The Childish Games Managers Play

There is a game called Chinese Whispers, I am sure you have played it.  All you do is line a group of people up and ask them to whisper a message from one to another along the chain.  Each time it is repeated the message morphs; progressively degrading the further it gets from its source.

There is a meeting in Wembley

There is a meeting on Wednesday

There is a meeting on Thursday

Let’s have a meeting I’m thirsty

We are all going to the pub for a drink

It is a very funny but childish game.  As adults we are too clever to play such games.  We play a different, far more sophisticated game.

Management whispers

First line up a group of complicated organisations, something like:

  1. A supermarket
  2. A wholesaler
  3. A fizzy drinks manufacturer
  4. A corn syrup manufacturer
  5. A farming co-operative.

Choose something suitable for your industry.

Next issue a simple instruction from the beginning of the chain, something like:

All our products will be organic

Finally, and this is important, make sure that the organisations in the chain can only communicate with each other “in-writing” (e-mail is OK).

Then stand back and watch what happens.

For the advanced version of the game, subdivide the businesses into departments, maybe something like marketing, sales, operations, logistics and purchasing and make them sit in different parts of the building.  (There is no need to enforce the “in-writing” rule, they will adopt it naturally).

Nobody could be that foolish

As any teacher will tell you communicating with children works far better if you get them all to sit down in the same room at the same time and ask them to listen, whilst you explain what you want clearly and simply.

Instead of playing management whispers you could try the same approach.  You could even listen back and have a proper conversation.

But where would the fun be in that?

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Image by rthakrar


  1. Hello James
    As you say where would the fun be. After 25+years in business with most of them spent focussed on improving organisational performance or the attempt to do so, I have come to the following conclusions:

    a) most people most of the time – including Csuite – will act ‘mindlessly’, that is to say out of habit;
    b) most people most of the time take the route that shows up as being the least effort, the least challenging;
    c) most people most of the time will do what ‘leaders’ are doing, that is to say they follow the herd; and
    d) most people most of the time have a profound misunderstanding as to what ‘communication’ is and what it involves. I categorically state that communication is not the ‘transmission and receipt of messages’.

    All the best my friend, keep writing, I like reading what you write. And how about we chat over the phone sometime soon. If you are up for that then drop me an email on


  2. Hi James,
    Do you think this is behind what is playing out in the food industry with the whole horsemeat thing?


    • James Lawther says:

      No Adrian I don’t. I think that is a combination of greedy suppliers and foolish customers.

      I think that is me firmly off the fence.

      Mind you, as a man who used to make beef burgers for a living, I have to say I have been watching the whole thing with a certain cynical amusement.

      I wonder how many people in Angola or Somaliland would have been grateful of a horse meat lasagne.


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