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Book review: Territorial Games

by Annette Simmons


Book reviews > Territorial Games


In terms of game-play, this book is about games in the workplace, and particularly those games that are played to gain and use power.

Simmons identifies three key emotions that drive games

  • Fear, especially when we feel cornered and have nothing to lose, causes us to fight back and maybe play dirty.
  • Anger at things we believe are unfair or when we are constantly frustrated from achieving our goals.
  • Desire for things that meet our needs can turn into greed that makes us act in uncharitable ways.

These lead to ten games that are regularly played out across the organizational stage. You may recognize one, two or maybe all of them:

1. The Occupation game

In this games, your mark out your territory, such as putting your name on everything or grabbing intellectual leadership in a defined area. You then act vigorously to defend your territory, patrolling the borders and guarding the gates. A tiger response to attacks will put off other possible attackers. You can also spend time looking for other areas to occupy.

2. The Information-manipulation game

As a manager of information, you first hoard it (not sharing it), for example by gaining expertise in areas that may be of value in the future. You can also gain control of the gateways to that information. When you hold the keys, you can also bluff that you know more than you actually do. The key here is always to use information whilst giving away as little as possible. Information is power, and an information manipulator uses it in any and every way possible. If other people use information against you, you seek to discredit both the person and their information.

3. The Intimidation game

In this game, the objective never to fight by showing how dangerous you can be. Using such tools as sarcasm and cynicism can make you a feared opponent. You may well want to build your reputation as a dragon-slayer. Just a threat from you is enough to make most people back down.

4. The Powerful-alliances game

If you do not have power yourself, you can find it in other people. Wheedle you way into powerful circles, ingratiate yourself to the bosses. Build networks you can call on in times of need. This can even be done with nasty tricks such as blackmail and bribery.

5. The Invisible-wall game

Building invisible walls around your territory makes it difficult for people to find their way in and attack you. Mazes and false pathways help them to get lost, tired and dispirited. You can then be kind and show them the way out.

6. The Strategic-non-compliance game

When you cannot easily refuse, then the simple response is to say yes then to delay and diminish your delivery. Make excuses, do the wrong thing or become unavailable. You can even band together with others to say 'no' in a collaborative voice (this is what Trade Unions can do).

7. The Discredit game

When others have power, you can drain it away by discrediting them. You can find their dark secrets or even create them with seductive traps, then expose them - it's called 'entrapment'. Be careful to stay clean yourself, getting others to do your dirty work and using 'humor' and 'truth' to deflect pointed fingers.

8. The Shunning game

This is the classic game of ostracizing people, 'sending them to Coventry' or a host of other ways of casting them out socially. This is a severe punishment for social beings. It can also be done in small ways, such as avoiding eye contact or being 'unavailable'.

9. The Camouflage game

This game is about distracting and confusing them to keep them away from your position. It is like the Invisible Wall game but played at a greater distance, hiding yourself before they even come close.

10. The Filibuster game

This is the game played by politicians everywhere, as they grab the talking-stick and then keep talking until there is no time left for anyone else to say anything. It can be a fine delaying tactic if this is necessary.


The big question is what you can do about these games if you are on the receiving end. Simmons recommends one of three tactics:

  • Refuse to play the game: It takes two to tango, and if you (and others) won't play they may have to give up.
  • Name the game: Exposure, so everyone knows the game, is a great way of neutralizing tricksters.
  • Change the game: Taking control yourself allows you to reframe and redirect the energy of the situation.

Overall, this is an excellent book for those who must fight organizational politics. It describes the games and responses above (and more) in good detail, giving you the ability to navigate the jungle of everyday organizational territorial games.


Buy Me

Annette Simmons, Territorial Games, NY: Amacom, 1998

A useful book on games of power and politics within organizations, describing in detail ten common games and ways to manage them.

See also the review of this book.



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