Performance Management Blog

Lessons from The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a game on teamwork and collaboration

There are many lessons that can be learned from playing team building games and actually improving teamwork. We constantly hear from users that our teambuilding products generate more than their share of great learning opportunities. Reactions to the games are as varied as the groups of people that play and the kinds of cultures they represent. They work for very large groups as well as really small ones and even in remote workspaces.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine in its board game, onsite version is quite flexible in how it is delivered. It’s been run globally since 1993 with outstanding reviews. Our customers love it! We love it!

A 600 person delivery of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine board game version.

One neat thing about Dutchman is that the organizational culture will show itself measurably and clearly — if people are highly competitive with each other, we see it in the dynamics of play and the lack of measured collaboration. If the culture is analytical, we see that in the inventory numbers at the end. If there is distrust among people, that shows itself clearly in that people will resist the help of other teams or even from the game’s Expedition Leader.

These factors are easily discussed in the debriefing and those issues can be framed up and challenged to generate real alternatives for implementation. The debriefing generates solid insights in the choices made and those opportunities to do things differently. My Team. My Team, My Team, below, represents one such culture whereby more inter-team focus on collaboration might make some real differences and improvements.

My Team, My Team, My Team represents the choice not to collaborate with other teams

If you are interested in the possibility of using Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine as a team building or motivational exercise for a retreat, large event or even purchasing it for use within a training program, I can help you make a good decision in a few-minute conversation about your group, your goals, and your desired outcomes. If Dutchman is not a good fit, I would certainly offer other recommendations that might mesh with your goals with some other vendors and consultants. There are many good options for corporate team building events and workshops out there.

These are some of the most common and important issues and outcomes from the play of The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine:

Collaboration, even when it is encouraged, can be difficult to actually achieve, much less implement:

  1. There is a big difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. Safety does not generate good results and it can measurably sub-optimize results
  2. Many people will choose competition rather than collaboration as a strategy and a few of those on a team will make the team less collaborative
  3. Openly encountering and assessing the risks involved and seeing a clear benefit is vital to generating collaboration in both the game and in the workplace
  4. Making these issues visible and somewhat uncomfortable is a good first step in generating the cognitive dissonance that is important for behavioral change and choice

There are three “Most Important Resources”: Time, Information and Each Other

Time:

  • Decisions made up front often have the greatest impact on final results. Planning time is often time well spent; do-overs in business are often fairly costly and sometimes decrease the likelihood of change
  • Strategies and plans are often forgotten when in the midst of pressures for results – “plans often do not survive the first contact with the enemy”

Information:

  • We must understand the challenge, plan for necessary resources, prioritize our activities and value our resources in order to optimize results
  • Decisions, no matter how good, are made based on considered alternatives; if little or no information is available, good decisions are impossible.
  • Alternative choices and analysis of cognitive biases can often lead to improved decision-making

Each Other:

  • Activity is no replacement for productivity and accomplishment. Getting things done cannot be more necessary
  • Peer support is often an essential component of critical thinking and action. Really working together can be amazing
  • People can add better perspective to risks and barriers to performance; shared risk is more easily endured
  • Alternative choices often come from people with different views and viewpoints. Perspective is a valuable tool for performance improvement

Decision-making, combined with clear understanding of the goals and objectives, will often help to optimize performance, productivity and results.

  • Team consensus generally leads to better decisions if it is focused on clear goals and desired outcomes and results; unfocused consensus leads to mediocrity and compromise
  • Your past experiences will color your decision-making and risk taking and teams will often take more considered risks than an individual. Confirmation bias can be a real sub-optimizer of future results
  • The best goals are  specific, attainable and realistic, measurable, clear and agreed-upon by your teammates

In the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine exercise, the goal is clearly presented in the game introduction: “The Goal is to mine as much Gold as WE can.” But the word “we” is sometimes problematic.

It is common, though, based on the above factors, that tabletops will often frame “we” as “My Team, My Team, My Team” because that is commonly how things work in their workplaces. Each team is often designed to be an independent one, and thus collaboration is not actively encouraged nor managed. Look again at this image of how things really work and see if you can find that operating around your organization.

My Team, My Team, My Team represents how things really work to isolate teams in most workplaces

In the game, as well as in most workplaces, performance is optimized when cross-functional and interdepartmental teamwork is the norm. The exercise reinforces that, clearly showing the costs of competition.

My Team needs to be OUR Teams, and
“ALL of us” is much more impactful than “most of us.”

This key learning point is delivered elegantly well with Dutchman, since this team building exercise so clearly and measurably rewards collaboration and communications with leadership and with other teams. Collaboration was a main design feature in how the game was constructed. We can neatly measure collaboration in different ways. And this call for collaboration can be a rallying point in your debriefing discussions and implementation followup.

Many of our users tell us that  Dutchman is the best team building exercise in the world, and we have a lot of testimonials that support that conclusion. It will soon be 20 years that this game has been in play (and in continuous continuous improvement).

Frankly, talking about Lost Dutchman with prospects and users is one of the best things that I can do in a day. I feel really fortunate that we could put all this together into such a well-playing team building simulation that fits worldwide. It generates clean results and very actionable ideas for implementation. And users have told me that the, “ah ha’s!” continue to happen long after the session.

If we can help you with anything about this exercise, let us know,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.


Here is a 2-minute overview of the NEW virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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