a finite mindset”

Organisational Transformation is an ongoing and infinite process. There is a language of, and approach to ‘Organisational Transformation’ that has us believe that ‘transformed’ has an end state with specific goals that limits – rather than unleashes – the growth potential of organisations who invest heavily in Organisational Transformation.

Using a Google result for “Organisational Transformation” as an example, It’s the difference between saying: 

“Organisational transformation is the process of transforming and changing the existing corporate culture to achieve a competitive advantage or address a significant challenge” 


“Organisational transformation is the ongoing process of transforming and changing the existing corporate culture to achieve competitive advantages or address significant challenges continuously”.

Aside: this statement might reflect the current evolutionary state of an organisation. Under the Laloux Culture Model, competitive advantage is primarily a concern for an Orange organisation. Green and Teal organisations that transcend and include the state before will likely chase a different outcome.

The change above is slight, but the significance is huge. The first suggests Organisational Transformation is a process for achieving an outcome. It is finite, leading us to believe that there is a point at which the organisation has ‘made it’, or is ‘done‘ – the competitive advantage has been achieved and the significant challenges met, and we have ‘won’ and so we can now stop. The reality is there is always the next significant challenge or competitive advantage to address.

Often, when we play the finite game, frustration and impatience kicks in where we are unable to ‘install the transformation’ within a given timeframe to gain the expected benefits. This mindset often drives a focus on process, leaving behind the people aspects of the change (e.g mindset, leadership, relationships and culture). Without attention, just like a rubber band, the culture of the organisation ‘snaps back’ to the status quo. Through the lens of the finite game the transformation has failed, potentially leading to another wave of transformation at a later time as business drivers gradually deepen.

When viewed as an infinite game, transformation is a journey of continuous improvement that focuses on all aspects of continual change. It is constantly discovering, growing, destroying and adapting to what needs to happen.

It requires being comfortable with uncertainty and navigating edges. Edges are the gap between where we are now and what is trying to happen. Facing into emotional, logistical, relationship and intellectual edges that block organisational shifts is not for the fainthearted.

As an infinite game, there is no end to Organisational Transformation, and that can be a scary proposition for leaders. Leaders who are conditioned to think and report in terms of quarterly profits, annual budgets and specific measurable return may find the reality of transformation daunting:

  • Transformation might start with me, what has served my organisation in the past might be limiting for what needs to happen now.
  • Transformation cannot be designed upfront. The outcomes, and the plan to get there will change as new drivers, information and challenges emerge. 
  • Change creates unrest. Referencing the Satir Change Model (a model reflecting the effect on performance over time for a given change) the time spent in Chaos (often called ‘the pit of despair’ for a very good reason) is proportional to the size of the change and how it is navigated.

Organisational capacity can be measured as the product of the interactions of its people. So in an infinite game, transformation must include raising the level of individuals beliefs, behaviours and relationships. This is often not done because it is difficult to measure, difficult to do and often seen as ‘touchy feely’, where preference is given to activities that result in measurable action and push towards ‘winning’ the transformation. 

Shifting the balance of Organisational Transformation effort to focus on people – our beliefs, behaviours and relationships and structure, process and practices provides a holistic approach that creates greater leverage for sustainable change. By growing the capabilities of people, developing leadership and teams we increase the potential of those who intimately know the System to improve the System – including Leadership, Strategy, Structure and Process, at all levels (Organisation, Program, Team, Individual) – in this challenge, and the next. 

Transformation starts with self – leaders and workers alike (again, at all levels). To change an organisation requires raising the level of consciousness of its people in order to shift the behaviour, culture and systems so they can continually adapt in pursuit of organisational goals. The first step, is to ask powerful questions of ourselves and others:

Where is the struggle in what is trying to happen in your organisation? How does the infinite game show up in your approach to transformation?

At Two Percent Shift we take an integral approach to Organisational Transformation supported by strong professional coaching skills to evoke transformation in Systems and Individuals.

Two Percent Shift – Leveraging human potential to shift your organisation 2% at a time.