Since we started focusing on the rental of our large event team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, I have been engaged with consultant trainers asking me more questions about impacting organizational effectiveness and engaging senior managers in strategy improvement and change.Dutchman is one of the truly great team building exercises that works well with really large groups.
Generating real organizational change is always an issue – how does one generate real involvement and alignment and ownership among the senior management team? And how does one really get value and focus from a large group event? We think it is active involvement and engagement along with clear discussions about past and future choices for changes and behaviors.
In actuality, delivering a large group event using the simulation represents an unparalleled opportunity to really accomplish executive team building and alignment because of a specific design feature in Dutchman: its’ direct simplicity.
Dutchman was designed to be easy to facilitate — I did not want to need a staff of people to do licensing or certification nor did I want to make the exercise too hard for players to understand. I also wanted non-training people to be able to deliver the game — we have had many line managers run the exercise over the years with great success. (See the Megan and Robin testimonials here)
The end result after 20+ years of polishing was a very straightforward team building program where there are few hidden tricks and a complete congruence of all of the facilitation staff to support the players in solving the challenges that are presented. The banking of the game and the tracking of team behaviors was made really simple. There were few “mechanical” issues and it was easy to learn how to operate so that a facilitator could pay more attention to the observed behaviors rather than needing to become some expert on game mechanics.
And the result exceeded expectations; in actuality. FEW people ever call me after purchasing the exercise and going through the instructional materials. Few people ever contact me after they deliver the game with questions and only occasionally do we get into nuanced discussions about design and tweeking the game to focus on details. It’s simplicity became a feature and benefit!
When I first started my deliveries, I would assemble some outsiders and pay them to help me deliver large games (50 people or more). And as I was asked to deliver even larger programs, I would often get internal people together for an hour or so to teach them the mechanics — these were often the training or HR staff who were supporting the event.
What I eventually discovered is that I could deliver an actual team building session for a group of senior managers, running them through the actual exercise with a normal debriefing of results and impacts. If I could get them to commit to a full day, I could also get their agreement on alignment and shared goals for the organization, link that to the desired debriefing of the results of their large group team building event, and then put them into an active role for that delivery. Some could be “bankers” and some could help as coaches on the floor answering questions and providing direct team support.
THIS became my most effective overall design focus:
- Get the senior managers in a collaborative and aligned mode of operation and give them an active role in the exercise = ownership
- Have a collaborating team of senior managers supporting their people in the large group event and in the debriefing, improving actual organizational alignment and directly / actively supporting inter-team collaboration
You can imagine how that positively impacts my profitability and minimizes any staffing issues and we also have plenty of management help for running the game. I can also charge the client a LOT less than my competitors because we are not charging for extra staff and travel expenses and all that. AND my delivery staff has a vested interest in making the event optimally successful.
Imagine the staffing needs to run a typical experiential exercise for 300 people versus the ability to deliver a senior manager team building session plus the large teambuilding event with only my active involvement and participation. Simplicity and effectiveness!
Plus, we generate a much higher likelihood of behavioral change and implementation after the event, since the managers have a really powerful hands on collaborative experience in working with each other to maximize the results of the event itself. The debriefing of that senior manager session focuses on discussing the kinds of behaviors these senior managers would like to see from the people at the large event. A focus on the shared mission / vision and generating alignment to goals, objectives and expectations becomes quite clear.
Having these real Senior Managers in this game delivery role is a great leadership learning lesson on how to implement change and support high performance. One cannot simply TALK about what leaders and players should be doing; they have to behave consistently and congruently to actually generate results.
And behaviors of the teams playing the game directly parallel what we see in organizations. While a few of the tabletop teams will have precisely what they need to perform at a maximum level, those same teams will often choose NOT to collaborate, to thus “win” the game at the cost of negatively impacting overall organizational results. This is one of the great debriefing points — that collaboration is a desired overall organizational outcome!
Anyway, it is really neat to see these kinds of large events happening, since they can be powerful events to engage people in change and improvement and to lead them out of the current “engagement doldrums” that we seem to find ourselves.
Have some FUN out there!
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.