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Debriefing and Facilitating for Organizational Improvement – Games versus Exercises

Fun versus Value. Activity versus Learning. Age old mysteries…

Maybe I have been at this consulting and training stuff too long, but in a conversation with a prospect the other day, it really got me thinking about the reality of team building and organizational improvement and the VALUE of what we do. I have posted up before many of my thoughts on issues of impact and cost and time, from discussions about why I do not like icebreakers all that much in this article and in this one.

I have also shared a lot of ideas about outdoor training kinds of events, a few of which I like but many of which I view as problematic, such as a paintball game with a group of people who may have some physical impairments. One, on fun and learning can be found here. Another discussion is found here.

There have been a string of article focused on how to improve the impacts of training, such as this one focused on Motivation and Processes or this one talking about how training cannot improve work processes and thus performance.

And there have been LOTS of articles on engagement and dis-un-engagement and the process of involving people for intrinsic motivation and performance improvement purposes. If you search “engagement” on the blog, you will find more than 20 articles playing all around the theme, with statistics and ideas and frameworks.

My favorite post is on extrinsic motivation — in it, I link to an article that is called “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever.” This focuses on the ignored part of the workforce, the quasi-motivated reasonably good performers who show up and put in time but do not perform to their capability — the 50% in the middle. You can download this article on engagimentation and motivation by clicking on the image:

I Quit Article Icon

What stimulated this post was a discussion with a prospect who has great experience facilitating teambuilding for organizations. His view was that a lot of companies do NOT want a fun learning event but would rather choose to simply do something fun. They do not want the session to relate to organization performance or work-improvement issues but simply want to throw some money out to a vendor to show their people that they care! The are looking for no ROI.

It is kinda like what I see when I look at the “Team Building Offerings” of a place like Dave and Buster’s. They actually frame this dinner plus play on the machines as Team Building. Apparently, they think that they can meaningfully relate that arcade games like slotball and shooting hoops and coupons somehow relates to workplace improvement and claimed that teambuilding is one of the specialties of our staff and corporate event planners. I mean, really?

Most of these activities are framed as competitions — and I will write soon about my thinking on the difficulties of turning competition into collaboration in any meaningful or substantial way. A client had me look into this for them and I saw it as fun, but not of much real value for the investment of time and money. Why posture and call it a team building? And what if someone falls down while running to exchange their coupons for “great gifts and prizes” before the clock wound down…

For me, I feel that if a company makes the investment of money, people and time into some event, there should be some impact. An internal HR person in Jacksonville summed it up nicely in a testimonial he sent to me:

Best “Learning Game” I have ever used…  We purchased Dutchman for an offsite meeting to discuss Resource allocation and Collaboration. It was a breeze to facilitate. The participants loved it and more importantly, walked away with lessons that they were immediately able to apply back at the office. The slides and materials allow you to guide the group in almost any direction imaginable. I am still getting comments weeks after the session about the impact it made on the business and the improved performance. A small investment that generates huge results.

I mean, the fact that it links to the workplace issues and that it apparently motivated his people to choose to do something differently is why I designed the game in the first place! And why I think it is a much better tool that so many of the other activities out there. (See a comparison of my Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine game to one of the most well-known games in the team building marketplace by clicking here)

LDGM 1 80

But there is another reality that I wanted to mention, and that is the post-game debriefing activity that should connect the play to the real world of organizational improvement. Yeah, fun is good and all that, but how do we help people make the connections and help them to make better choices in the future.

I have always talked about my exercises like Dutchman and Collaboration Journey as “excuses to debrief.” I want the game design and embedded metaphors to directly link to clean themes for improvement. Turbochargers become a metaphor for Best Practices, for example, and, “The goal is to mine as much gold as we can,” is really focused on the WE and optimizing overall success, rather than focusing on competing to win. Where there are winners, there are many more losers!

So, I absolutely LOVE it when people say things like this:

The feedback from the participants was fabulous.
I led the Dutchman’s Gold Mine game for our Store Manager development as part of their annual conference.
During the game, there were a few “aha” moments but what really brought the point home was The Debriefing. There was a lot of great debriefing material to use and I focused on how the game paralleled our business and how much better the results could be if we collaborated better as an organization.
Scott was extremely supportive and was always available to answer my questions or give me suggestions.  I recommend this game to anyone that wants to build collaboration among and between teams.  It is fun and effective!
After renting the game to initially test it with two large groups, we bought the Professional Edition to run this company-wide
.

This feedback was from Kyla, a trainer with a large retailing organization, who is rolling out the exercise through her whole company. That is really cool! For $8000, their cost of delivery is about $1 a person…)

So, I like HARD questions that focus on the organization’s future. I like discussions that relate to choices people make in the game and then in the workplace. When I ask about what energizes, I relate it to what the managers could do differently. When I focus on Gold, I focus on choices to make improvements in results. The game was about maximizing ROI — that comes from optimizing communications, sharing resources, and working together.

Dutchman Debrief Triad

I would love to hear responses to this, both on the question of fun versus fun learning, as well as on the issue of debriefing activities. I often find so many of the latter so lightweight, so devoid of connection that all comments will be forgotten as soon as the next activity starts. I know that the facilitators think they are doing a great job because there are often smiles all around, but it also seems like nothing gets done after such sessions. One client long ago did one of those firewalking events — a couple of years before the Burger King fiasco * — and people DID talk about doing it. But it was always focused on doing the firewalking and never on anything that happened as a result of that BIG expense to the company…

*Firewalking done by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in a “team building and personal growth” session with 12 getting burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his. (you can read more here.  (Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)

Games are fun and I like games. I like fun. I like to kayak and play pool and all that. But I think that a corporate learning event should be just that, a learning event. I like Dave and Buster’s food — I am just not sure of their impact on organizational improvement. Frankly, I think the teambuilding programs where you actually cook a dinner would be more impactful than simply playing, but the home page of D&B’s says that they have conducted thousands of these events.

For the FUN of It!

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. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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3 Comments

  1. Can’t agree more that corporate team building events should deliver more value than just being fun..most of the time. However, what are your thoughts on the value of building relationships through a corporate event outside of work giving team members an opportunity to get to each other in different environments. We find with our scavenger hunt activities (which we certainly bill as ‘corporate team building’ events) we get a lot positive feedback from our clients’ event organizers that the ‘fun’ aspect goes a long way towards strengthening relationships. Our hunts are all about collaboration, a strong element in a cohesive team. However, even with events that are just for fun, do you feel that the personal interaction is not enough to warrant the time and investment?

    Glad stumbled across your blog!

    • Andrew –

      Dave Blum, a good friend, also does similar kinds of activities and customizes them to desired outcomes, locales, etc. I have participated in one of them. I think they can have solid value, but I personally find that some people are simply MUCH better at the problem solving and word-clue analysis involved in these hunts and thus tend to dominate the activity and the team. If the goal is team building, I find that each person having a unique role is somewhat of a requirement, and it more closely represents how teams should work in the workplace.

      Similarly, I found that one team would often compete with the other, even going so far as to intentionally mis-direct or give false information for their own benefit. In our activity, this happened a couple of times between different teams.

      Lastly, there is somewhat of an uncontrolled element, in that not all teams even finish close to the same time. For us, this made it hard to debrief because we had to wait for one or two teams to finally make it to the reassembly point. One team actually quit and came back unfinished and the other team finished, but was late.

      Fine well and good, and I think these activities can be debriefed pretty well. There are some measured results and there is some physical activity involved. And, I think when these are properly designed, as I think Dave’s are, there are real work metaphors embedded in the activity.

      Hope all goes well and thanks for commenting. I try to make the blogs interesting and — more than that — USEFUL!

      Scott

  2. teambuildingblog

    Nice discussion gentlemen.
    As a company that offers a wide range of activities, we do differentiate between the ‘team-bonding’ activities and the ‘team-building’ activities. I know Scott has heard me mention the ‘teambuilding continuum’ before – a scale I like to use with bonding activities at one end and ‘building’ at the other.
    Both have their value within organisations and the outcomes required from the organisation should dictate the type of activity suggested. Let’s be honest, if a company comes to you and tells you about the deep rooted issues it’s facing within it’s teams, a half day treasure hunt just isn’t going to fix anything. We have basically turned down work by trying to explain this to companies. I’d rather that be the case that to get a perception from the client that our event had little of no effect – this is more damaging to our credibility than the missing potential income!
    Andy

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