An issue I keep seeing in teambuilding events is a failure to define success in the desired outcomes. What IS success in a team building situation? Success in NOT winning, because there are almost always losers when there are winners.
I asked in my LinkedIn feed for people to define success. Amazing that with 400 views, there were only two comments and neither offering an answer, with my friends choosing to reframe the question in some way but not addressing the issue. There were two definitions that appeared online:
AthensMicro posted: “A successful team is usually led by an individual who is trusted and respected by its members. Such leaders unify members toward the same direction by providing focus and guidance. They also offer encouragement and motivation to keep the team morale high, even in the midst of challenges.”
People need to feel successful if the teams are to feel successful. And success comes from accomplishing individual and team goals.
If you are trying to design a successful team building exercise, what do you try to do? As a game designer with over 30 years of experience, I would like make a few suggestions about what to do and what not to do to optimize the impacts on organizational teamwork.
- Look at The Big Picture and optimize as much success in the activity as you can. Maximize the number of people and teams who can reach the goal.
- Minimize the competition as best you can; some is good but too often things get cutthroat — think paintball or war games where there are clear losers and maybe only one winner
- Allow everyone and every team to get some measured success, some gold or some tokens showing accomplishment
- Structure in mutual respect for contributions to the team effort
- Be sure the team aligns to common goals for the team and for the group
- Keep communications open and allow the “fast thinkers” to not outrun the more deliberate players — ensure participation of all of the players. Give them ample time and information to understand the challenge and develop good strategies and tactics
- Have a facilitator who can HELP teams if they require additional information or resources or assistance of any kind
- Minimize the number of people and teams who fail. Find a way to allow them all to contribute
- Don’t pressure people to participate — allow for some choice without coercion.
- Do not let players or teams die in the game, or resign, or even worse, quit the game (and quit the debriefing). I have participated in events where the players simply left the venue, not to return
- Don’t simply point out the failures – tread carefully there. Focus on how the more successful teams could have assisted the other teams
- The exercise leader needs to be supportive of teams and not act to sabotage nor interfere with team or group successes
In designing your program, look for the downstream impacts you desire and define what you want to see happen back in the workplace. If you have not run the session, or something like it, consider doing a pilot program or ask for feedback from other people who may have experiences in team building program designs or experiences with similar kinds of exercises. Consider these possible dynamics:
- Can people help each other to succeed?
- Could everyone contribute to the overall accomplishments?
- Will the recognition spread around among the teams?
Understand this basic reality: If you have One Winner, you may have a whole bunch of Losers.
Understand the reality that a few people are generally a lot more successful with challenges and having accomplished them than most of the others, and that some people feel that they seldom win or succeed. The latter are often those who do not even attempt to contribute since they see one more failure as inevitable. ALLOW THEM TO FEEL SUCCESSFUL. And allow those more accomplished people to support the rest of the group.
Be sure that people can contribute to the overall success by designing your exercise around the desired overall features of active engagement and collaboration.
And do not choose activities like Firewalking, where 5 people on a team do the exercise and one is fearful or phobic and simply cannot participate — the implied peer pressure can be dangerous in many ways. Some people have real fears of heights, for example, so forcing them to participate is really not a good idea. Sure, they might conquer their fears, but they may also have nightmares about that for years and require professional help. Doing a whitewater trip can be real fun, at least for those who like those kinds of activities but recognize that not everyone can swim nor enjoy being placed in unfamiliar footing, so to speak! (Read my article on why I hate outdoor activities!)
If you are looking for a powerful, packaged team building game that accomplishes all of the above, let me suggest you consider The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a team building simulation we have been selling worldwide since 1993. The goal is for teams to, “Mine as much Gold as WE can” and the defined role of the Expedition Leader is, “to help teams be successful.” Both are very congruent with the reality that all teams are successful and contribute to the overall gold that is mined. Some teams that plan better (and even ask for help) can mine more gold than the others but everyone contributes. Players have defined roles and everyone participates in the play.
We have outstanding testimonials and the game is packaged with an incredible amount of support material and debriefing frameworks. We offer free support and no licensing or certifications or annual fees.
Our board game version comes in different packages for different size groups (3 teams, 4 teams, 6 teams and unlimited) and is sold at a one-time cost. We have many customers who have purchased one game and run it for thousands of players for pennies per person. Prices start at $1500, with free support and unlimited potential.
We also have a new, virtual version for training in online, remote team building situations. It is easily packaged into organizational development or leadership training kinds of applications. A click on the icon below will show you a two-minute overview of the exercise.
We’ve been supporting team building successes since 1993 and have had hundreds of thousands of people play Lost Dutchman and benefit from its truly solid debriefing about the choices they made and the possibilities for doing things differently in their workgroups.
Let us know if we can help you and YOUR teams be more successful,
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 email@example.com
Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.