Tuesday, May 7, 2013

House Effects

Using Intramural Rivalry

Steve Ballmer with tongue sticking out
 ~ My high school had (and still has) a house system, modeled on the traditional arrangement in English schools. All students are assigned to one of four houses, each with its own symbols, traditions, and social events. They provide a way of promoting esprit de corps across different grade levels, but their most obvious purpose is to provide various forms of intramural competition in sports, debating or other contests.

J.K. Rowling imagined a house system at the fictional Hogwarts.

Similar loyalty-building divisions and intense competition can also be found between the various branches of the US military, especially among the elite units of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Companies sometimes form competing "skunk works" teams to each independently tackle tough problems.

These institutions all seek through a kind of tribal loyalty to promote rivalry and vigorous competition that, in theory increases the excellence of all.

So why isn't it working at Microsoft?


  1. It's not working for MSFT because it's not worth it to be that competitive these days. As you know, the review process is completely broken. If everyone kicks ass, people are still going to get burned due to the bell curve you must adhere to as a manager. People do not like getting screwed when they are not making what they used to and managers hate giving the bad news. When we were all making millions, it was easier to tolerate. Now, you are just pulling in a salary and only given a handful of ~$30 shares (once a year) - and that's if you are a stellar employee. That pales in comparison to the two reviews a year and stock options (twice/year) when the stock price was skyrocketing in the 90s.
    One other thing. Microsoft used to be a fun place to work. You could come up with a great idea and run with it. Now, there's petty high school type cliques at the individual contributor level and bureaucracies that didn't use to exist at the management level. It's just not fun anymore. It's actually quite sad.

  2. Completely agree. It certainly isn't the same place it was when I left 20 years ago this summer. The internecine fighting and brutal pitting of employees against each other has not lead to healthy rivalries that promote enterprise excellence. Little wonder so many of its best people have left for startups or other places where innovation and teamwork are rewarded.