Performance Management Blog

Debriefing Team Building Simulations – Some Ideas from Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
One main debriefing question is around, "What does mining gold mean to our organization?"

This will outline ideas about debriefing team building simulations and activities more effectively using illustrations and metaphors, asking tight questions related to possibilities and gathering clear examples from the play that relate to what really happens in the workplace. Most exercises are hard to debrief because they do not anchor to any measured behavior and the real benefits of collaboration within a team or between teams are not clear. They are fun games to play and maybe there is a connection to teamwork between teams.

I am sure that you have probably attended an event that was fun and that involved people but any real application of the play to implementing real changes in behavior in the workplace were very limited. Do you find, looking back, that performance improved in any measurable way?

I am especially not fond of the average or general outdoor team building games, which I have written about extensively in other posts like these:

among other posts.

Playing any game for the purpose of team building really requires a debriefing. People and teams need to discuss issues of choice and choices in the play and then make the link to possible opportunities for workplace improvement, with some perspective and discussion to better understand the choices and actions they can take back in the workplace. This makes a game a real learning event.

We are talking about real team building, and not the team bonding kinds of events that are more like icebreakers and simple games like Jeopardy and much of the gamification stuff.

My anchor point for this post is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a team building exercise that we first released back in 1993 as a board game and which global users tell us is truly outstanding. Dutchman challenges teams to, “mine as much gold as we can” and, “to maximize the Return on Investment,” giving each team sufficient but not excessive resources to meet the challenge of moving to and from the mine in the 20, 2-minute days they are allotted.

The game play following the Intro and Planning Time is pretty intense. Teams need to set their strategy and then carefully manage their resources. Some choose to do additional planning and can thus get resources that could be shared with other teams. Some teams thus choose to collaborate and some teams choose to compete, to “win.” The latter is generally not a great idea, since they exclude themselves from information and help from the other teams.

ALL the teams playing succeed; none of them die and all of them contribute to the total gold mined, unlike some games where players failing can resign or simply publicly die (of semi-permanent embarrassment). So, in Dutchman, none of the participants or teams are very much put off because they did not win so they are all willing to participate in the debriefing. (In some other similar games we have seen or used, the dead or resigned players are not the most helpful in the debriefing process and may try to distract the group or discount the experience or complain about the poor design, etc,)

The most successful teams, however, manage themselves differently. Sometimes they do choose to help the teams not performing as well. The reality is that if they are competing with the other teams, they are effectively choosing to sub-optimize the overall results for the Expedition Leader. Thus, we begin debriefing the Dutchman game with a goal of discussing how the teams, back in the workplace, can choose to collaborate and support each other and work for generating better actual results. Successful Teams are those that work to support the goals and desired outcomes of their management. They are generally aligned with the goals and they work collaboratively and collectively to optimize their contributions. This may be in innovation or results or some other aspect of organizational improvement. This is but one unique competency of the exercise to apply to workplace improvement and alignment issues that we do not see in other team building exercises.

The Debriefing:

We engage the teams in discussions about what happened and what might happen. The process is generally to use breakout room / tabletop discussions followed by group interactions. My debriefings are seldom the same, since I generally talk with senior managers about the overall desired outcomes and about what they plan to do as followup.

Here are a few of them, anchored to our new colorful illustrations. We literally have many dozens of images and hundreds of different questions and discussion topics. These are some of the new style we use in the online version of the game.

Four of the general kinds of debriefing slides used for discussions of issues and opportunities in Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game.

and these, some using LEGO for color, are what we use in the board game versions of the exercise.

Some slides that we use in debriefing the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding exercise

The design of the exercise is very tight, with clean metaphors about communications, engagement, collaboration, planning, teamwork and learning. It is most definitely a world-class exercise with wonderful applications to real-world issues and opportunities,

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

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game:

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


Debriefing slide:
One main debriefing question is around, "What does mining gold mean to our organization?"



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 and a detailed profile is here: -- 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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