A new connection on LinkedIn asked me a simple question and I realize that I have not actually written on this topic for a while, so he got me do that. He asked, in a message:
“Looks interesting, Scott, thanks for sharing. Is there reading material I can refer on this?
What’s the purpose of the game and how it helps employees?”
We sell different versions of our team building exercise, in a board game design we started selling in 1993 and in the new virtual online version we rolled out earlier this year. Both are quite similar in design, delivery, play and debriefing. They generate the same kinds of interactions, planning, collaboration and competition. Here is the basic setup:
We give each tabletop of people sufficient resources to journey from Apache Junction to The Mine and to return. For each day in the mine, they mine 10 ounces of gold. The goal is, “to Mine as much Gold as We Can” and the role of the Expedition Leader is, “to help teams be successful.” The metaphor background is that a German immigrant to Arizona, Jacob Waltz, found a rich source of very pure gold in The Superstition Mountains and failed to explain its location on his deathbed 40 years after his discovery. Reaching The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is the goal and our theme is that we are sharing the map and grub-staking the teams to 20 days for their journey. You can see our game board map below, which is linked to the landing page for the game on our website:
For the challenge, we give each team a Grub Stake of resources and they need to decide what they take on which route and how many days they will plan to be in the mine before they return. Strategic planning is one key. Each team has sufficient but limited resources and they can also choose whether to get additional information and if they will collaborate with other teams. Generally, they make choices that will get them gold, but they often choose not to collaborate and they seldom choose to ask for information or assistance.
Their choices thus fail to optimize results, and they forget that the expressed goal is to mine as much gold as WE can. The Expedition Leader is there to support them, like most managers, but they generally fail to ask for support. We won’t give up all the information herein about the game features and designs, but our users strongly support the idea that this is one of the very best games in the world focusing on collaboration, engagement, and leadership. (There are a lot of other supporting materials in my other blog articles.)
Let me spend some time on this part of the question:
What’s the purpose of the game and how it helps employees?
The purpose of the game is to present a fun way to discuss team behavior and organizational culture. The expressed goal is to, “Mine as much gold as WE can” and this should be seen from the perspective of the Expedition Leader, who is sharing a map and resources and time and information. But the teams often hear “we” as “My Team, My Team, My Team” and thus make the initial choice of winning against the others rather than optimizing the results of the challenge. This kind of competition is a normal and natural choice of teams in organizations and our design during play is to allow the Expedition Leader to reframe the normal inter-team competition into more group collaboration. Thus, a major focus on the debriefing is to focus more on what individuals and teams in the organization can do to better align to organizational goals and objectives and thus to better engage them in alternative choices.
Measured results in the game show the sub-optimization very clearly. Resources and information that could help another team improve their performance is not always shared and the stronger teams that could have supported others generally simply choose to win. Few teams ask for help, even though that is readily available in the form of information or extra resources from the game manager; the reality in our long experience of working with organizations is that few teams in the workplace do a good job of asking for help when it would benefit their performance. The best managers do things differently, and a goal of the debriefing is to allow players to make better choices back at work.
The debriefing offers dozens of key learning points that players can discuss about the choices made and how to make better choices in their workplaces. Showing the choice of competition (more fun?) over collaboration (better results!) is one of the general take-aways. Discussing how to generate more motivation and engagement from collaboration and teamwork in normal business activities is another part of the possible debriefing, as is how to better align to group goals and desired outcomes.
The play of the game will align with the normal culture of the players and the workgroups. Some games are much more collaborative and such team cultures can be easily reinforced. With 6 teams playing, for example, some will collaborate while some will compete and one can use the overall play and results in a meaningful way to discuss alternatives going forward.
It’s fun. It is easy to run and bombproof in its design. It rewards good planning and collaboration and even teams that don’t do well are still successful and contributing to overall results. There are a wide variety of metaphors that link to various issues around people and performance and about how to make better choices, ask for support, and work together. In our game, as opposed to so many team bonding or individual performance challenges, one can easily move from the play of the game into the real issues of improving organizational performance.
The Lost Dutchman game is an excuse to do a powerful debriefing around improving organizational performance.
What we provide to purchasers is a very solid team building exercise, one with rock-solid presentation delivery and support materials. The game is very logical in design, so even new users can manage it cleanly and build their own game play stories over time that relate to improving the organizational culture. It links quite well into leadership development classes as well as events for senior managers to focus on alignment and collaboration across departmental functions. It is perfect for classroom training where one needs a variety of clean metaphors to link to session content and desired outcomes.
- We have this game in a board game version, played globally for 30+ years and polished and packaged for repeated use.
- And we also have the brand new virtual version, where we are now developing different kinds of support frameworks.
One of my personal goals is to allow supervisors to easily learn how to operate the game so they can run it with their actual teams and then do followup debriefings over the next weeks remotely to truly align their players to group goals and real performance improvement opportunities. The goal is to improve the culture of workplaces, engage people in real missions, visions and shared goals and to provide managers, trainers and consultants with solid tools for engagement and employee retention. (Plus, they can all have some FUN!)
So, my goal here was to answer a couple of simple questions about the Lost Dutchman teambuilding game. How did I do?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.
Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk