This blog is about Perfect Performance and shares some ideas about how we can support teams and leadership in the quest for continuous continuous performance improvement. The context is how groups play our business simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a team building exercise focused on, “Mining as much Gold as We Can.”

My framework is that I think we can do this better. I think that situations around individual and teams performing well are not generally handled well and that some managers think that doing nothing might have fewer side effects than actually recognizing results. My thinking is buttressed around all the dis-engagement we see in statistics about workplaces (70% of people are dis-engaged and badly managed (link) and that 53% of “job separations” are from people quitting the workplace (link).

I also assume that some people, some days, do exceptionally well. Should they be recognized? Sure, but the reality is often that the (extrinsic) rewards system in place will not handle such a thing and the supervisor does not want to differentially reward someone for the perceived problems it might generate in the other people. Good bosses are expected to recognize good performance, but that first article on dis-engagement (link) would suggest that there are a lot more bad bosses than good ones…

There are lots of coaching writings on giving praise and similar, so I will leave you to your own devices when it comes to ideas for dealing with individual performance. My thinking is more along the lines of how teams and groups respond so I will focus on that.

Not knowing quite how to start this off, I will simply relate a personal experience where I was at one of those group “outdoor experiential events” where we were solving a series of those simple problems as a group outside. There are a lot of different kinds of these things but they are basically the same: a group of people is told about a problem, they collaborate and trial-and-error some solution, and meet or beat the time allowed for that activity. Then, sometimes, they are allowed to do it again to see if they improve (they always do — duh!)

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The belief is apparently that the group thinking process will work to help them solve a problem that an individual might find difficult. And the facilitator seems almost frustrated when the problem gets solved easily — it is almost like they feel that they screwed up. So that “facilitator” may now get into a sabotage mode where they tell certain people they cannot talk or they move them out of the group of some such thing. (They did it to me — I was not allowed to talk because some of my ideas were actually facilitating the group process — Note: I am still pissed about it many years later.)

Maybe the facilitator’s goal was good, that they wanted to be sure that everyone’s ideas were heard, that they wanted some stumbling and fumbling, etc. But when I tried the strategy of directly asking this Group Leader for the best time achieved or a sample of the solution, it got almost adversarial between us. The person was NOT facilitating group performance; they were facilitating the exercise!

I build all my exercises so that the leader is facilitative. My belief is that leaders should help and that teachers should teach and all that stuff — and when those same people seem like they are sabotaging learning, I have a problem with that.

In my games and facilitation toolkits, I reinforce this opposite kind of situation, For my money, leaders and facilitators should be actively supporting ideas and energy and helping move things forward instead of getting into the way and blocking things.

Thus, it was really cool when David Simpson emailed me last week saying that a group of three teams in a session he ran for a client actually pulled off a Perfect Play of my team building game, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. He asked if I would generate a Certificate of Achievement.

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The teams performed well. Instead of designing in failure, the Dutchman game rewards high performance. Every team is successful, but the ones who get more information and plan better perform measurably higher. SO, his three teams did a Most Excellent Job in playing and the debriefing was focused on applying the same lessons of collaboration, planning, communicating and sharing ideas and best practices within their business. All players were managers of retail stores and all of them had ideas that helped their stores perform, so why not share those ideas to improve overall company results.

David and I talked on Skype yesterday and we shared some ideas about how he could continue to reinforce these ideas. My suggestion is to have the more senior manager of these stores (and HR) do some group recognition and individual reinforcement of what they accomplished and to do it publicly. I believe that the game is really hard to beat — this is the first Perfect Play that has been accomplished — and thus it would be interesting to challenge the other groups who will play the exercise to do it to perfection. We have not tried that framework before.

This blog is getting a bit long. I will post up some of the issues around Perfect Plan in another post.

Scott Debrief


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. 
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