Why Lost Dutchman is a superior game on the theme of collaboration than most other exercises

Most team building games generate some level of competition and insights into such competition is often useful as part of the debriefing. At the same time, I always questioned why one needs to generate competition and what would happen if we encouraged collaboration on results: Would the teams hear "collaborate" or would they compete anyway. As Dutchman evolved, we found that we could present the game as a challenge and a situation for optimizing group performance but the individual teams would, at least initially, generally start in a competitive mode. A few of the slides and much of the dialog focus on the Expedition Leader being there to help, the teams to "work together" and the goal to optimize ROI.

Of course, teams thing "We" is "My Team, My Team, My Team" and they get the spirit of winning into their game plan. We address this in the debriefing in a number of different ways:

One of the competitive products to Dutchman is an exercise called Gold of The Desert Kings (Eagle's Flight). In that exercise, teams are told that the first team back gets more for their gold and it is clear from how things are presented that the exercise is competitive (see more on a comparison in our FAQ pages by clicking here ). In our debriefings, there was often an inconsistency when we asked the teams why they did not collaborate and their response that we essentially told them to compete. Thus, when designing Dutchman, we made the role of the Expedition Leader congruent with supporting teams to be more successful and we designed the game to reward collaboration, information and resource sharing, and to provide measurable and obvious positive impacts for working together as a group.

Not many exercises seem to share this focus. For example, there are a lot of "pouzzle piece games" whereby each group of people is to solve some sort of problem but they do not have all the parts. They might each be missing one puzzle piece, for example. Solving the puzzle is not possible without the missing piece and that missing piece is obviously controlled by another team.

Dutchman is not so much about puzzle pieces and this obvious need to collaborate between players but more about the sub-optimization resulting from a conscious refusal to share resources and information. In a real inter-team environment common to most organizations, this kind of situation cause all sorts of problems in optimizing results. Problems can be solved without interdepartmental collaboration but the solutions generate higher costs, problems in service or quality or similar. "Interdepartmental collaboration" tends to be a common organizational oxymoron.

In the "manufacturing line" kind of situation, where there is a forced structure that generates sub-optimization, players KNOW this since the results are obviously suboptimized by the bottlenecks. Again, collaboration among the players on a team is what generates improved results. Collaboration BETWEEN the teams is generally not encouraged and the teams are in a competition for numbers or quality or time. This fails to address the inter-team issues that we focus on in Dutchman.

(And if any readers know of a similar learning point on collaboration and optimization that can be ginned from a different game or challenge, I would love to know about it.)

What Dutchman sets up is a tabletop of people with their own resources, information and decisions to make. The game offers additional information in The Videos (explained to them as, "teams find this useful") but it costs them 1 or 2 of their 20 total days. Generally, tables will resist getting these planning and best practice resources saying that they do not want to "waste a day" with this. These days gain them extra resources, more information, and a way to add more gold to their results. If they get AND SHARE the information, the group gets more gold -- the goal of the game is to "Mine as much gold as WE can" but they hear "we" as "my team, my team, my team."

In the newest version of the game, an option we are calling The Assay Office Version, a team getting The Mine Video learns it can mine an extra ounce of gold simply by knowing about this fact and asking for the extra nugget (11 versus 10 ounces). And another table gets the same Cave Card resource but does not KNOW about the available extra ounce of gold -- as play goes forward, I mention to the first tble and then to the second table that they need to talk and that one has better information than the other. Interestingly, they RESIST sharing that information, which has measurable impacts on the overall room results.

In my way of thinking, if I can show participants in the exercise that the choices they make about rushing out and not getting all the information available is often a sub-optimizing strategy in their organization and that if they choose to not share information and excess resources with another team, it has impacts on results. I can measure and report on their behaviors; we can make links to the workplace and culture pretty easily. It is the choices that they make on a daily basis that determines how collegial the culture and how much collaboration actually occurs

We are NOT talking here about failure, since all the teams succeed in our design. But we can talk about relative success, overall success, issues of sub-optimization caused by failures to communicate and share as well as the double-sided sword of competition and how it motivates one team but can negatively impact the overall group results, we can make direct links to what they can choose to do differently in the workplace. Some of the teams make better choices, like getting the available information or asking the Expedition Leader for advice. Some teams will readily share the resources and information with others; some teams will actively withhold the information so that they can "win" and beat the others.

For me, awareness of choices increases the possibility for consideration of alternatives. If they are unaware that alternative choices exist, they obviously cannot choose to do things differently. Plus, we get the benefits of peer support for making changes in the way things work.

From my experience, this seems to be a much less artificial situation than what is caused when one is missing a piece of a fixed puzzle. If you are missing an obvious piece (and have a piece that obviously does not fit into your problem), you HAVE to go somewhere to find it. But if you are CHOOSING not to get more information and are successful in your endeavor, it is much more like what really happens in the workplace.

Note that I am not one of those people who like Firewalking as a team building event nor like most of the "ropes" problems because of the difficulty in translating the experience into changes in how things are done in the workplace.

For the
FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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