When initially designed 25 years ago, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine was to have a solid front-end that challenged teams to put together a plan of action managing their limited resources and to push players to work together to develop a shared strategy and plan of action. The Intro was focused on them making specific choices around collaboration and strategic planning. The goal was a quality debriefing, one that involved and engaged people to make better choices and collaborate more.
(note: this post is actually written for users of the exercise, but it also speaks to our overall design thinking and features and benefits of Lost Dutchman over some competitive products which you might be familiar with.)
We also wanted this planning time to set the stage for play and the processes for playing out those team decisions to be clean, fast and simple. While some people have questioned the strategy of having a really simple “play” of the game, this has proven itself to be a good decision — faster play allows a longer debriefing time, and debriefing is where we generate commitment to change and manage post-exercise expectations and implementation.
We chose to use 20 days for play with a simple design that allowed the days at the end to be as short as 30 seconds each even in fairly large team events. It was the initial team decisions that either facilitated a lot of success and some low-stress play or some less-than optimal decision-making and planning that generated high-stress and scrambling for resources to succeed. By design, every team mined gold, but the teams with the better planning got better results and could also assist the others.
Basically, I found that it was best to give a detailed overview, with a good bit of redundancy, so as to maximize understanding. In this way, the players could make the best decisions possible to maximize the results and have the fewest mistakes. Heck, I even found that by adding “Most Common Questions” as a slide set at the end of the Intro to review the key points that I had already made saved me delivery time, since those were questions commonly asked of me that delayed getting started.
My thoughts were around optimizing play and minimizing the dumb mistakes and being detailed enough to enable players to get a good start in the 15 minutes of planning time given. It was also found that by shortening or deleting things, such as the time spent in generating the suggested Team Roles, the disorganization caused them to take even longer in getting started. Having roles enabled them to listen to the instructions more carefully and allowed them to get moving with the planning right away.
My associates in India asked how they could take the normally 45 minute Intro and set-up and reduce it to 15 minutes because their client had “a tight schedule.” Their thinking was that shortening it would have no impact on the team building, subsequent planning and play. They had this schedule for an upcoming session of 140 people:
- Intro and briefing – 15 minutes.
- Planning – 15 minutes
- Play– 50 minutes
- Break – 20 minutes and
- Debriefing – 50 minutes.
Well, I like challenges… So here are some thoughts about the dilemma:
The actual team building process occurs during the initial stages of the game in the 15 minute planning period. A long, detailed and a bit redundant introduction gives every player all the details of play and even some tips for optimizing results. Everyone knows all the rules and details, thus the discussion is not about what but about how to execute. They all should be equal participants in the discussion of strategy and overall decision-making and therefore would all share in ownership of the end result.
There are no really good, simple ideas on speeding things up the Introduction. I played with this a LOT during the first 10 years of playing and selling the exercise and found this to be true: If you keep something out of the Introduction, it either generates a question that takes at least as long to answer or it creates a problem with misunderstanding and a playing mistake they blame on YOU.
My focus on delivery has been to generate an effective and efficient way to present the information so that players are clear about the details of the rules at the start of their planning. I have found it to be faster to go slower and be more redundant in the Introduction. This way, players and teams make better decisions and play with better results and have fewer questions and run into less difficulty at the end. (Or, at least they have all the information on which to make a less than optimal decision (grin) ).
My finding is that speeding up by shortening the Intro information can slow things down in different and unexpected ways or causes more mistakes and poorer play and all that… Plus, it helps in the debriefing if all the players understand all of the operating rules and have better understanding and perspective on the choices and the impacts.
(They all “get” the planning metaphors of The Videos, for example. They were all offered the opportunity to acquire one or both before heading out and it was their choice to get or not to get them. The Videos are not a surprise in the debriefing, just the information that was in them and the reality that it could be shared with other teams.)
Okay, some ideas for speeding play and saving time:
Start on Time –
Demand that the session starts when scheduled and that everything is ready to go. Generally, this means delivering the game the very first thing in the morning. If there is breakfast, ensure that the hotel or center staff is there to help clear away the dishes and that there are stands around the room where plates can be taken. Have the tabletops all set up, including the tables for the Provisioner.
It is scary how often these programs with known “tight timing” issues do not start on time. This is especially true if there is some manager that. “needs to say a few things to the group before you get started.” I have lost 30 minutes or more from these “few minutes” while the content of that introduction could have been in an email to everyone. Often, these managers are not professional when it comes to presenting in a timely and efficient manner so it is YOUR responsibility to get that part of the program done quickly.
If you are starting after lunch, be sure to have someone who works for you on the lunch floor pushing the timing so that people can come into the room. Make the room inviting, with music and a slide show of pictures or something similar. Get them in and KEEP them in until you are ready to go.
And, again, do not allow for a few minutes of “more introduction” by anyone other than a professional presenter who knows the meaning of “ending on time” for their part.
NEVER EVER play the game at night with alcoholic beverages. Those sessions are absolute disasters – and no one will remember anything the next day.
Team Roles –
One idea might be to not assign roles during the Intro and let teams figure that out during the planning. That saves a bit of time, but the teams will be less organized. Thus, decisions might take longer if roles are not clear.
However, if you do that, DO stress the selection of the team Trader but maybe not the others. Having one person be accountable for bringing resource cards to the Trading Post is critical to efficient delivery.
The alternative is to assign teams and tables prior to the session, and you can also suggest team roles in that assignment, You can list table # and team member names with roles on the sheet. (Make the most senior manager the Team Trader, though — they do the most work and get isolated! See this blog for more information on players and roles and assignments.)
And DO separate the groups into distinct pods for large group events. If you have 120 people, you could play with 2 pods of 10 teams each or 4 pods of 5 teams each. It is certain that the pods of 5 teams each will play faster than pods of 10. You would also need more floor support, but that would help to answer questions and respond to problems more quickly. It would be easier for a Provisioner to spot a team that is having trouble with a smaller pod, and thus direct help toward that tabletop.
Team Size –
In my experience, smaller teams play faster — if you can set up as groups of 4 players per table, the planning and the play will go faster. So, a session of 24 people would play faster with 6 tables of 4 rather than 4 tables of 6 players each. But that takes more support from your team of delivery people with larger teams. It depends on how many support people you have but the more experienced help on the floor, the easier to solve problems. (Note – I use senior managers to support my large group events! See this blog for rationale.)
(If you do that, use a different Team Roles Form than the one showing 6 job roles at the tables and in the slides.) Maybe have only the Leader, Trader, Analyst / Supply Expert and Collaborator…
Decisions of smaller tabletops will be faster and usually better — but they MUST understand all the rules and themes and issues.
For those of you with 24 people, having 6 teams of 4 will be faster than having 4 teams of 6, for example.
Floor Delivery Support –
You can trade off SUPPORT PEOPLE ON THE FLOOR against covering things in PowerPoint Intro. The less you talk about, the more questions and the longer the “15 minutes of planning time” will take. This is especially true in a large group as in this session of 140.
If you do shorten the Intro, be SURE to have knowledgeable co-Expedition Leaders on the floor for each 3 or 4 teams. It will change the dynamics some…
My way of speeding things up is to have NO BREAK at the end of play – telling players that team play should allow individuals to take a break for bathroom or drinks during play. Cookies and coffee and the like can be in the room or even served to the tables by staff.
A “scheduled 20 minute break” (with 140 people) can run out to 30 minutes or more, which is very common with large groups. And it is probably the people last to arrive back that need the debriefing key learning points more than the others. Breaks can be absolutely a killer to an effective debriefing!
Large groups are much less manageable from a time perspective if they leave the room. Make them Break during the Play of the game, not afterwards. Make it impact their team, not you and the rest of the group!
Minimize the review of game results but use the results summary and overhead projectors to allow everyone to see all the results from all the teams. That generally reduces questions about “who won” and why and allows you to focus on the issues of optimization.
In my view, measurable results are absolutely critical to get key points across and to make the players feel accountable and not blaming others. In Dutchman, we carefully track who accomplished what and how the teams contributed to the goals.
Focus on the differences between the high and low teams and ask if the higher performing teams had resources that they could have shared that would have generated MORE RESULTS FOR YOU — not a winning score for one team…
I often do NOT show the Perfect Play summary of woulda-shoulda, but do focus on the fact that there were 3 Turbos that could be shared so that 3 teams could have used the Turbo to return in 4 days, as opposed to less than 3 (look at total TF Videos to see the number of Turbos available versus the number actually used (get that off the Tracking Forms at the Trading Post). THAT is probably the most important number for the entire group — that plus the days back early because of resource mis-management and bad planning decisions.
The Turbos are the Best Practices that generate better results with the same effort and they represent the leverage generated by collaboration among teams in the workplace. There were sufficient resources, but a good plan of action with engaged and involved teammates helped maximize results for the team — why not for the group? What would they need to do differently in the workplace…
I deliver the game as a learning event, not as a fun activity. Thus, for me, “The play of the game is an excuse to do a debriefing on choices, behaviors and the issues of engagement and collaboration.” Thus, I will demand that I have the full time allotted to the play and that we start on time
And I try never to lecture nearly as much as I try to allow tabletops to discuss specific issues and opportunities. I facilitate the game much more than I “teach” from it – their thoughts are more congruent to their issues than any idea that the game Expedition Leader might have.
“Nobody ever washes a rental car,” so work really hard in your debriefings to allow the participants to have active ownership of the ideas and the possibilities.
If possible, I try to coach the most senior manager to engage people in a discussion. This is sometimes dangerous since their preferred style is to talk at the people, not engage them. I have had to cut off such attempts at “training” more than a few times, generally with something such as, “Why don’t you spend 5 minutes and discuss that key learning point at your tabletop?” (And then take back the control of the debriefing…)
Turbos are best practices that can be shared – thus it begs the question, “What turbochargers are available that we could share with other groups within the company?”
(You can view a long slideshare on debriefing experiential exercises, framed around Lost Dutchman, by clicking on the image below:)
My debriefings generally focus on the dynamics of team interactions and desired collaborative behavior. My illustrations and questions anchor most of the debriefing to the desired client outcomes for the event. On occasion, they just want to have fun — I can usually persuade the leadership to get more value by increasing things like collaboration or sharing ideas around motivating others as part of a leadership development theme.
For large events, we discuss desired outcomes a lot prior to the event so that everyone involved in the delivery design is on-board with what we are trying to accomplish. In play, I most often end with tabletop discussions around, “What does mining (more) gold mean to us as an organization?”
Lastly, do all that you can do. (You cannot do any more than that!)
Work as best as you can to meet the commitments that were set, but realize that you may not have all the control you need to make this optimal. Various things will decrease your available debriefing time. Senior managers may feel the need to espouse on certain issues they think are critical — and they probably are — but that can cut into your plans.
And have FUN out there with the delivery. If you have fun and work the issues, they will have fun and also work the issues.
If you have any thoughts or ideas about improving the speed of delivery, we would love to hear from you. Anything we can do to increase the debriefing time is a worthwhile alteration, in my opinion. Many of the changes suggested above will have impacts on the dynamics of delivery, I think. SO be careful out there!
YOUR thoughts on all this would be Most Excellent!
Note: Thanks for reading this far. To improve and impact our debriefing and make the exercise even more memorable, we are in the midst of adding LEGO characters to our Introduction and some of our Debriefing materials in all versions of the exercise, with the thought that the game can better tie in with our Square Wheels® approach or be more congruent with consultants using LEGO Serious Play tools or simply using LEGO in general. We have NO affiliation with The LEGO Group or any other organizations and we are using the “useful article” approach to issues around intellectual property.
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.
Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a registered trademark of The LEGO Group.