Performance Management Blog

What is the best teambuilding game for remote learning?
logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition

While it may appear that I’m going out on a limb in responding to the quest for the best, years of evidence, feedback, and conversation suggest that the strengths of the original board-based game, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, seem to now lend credence to The Lost Dutchman Virtual game (LDV) being the very best teambuilding simulation for remote learning and development in business environments.

(and any comments and reactions would be very interesting and informative for this overall discussion!)
This is intentionally a long and detailed article addressing the very serious question about what is the best online teambuilding game! Comments and suggestions would be most appreciated in the comments. Please!

I state that Dutchman is the very best online game for a variety of different reasons that are discussed in depth within this blog. Here are the statements discussed more fully below:

A click on the numbered item below will skip to that part of the text in the blog.

  1. The Lost Dutchman Virtual version (LDV) is based on the original Lost Dutchman board game (LDGM), developed as a board game in 1993 and undergoing continuous development to optimize its impacts on collaboration, leadership and communications.
  2. The board game design flowed seamlessly into a logical-to-deliver facilitated Virtual game to focus on real issues for alignment and performance improvement.
  3. Issues of collaboration over competition need to be addressed in most organizations and the discussion of collaboration optimizing measurable results is a key design feature in Dutchman.
  4. Remote work teams do not need more team bonding activities, which may be fun to do but do not change performance or behavior and do not offer debriefing discussions. 
  5. The best team building exercise or simulation for remote delivery needs to work across all sorts of cultures and functions without pressure or intimidation to be truly effective.
  6. The play of the game needs to be fun and engaging for all the players and all the players in the game should be able to interact with each other.
  7. “An excuse to do an impactful debriefing” is the purpose, so the game can focus players on issues and opportunities for organizational development and change both within and across organizational boundaries.
  8. A detailed survey of board game users found high praise for the exercise and we continue to receive such comments from users worldwide, who suggest nothing else really compares to the positive impact and flexibility of Dutchman.
  9. The observed behaviors in the game are commonly observed choices in organizational performance, and represent real performance improvement opportunities and frameworks for better alignment and culture change to support more collaboration and less competition. support less competition and more collaboration. 
  10. The exercise comes packaged with unique, memorable images and metaphors to make debriefing discussions more focused and memorable.

A click on the numbered item above will skip to that part of the text in the blog.


logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


Let’s discuss each of the above points in depth.

1. The Lost Dutchman Virtual version (LDV) is based on the original Lost Dutchman board game (LDGM), developed as a board game in 1993 and undergoing continuous development to optimize its impacts on collaboration, leadership and communications.

We first released the game in 1993 after a year of development. It was an immediate hit with customers because its very clean design allowed teams to make choices to collaborate to optimize results — or, they could choose to compete to try to win. The expressed goal is, “to mine as much Gold as WE can” and to maximize ROI and the role of the Expedition Leader is to, “help teams be successful.”

The Goal is to Mine as much Gold as WE can in the Lost Dutchman's teambuilding game

The game facilitator can act in total congruence with helping teams, offering information and resources to mine Gold. The teams can make choices to gather additional information and to share resources between teams and even to ask the Expedition Leader for advice or help. The EL can give teams extra resources because, as in the real world, asking for help can generate the support needed to generate better results. LDGM is packed with hundreds of debriefing slides, ideas and other support materials for generating long-term impacts on workplace teamwork. The board game provided a solid base on which to build the remote version of the exercise; many of the same dynamics of play are retained.

(LDGM board game versions are still available for 3-teams, 4-teams, 6-teams and unlimited numbers of teams for onsite team building training and events, including a rental version for large event one-time use.)


2. The board game design flowed seamlessly into a logical-to-deliver facilitated game to focus on real issues for alignment and performance improvement.

Jeff Simmerman took the board game version that he first helped me deliver at age 12 and smoothly integrated all the key design features of play into the remote online version. The game rules were all maintained in his development of the virtual game and the automating of the movements, trading and general play allow the facilitator to focus on the decisions and communications among the teams and not on the mechanics of delivery. Once the Introduction is completed and the planning period has ended, teams then make all the moves, trades, and communications among their individual breakout rooms.

The Expedition Leader can ask and answer questions during play, make suggestions or clarify choices, as well as choose to share additional resources with the teams as desired, something we call “The god mode.” They have the capability of overriding nearly everything. Remember that the expressed role of the Expedition Leader is to help teams be successful and maximize Return on Investment. So they can behave in alignment and congruently with their role and attempt to do what is needed to help teams optimize overall game results.

All the design features of the original board game are elegantly expressed in the virtual game format and it even measures more things to allow for a solid and detailed discussion about choices and possibilities for play and how those choices can be applied to the workplace. The virtual game allows for exceptionally good follow up on ideas for implementation, something that was harder with the board game version delivery.


3.  Issues of collaboration over competition need to be addressed in most organizations and the discussion of collaboration optimizing measurable results is a key design feature in Dutchman.

A key factor in the LDGM game design was this choice between collaboration between teams or competition. Some teams, as part of their planning choices, can obtain resources not available to the other teams. These resources help to optimize results and they can be shared, as an option, which will increase the amount of gold mined. A team choosing to compete against another team will generally not share these resources and thus, they make choices to measurably sub-optimize overall game results. Here is an actual results summary comparison from the game interface:

Sample Results Summary graphics from the Virtual Lost Dutchman game play analysis report

We can see the results for each team along with some metrics about their play and each team’s overall results above and in the game support materials, which are designed to support the Expedition Leader in their discussion about teamwork and planning and collaboration in the debriefing process. We measure a lot of different aspects of play in our debriefing. How many other team building simulations measure results and allow such a detailed overview of how choices tend to either optimize or sub-optimize performance?


4.  Remote work teams do not need more team bonding activities, which may be fun to do but do not change performance or behavior and do not offer debriefing discussions.

LDV provides performance and behavior-changing outcomes for Remote work teams. Rather than being a simple team-bonding activity with a temporary outcome, at best, the solid debriefing that Dutchman is known for, ensures that Remote teams will benefit from both an enjoyable challenge and valuable learnings through the debriefing. Remote work teams do not need more team bonding activities, which may be fun to do but do not change performance or behavior and do not offer debriefing discussions

There are hundreds of possible activities to do team bonding among participants in an online workgroup. They can be asked to simply share hometowns or colleges or most favorite places they have visited. They can share their favorite foods or discuss their favorite teams or whatever, to build a bit of rapport and commonality amongst the participants. But does anyone really think that performance will improve because of these activities?

The Lost Dutchman Virtual game assigns its participants to their teams before the session starts. When people sign in to play, the game starts immediately with The Introduction and gives the goals, rules, and mechanics of operating the game. Teams then go to breakout rooms to discuss their strategy and plan for resource consumption during play. Then, they have 20 two-minute days to execute their plans and generate results.

Their choices are tracked, their conversations and the sharing of resources are readily observed and their Expedition Leader can actively try to help them (if the teams request that assistance). The facilitation of the game is very congruent with what a manager should choose to do to help their people optimize their performance results. And in the same sense, players can decide to reach out to the EL for help, often based on their own workplace reality, to ask for help from their manager. Competition can be observed and the overall play is easily discussed and related to the workplace realities and possibilities for change.

We provide teams with significant opportunities to debrief their behavioral choices in the context of the play. Here are a sample:

A triad of debriefing slides from The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building exercise.

A triad of debriefing slides from The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building exercise.

 


5.  The best team building exercise or simulation for remote delivery needs to work across all sorts of cultures and functions without pressure or intimidation to be truly effective.

The board game version of Dutchman has been played worldwide with great success and we have the surveys and testimonials to prove it.

Personally, I have presented the game in over 25 countries and we have been selling and supporting the exercise globally since 1993. A Japanese online and board game version of Dutchman developed in collaboration with our associates at Work Happiness in Tokyo, is called Zipangu and the design is just like Dutchman. We have used the game in a Chinese version called The Gold of Lou Lan that also generated similar play results.

Therefore, the basic designs of the board game, which LDV retains, is a successfully proven and highly effective tool that works in all kinds of scenarios and in many different cultures across the board.


6.  The play of the game needs to be fun and engaging for all the players and every the players in the game should be able to interact with each other.

The design of the Dutchman game is such that everyone playing has a role and that each team of 4 people will do their planning and execution in their breakout room. And every player has a simple method of talking with players on different teams, individually or as a team. Since we want inter-team collaboration, we made it easy for teams to share information and game resources. The game interface is pretty amazing, really, encouraging collaboration and communications between players and between teams.

The rules are complex but understandable and the interface of the exercise is straightforward. All the players know all the rules at the end of the introduction and each player has clear, defined job duties. The Team Leader controls the actual movement, The Supply Expert manages the acquisition of the supplies as decided by the team, The Collaborator can readily communicate with other teams and with individual players and ???? You need to mention the 4th player’s role.


7.  “An excuse to do an impactful debriefing” is the purpose, so the game can focus players on issues and opportunities for organizational development and change from within and across organizational boundaries.

We specifically designed the Lost Dutchman game with clear goals, congruent leadership and facilitation, and a series of metaphors that link wonderfully to organizational development issues. The goal was to have the game be congruent with how organizations work and to allow teams to plan a journey. Teams need challenges. 

  • We added Turbochargers, which allow teams to go two blocks in one game Day and thus serve as a Best Practice metaphor as well as something that could be shared between teams to enable the receiving team to generate better measurable results.
  • We added “mud” to the exercise and made being in the mud require an extra Fuel Card. Mud is a metaphor for the “gooey stuff” found in organizations that is hard to get a grip on and something that might represent politics or culture or similar hard-to-manage realities.
  • The goal is, “To Mine as much Gold as WE can,” even though many teams read the “we” as My Team and not the group. A related goal is to maximize the Return on Investment, made of course by the Expedition Leader, who in reality should care about overall success and not just one team’s winning.
  • The role of the Expedition Leader is, “to help teams be successful.” Few teams as this manager to help them by sharing information or giving them more resources to generate more successes.

Overall, the game has strategic planning components, collaboration components, leadership components and many other design features, including measurable results, to enable discussions to move from the play of the game to the real issues of collaboration, communications and other ideas for workplace improvements. The debriefing is the step before the beginning of the implementation of better ways to get things done.

I actually designed the game from my direct real issues and opportunities in running 14 Districts and 120 retail stores in 5 states as Senior Vice President of Operations. We made the District Managers into Facilitators and focused on sharing best practices and performance improvement ideas across all of the districts. The competition was about winning, overall and these efforts (plus shared stock ownership in an ESOP) helped move the stock from below 2 to 32 over the course of 4 years. This experience provided me with the key design features that are embedded into Dutchman.

People can do pretty amazing things if they feel a sense of ownership, have clear goals and expectations, experience positive measures of performance and get great feedback on key issues. We got the organization out of the way and let the front lines manage the business more and more. The game parallels so many of those initiatives and is a real-world organizational development exercise. (The company I was with bought the game to use to continue the improvement process, BTW!)

The most successful game have some real-world underpinning, in my opinion. 


8.  A detailed survey of users found high praise for the exercise and we continue to receive such comments from users worldwide, who suggest nothing else really compares to the positive impact and flexibility of Dutchman.

We reached out to users to share their thoughts about the exercise and to compare the board game version to other products in the team building environment. The results were surprisingly good and the testimonials we receive are outstanding. One really tough T/F (what is T/F and if I don’t know will others?) question: LDGM is the best exercise I know of to work with senior managers on issues of strategy, alignment, and organizational collaboration.” Fully half of our users (50%) said this was TRUE! Comments were all supportive of our design, packaging and pricing.

  • 29 people (56%) responded that Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is “the best overall team building exercise I have used.”
  • And, fully 100% would recommend the game to others for purchase and use, with 63% saying they would recommend it to ANY trainer or consultant.

You can see the full survey results here.
We have a lot of testimonials from real users here.


9.  The observed behaviors in the game are commonly observed choices in organizational performance, and represent real performance improvement opportunities and frameworks for better alignment and culture change to support more collaboration and less competition.

SO many so-called team building games have teams competing to win and not to collaborate. You can probably think of many examples. One game I used to see being used all the time would actually allow teams to publicly DIE in the game, making those players involvement in the debriefing impossible. Teams would actually leave the room and not come back, and I was sure there were problems with that back in the workplace. When you generate winners, you also generate losers.

People do not ask for advice or assistance, generally, in Dutchman and we can show the negative sub=-optimizing impacts of that in the measured results and in the debriefing. It becomes one of those things that players and teams can choose to do differently.

There is information teams can access is they choose to NOT head out on Day One. (You can find a pretty amazing discussion about Day One and the elegant Dutchman design here.) Strategic planning can be part of the post-game discussion and we have run the game as part of the certification credits for The Strategic Planning Institute a few years ago.

The Dutchman game is about optimizing organizational success through a number of real organizational development key factors. The mission and vision are clear to all before they start. They have sufficient but not excessive resources to succeed. They get solid information about how to play and how to succeed. They have to work together to optimize results and their game manager is a resource to help them be successful.

The play of the game demonstrates a lot about the existing workplace culture and the debriefing of the game can help directly in clarifying the real desired outcomes for moving forward.


10. The exercise comes packaged with memorable images and metaphors to make debriefing discussions more focused and memorable.

The thinking from the beginning has been that Dutchman should be designed to be a debriefing, that all the play and all the design features should be congruent with a powerful debriefing. The Expedition Leader is expected and trained to be an excellent facilitator of play and a resource for teams to help optimize performance. Facilitating the play helps to improve the quality of teamwork. However, the reality is that they are seldom asked for advice or help, the same kind of behavior we see happening in many workplaces. The teams should collaborate to optimize results, but they tend to compete or at least be competitive and sometimes not accept offered help from other teams.

To optimize the debriefing and to make it most memorable, we use a series of images to add a visual anchor to the discussions. Our library of included debriefing slides is extensive and customizable. The idea is to use real examples from play to relate them to real choices made in the workplace, to generate ideas for improvement that can be discussed and then implemented. They can be funny and they poke fun at the play.

A Square Wheels image for Lost Dutchman about the chaos of interdepartmental collaboration

A possible debriefing image showing the chaos we often call, “Interdepartmental Collaboration.” There is little apparent alignment even though teams spent energy in planning for the journey. It was simply poor planning, not a lack of motivation.

 

Three images about alignment for the Dutchman debriefing

Three possible images to use in discussing alignment to your shared goal of “Mining as much Gold as WE can.”

 

 

 

 

Nine images from the collection of Lost Dutchman debriefing slides

More of the collection of possible images to embed in your debriefing and your follow-up meetings.


 

Comments and suggestions and clarifications and promotions of other teambuilding games should be made in the comments section below. The goal is to generate a discussion around products and benefits and there seems to be little available information about many of them. My goal is to eventually generate some product comparisons, with a focus on features and benefits. We are researching the products available and hope to discuss Diamonds of Amazonia very soon. 


Please note that we have 100 blogs about Dutchman, the design features, the desired outcomes, how to debrief actual results, testimonials, user surveys and other documentation in our numerous blog posts. And it you ask me a question, I sometimes answer in great detail in a blog post!

We offer full support as well as potential co-development of other features of the Lost Dutchman exercise to meet special needs and requirements of our users. We want your play of our game to be fully discussed and debriefed to optimize impacts, and for your discussions to lead to specific follow-up activities around the implementation of ideas from play into performance improvements in those workplaces,

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 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 team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- 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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