Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

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Why use Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for large team building events?

I was chatting with a human resources director and we were planning  the presentation of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for about 250 people — her whole organization — in one big fun learning event. This was for a financial institution priding itself on customer service and customer / employee retention and collaboration and communications, so the fit was quite good.

The plan we discussed is for her to have her senior management team do a team building program using Lost Dutchman, where they will sort out their issues and opportunities and what they choose to do differently and improve on and then teach them how to support the delivery for the large group. As I posted up in the blog the other day, using senior management to help deliver is a pretty common model for me, one where the internal people do all the training and delivery work without using an outside person. It dramatically helps generate alignment and makes these people part of the actual perceived organizational support team!

Why use Lost Dutchman and Senior Managers for such events?

Well, the design of the game precludes my personal involvement — I am not required to help deliver it, which has many positive impacts. If I understand the desired outcomes, I can customize the suggested debriefing. If a trainer can use the game with her executives — and the metaphors of the exercise and the actual behaviors of the executives — she can deliver a highly congruent program and deal with the results without “personal involvement.” She will not be attacked for her leading discussions about the sub-optimizing choices of the leadership team.

AND, she management/leadership prepared to support the delivery of the exercise to all the employees. This saves a great deal of money and dramatically improves the relevancy of play to reality of how things are working and can work.

After all, two main themes of the game are focused on organizational alignment and collaboration:


The Goal of the game is to COLLABORATE and optimize results...

These are business card magnets that we often give out as reminders of why we played the game. They generally wind up on file cabinets and breakroom refrigerators.

The word we use is, “WE” but teams take that as, “My Team, My Team, My Team” in many cases.

Dutchman is a powerful game that’s easy to learn to deliver, bombproof and congruent in its play and focuses discussions on choices that we make and alternative choices that are available in the game, and then back in the workplace. Collaboration and engagement are the things that lead to employee involvement and intrinsic motivation.

And because it is straightforward and easy to play, it becomes a great event for managers to truly demonstrate their active support for helping teams be successful and optimizing results of the entire group.

large teambuilding event

Dutchman works great for very large groups

Dutchman is a powerful exercise for large events since you run the game with internal people (and leaders if you can involve them) and the game metaphors are completely congruent with the concepts of collaboration between departments and engaging people to motivate high levels of performance. The discussions focused on actual behavior and the choices that people could make in the future are also great ways to discuss possibilities. It is these visions of how thing could be that help drive improved overall results and engage and motivate individuals. It is the alignment to missions and visions that helps push things forward.

Generating alignment is a key factor in performance and optimization of results

Have fun out there, get people aligned and performing, and improve things!

You can see more about the exercise on our websites at and at where there is a LOT of descriptive information.

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

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Choice and Empowerment – Really? How about Motivation…

In his newsletter, my friend Brian Remer wrote  a book review and posted up some of his thinking about change and choice.

And, in my sometimes strange way of viewing the way the world seems to work, this generated a reaction that I thought might be useful enough to post up in the blog.

Brian did a clear review of Kent Greenfield’s book, The Myth of Choice, discussing how choice is influenced by a lot cultural factors including:

  • Acknowledging the power of situation and circumstance in making choices
  • Acknowledging our limitations and “irrational” tendencies – We are more likely to make choices in favor of opinions that match and reinforce our own beliefs.
  • Becoming mindful of our habits – We can make considered choices rather than allowing ourselves to be manipulated by routinized behaviors.
  • Developing an awareness of cultural influences – Understanding the effect of culture frees us to better choose whether to act within cultural norms or to challenge them.

Later in his newsletter, Brian writes on the theme of Choice and Empowerment, stating in part that, “These examples illustrate that people need more than experience to make good choices. They need the authority, resources, and information to act on their decisions. This is the essence of empowerment. If you are not offering choices, you can stay in control. If you do offer choices but don’t share authority, resources, and information, you can still stay in control.”

And the paradox of the juxtapositioning of these two things — empowerment and choice — was just funny to me.

I do NOT believe in the reality of any concept of “Empowerment” as something that we can do to others, as the concept is commonly framed. I think Brian gets at this a bit, but not as cleanly and clearly as he commonly writes.

Most people seem to make a choice of being UN-empowered in that they let things get into the way of getting things done. Many people might think of me as being empowered for a bunch of reasons, but I know that I am un-empowered in many ways. There are a lot of Square Wheels that happen in my business and personal life. There are lots of things that get in the way of getting things done.

I guess that is one of the reasons that so many people rely on executive coaches, since they are “empowered” to push and cajol us into doing things.

Managers can empower the un-empowered
by helping to remove the roadblocks.

In my simple view of this world, this is called DIS-un-empowerment.

I’ve written a bunch of things around this concept that you can read elsewhere. Google “dis-un-empowerment” to see a variety of things.

But a LOT of this stuff about people and performance is about choice!

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.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Build a bedbug detector / trap for $20

Yeah, bedbugs. I don’t have them, don’t want them, do things to avoid getting them when traveling (and returning home) but still think about them. From all that we read, they ARE around and they are really difficult to get rid of if you do allow them access.

And an adult bedbug can live for about a year between feedings, so it is not like you can starve them out if you do allow them in. Get a couple in your suitcase and they can start doing their breeding in the attic or garage or wherever you store stuff like that.

When I return from a trip, I don’t bring my suitcase in and I carefully inspect things. Clothes go immediately into the washing machine and I leave the suitcase in the garage for a couple of days. I have a soft back-pack style computer case (love it!) and I empty that and shake it out pretty good.

And bedbugs have made a Big Comeback in the US since we banned chemicals like DDT. They are nocturnal and hide in little dark places like joints in beds and in cracks along moldings in your bedroom. They are tiny and hard to see – you know you got them when you see the bites on your body and, from what I hear, they really make you paranoid about sleeping. And you can get them from sitting in an airplane seat! (Wikipedia article on bed bugs) – They ARE little blood suckers!

But I read that researchers at Rutgers University created a cheap homemade bedbug detector / trap using a plastic cat-food dish, an insulated bottle and some dry-ice. This dry-ice and-thermos, cat dish combo captured the bloodsucking critters in an infested apartment just as effectively as stuff used by professional exterminators, according to Wan-Tien Tsai, the scientist designer. And the device seems pretty darn simple — so one is going into the garage for that next trip.

You build this thing with an insulated one-third gallon jug like this $7 Coleman container that you fill with 2 pounds of dry ice that you can get for a couple of bucks in most grocery stores for keeping things cold.

As the dry-ice (frozen carbon dioxide — use gloves!) evaporates, the open spout lets out the C02, mimicking a breathing, blood-filled human meal is near. If bedbugs are around, they are attracted — in your garage with your suitcase or in your bedroom as a check of any infestation. Overnight is enough time to bait these little buggers into the other key part of the trap: an overturned small animal food / water dish on which the thermos sits. CO2 is heavier than air, and it seems out the top and down the sides and over the dish. You can see this work if you toss a couple small pieces into a bowl of water (grin).

Scuff up the outsides of the bowl to give the little bugs traction, but leave the interior surface smooth, even using talcum powder to make things slick. You can kill them by dumping them down the drain, but you want to catch them to see if you have them — they are little things…

The bugs climb the outer surface of the dish and get stuck in its moat. You can see if you have them. The idea is to draw them to and into the bowl, letting them think that food is nearby. They climb up and in and then get trapped. And the small quantities of CO2 used will not be harmful to anything.

Rutgers designed this trap to give people a cheap way to see if they have (or still have) a bedbug problem. Bedbugs have made a serious comeback in North America over the past few years, especially in big cities like New York, Dallas, LA and Boston. And they are unbelievably hard and expensive to get rid of once they get established. Using this device might help you prevent an infestation if you let this work overnight near your traveling gear when coming home.

So, there you go. Hope that you find this helpful. Not my normal kind of writing, but I thought to simply share this.

—————-  UPDATE ——————-

This is an interesting article and an update to the materials above:

Artificial plants could beat bed bugs


Bean plant leaves won’t bite bed bugs back, but they do impale the pests though their feet. The same mechanism could one day be used to make more effective traps.

A team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Kentucky made the discovery when they examined an old folk remedy of scattering bean leaves to stop the pests, Popular Science’s Brooke Borel wrote today. The scientists observed that tiny hooks on the leaves effectively immobilize the bugs.

You might be wondering why bed bugs – the subject the famous childhood idiom “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” – are being taken so seriously by science. The pests have become a silent scourge in homes, hotels, and even movie theaters throughout major cities worldwide. Social constructs don’t matter to bed bugs: domiciles of the rich and poor are equally afflicted with infestations that can be costly and difficult to treat.

New York has a major bed bug problem. As a New Yorker, I’ve been witness to friends being forced to vacate their apartments, TV spots starring “Roscoe the bed bug sniffing dog”, mattress encasement ads on the subway, commercials with people freezing bugs, and steaming the bugs. Bug sprays won’t work. The pests, which have been a nettlesome problem throughout antiquity, have now mutated to be resistant to insecticides, and their bite is just as bad as ever.

It turns out that the bean leaf solution is as good as the best of those methods. Borel traced the approach as far back as 1678, when English philosopher John Locke traveled across Europe with a supply of kidney bean leaves as defense against bed bug bites. The Royal Austro-Hungarian Army used bean leaves to cleanse encampments and U.S. researchers observed the effect in the 1940s, Borel noted.

It’s possible to replicate the effect with synthetics that can be placed within the bugs’ path around beds, doors, suitcases, and other places where they reside. There’s a market if the researchers scratch their entrepreneurship itch.

For the FUN of It!
(They cannot get me on the water!)

Scott in DancerDr. 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

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The Square Wheels really ARE everywhere!

I have been saying that for a long long time. It just seems like a lot of things just do not work smoothly, from my wasting two hours with a web hosting company over the past two days because my computer will not allow me to edit what Chris put up to redo my website.

It was, “You’ll have to clear your browser cache and clear all the cookies.” Then, it was, “You’ll have to upload to the Newest Version of Flash” — a quick look on the internet showed some loading problems with Macs running 10.7 and v 11.3 of Flash. And so on.

The first two techies were no help and the third one eventually suggested that I  look at my cookie preference — it turns out that simply changing Safari from blocking “third parties and advertisers” to allowing anybody and anyone to pop cookies onto my site would enable Netfirms’ “Webly” interface to operate.

Seems like a pretty darn poor software design to me, since I have to open up my security to simply edit a website, so I guess I will change preferences when I update and then switch back. The Square Wheels really ARE everywhere and one would think that their support people would know about that since what I did is fairly common. (I never did delete my cookies and clear the cache — that just seemed dumb since I had never been on that Netfirms’ site before. I would not have unplugged my computer, either!).

On the other hand, that idea that the third tech had to look at the browser security was a good one since it solved my problem. Yeah, and one can only hope that the next Mac / Safari user having this problem might benefit from sharing this idea. Round Wheels are everywhere, too. But they are not often shared.

Yep, The Square Wheels are everywhere and we go through life thumping and bumping along, it seems…

I use a simple magic trick using dots that illustrates my thoughts on ideas and that allows me to narrate the trick toward my desired outcomes. It is a good trick and you can get it online somewhere. You can see me doing the trick in a 90 second video on our YouTube site. Clicking here will take you directly to the link.

And here is an optical illusion that also illustrates that the round wheels are everywhere. Hope you like this:

There are plenty of Squares above. But isn’t it interesting that we seem to focus on the Round dots in the picture? Wouldn’t it be great if managements in organizations could do the same thing? Focus on the Round Wheel ideas that would correct the Square Wheels that are so common?

And there is this one, too. Which of the round red balls is bigger?

Well, neither. It is not a good idea to compare different solutions, sometimes. Every idea has a positive impact in many cases, either as an idea to fix or correct something or as a stimulus for another idea.

Round Wheels are not a workplace illusion.
And the Square Wheels need to be addressed to make things work better.

Just Do It! 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.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Working while Working – and while on Vacation, too?

I just read one post in a newsletter about working during working hours and doing something else when not working during working hours. Wow, with 27 years now in this business and with me being a home business for 15 years, thinking about not working seems kind of crazy.

And my position seems to be supported by a new Harris / Adweek poll that says that 52% of Americans will work during their summer vacation this year. The survey showed that working people are expecting to perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Reading work-related emails – 30%
  • Receiving work-related phone calls – 23%
  • Accessing documents on home computer – 19%
  • Receiving work-related text messages – 18%
  • Accessing documents on work computer – 13%
  • Asked to do work by a boss, client or colleague – 13%

 (and they will probably be doing many of the above at the same time!)

I know that when I was camping in Zion and Bryce Canyons two years ago (my last vacation), I was one of those working boys! I was checking email every day even when I had to walk to the Concession Area to get wifi access. And I am sure that this will get worse over time. Heck, I remember the time when the little downtown retail stores closed on Wednesday afternoons so the owners and employees could be with families, play golf, etc. And open on Sunday? No Way. Now, it is literally 24 / 7 and with the websites, anyone can shop from anywhere at any time.

Scott at Zion and Bryce Canyons in Southern Utah. Why don’t I do this more often?

Me, I think that not taking vacation time is bad. I know that I should take some time off, just to fire up the creative juices. But workers in the US burn the candle at both ends (and they do it for less money and more pressure and no healthcare – do you also see a long-term problem here?). I think we need to change our perspectives and lots of data from other countries suggest that we are not doing things right, for the long term.

My joke about Governor Nikki Haley, who is pushing to eliminate unions and create more jobs here in South Carolina, is that she is trying to create enough jobs so both partners in the marriage can have both of the jobs they need to support their families.  But that is a different storyline…

Understand that things are shifting negatively when it comes to working and taking time off. Only 40% of US employees even took a summer vacation last year and half of this group admitted that they planned or did work during their vacation (Harris / Adweek).

Another interesting finding comes from a CareerBuilder survey which shows that while 81% of managers plan or have taken a vacation break this year, only 65% of full-time employees have plans to do the same. While companies may understand the issues of health and success that come from “refreshed” employees, the day-to-day job demands may be precluding this from actually happening. An Expedia 2011 Vacation Deprivation Survey showed that US employees are beginning to “treat vacation as a luxury rather than a fact of life.”

And last year, over 200 million earned vacation days were not utilized by those who earned them.

The Well-Being Index (Gallup and Healthways) slid to 66.4 out of a possible “ideal wellbeing” score of 100. Work environment was one of four components overall that fell. All of these declines were less than a point but work environment is the component that has fallen most since the Index began in January 2008. It’s now dropped 3.9 points to 47.4 and four times the decrease of the second-greatest drop, a 1.1 decline in access to basic necessities.

The only other component that is lower now than in January 2008 is physical health, which has slipped 0.2 points. And work environment is the component with the lowest absolute score. Life Evaluation is second-lowest at 49.6, and the rest are at least 63.9 or more.

I am not sure where all this eventually ends, but I know that my workweek has always been long and I feel a bit guilty when I am not working. And I work for myself – it is not like I worry about my job security and how my taking time off might appear to my supervisor insofar as it reflects on my dedication.

I think the Europeans have a much better perspective on all this. They take lots of vacation time, but they arrive back at work ready to work. They have solid productivity numbers and the society as a whole seems to benefit.

Do have some FUN out there! Do like me:

Sign up to do a conference presentation in Barbados:

Yeah, I could be on the beach… And we SHOULD be on the beach!

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

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Superstitions, Behavior, and Friday the 13th

In the email this morning was a short article on “Workplace Superstitions” sent to me in the Promotional Consultant Today newsletter. The author of the short article, Marijane Funess, talks about her own superstitions like wearing the same pants to business meetings or the same hat to her son’s baseball games.

Given that today is Friday the 13th, a short blog seems appropriate. According to some, fear of this date is the most widespread superstition in the US today. Some people refuse to go to work on this date, some won’t eat in restaurants and there sure aren’t many weddings scheduled for today (not that it would affect the divorce statistics all that much, in my opinion).


Legend has it: If 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil’s luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven.

There is even a phobia – Paraskevidekatriaphobics — for people afflicted with a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. The Fear Factor may be as high as 21 million Americans may have that – roughly 8% of the people! But the Chinese and ancient Egyptians consider the number lucky!

And if you are a movie goer or a Tom Hanks fan, there was also the possibility that it relates to The Crusades and The Templars. The Da Vinci Code holds that the stigma came about because of a single event that happened nearly 700 years ago in France. As recounted by Katharine Kurtz in Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books, 1995):

On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force “confessions,” and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake.

Why are we superstitious? Well, it may have some adaptive benefits. Superstitious behavior is a response to an environmental situation. It is based, in part, on the belief that A influences or precedes B:

  • If you blow on the dice, you’ll get lucky and roll the number wanted.
  • Finding a four-leaf clover will bring you luck.
  • Eating this food at that restaurant will cause a Big Sale to occur for you.
  • Taking out a new / old / recovered golf ball will help you hit over the pond.
  • Wearing the same baseball socks will help the streak continue.

Superstitions can be positive, because they can focus attention on an upcoming event and that attention may improve performance. They can generate ritualized and rhythmic behavior, such as preparing to strike a cue ball in a game of pool – the professional players all go through a “pre-shot preparation” ritual that helps their performance.

And superstitions can be tied to the negative, an avoidance kind of thing that can decrease results. They share a lot of commonalities with phobias in that a belief about something impacts behaviors. Having a black cat walk across your path will NOT cause you bad luck. Wishing on the first star you see will not get that wish into reality by itself. Not blowing out all the birthday cake candles is not really a long-term problem for you.

Rituals can be good or bad, and some writers think that there might even be a biological basis and benefit for their existence! In the writings of Fuller Torrey in, “Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists,” a book I read dozens of years ago. He suggests that those people who believed in the healing powers of “the doctor” were more likely to live. By genetic selection, they would breed more with others of similar beliefs (since the ones that died would no longer be breeding, of course). So, the belief impacted the people. Today, we know that “The Placebo Effect” will cause a sugar pill to have the same positive impacts on some biological problem as does a medicine.  The belief that you are taking a cure will be as strong a positive factor as actually taking a drug to solve a medical problem. (Let’s not get into psychosomatic illnesses – the ones that people “believe” they have and which can cause them real problems.)

Most of us have some superstitions. Most of them are innocent and non-impactful. But some of them can be distracting and some of them, for a few, can be pretty debilitating when they manifest as full-blown phobic reactions.

Rituals can be good, if they prepare you for something like a presentation. There are a lot of things that presenters do that are “superstitious” in nature, like having a checklist of all the things they need to have in the room or that they want in particular presentations. There are rituals that teams go through before hitting the playing field. There are rituals we go through to prepare ourselves for the day! (Keep taking those showers, folks!)

As I generally say about the Square Wheels One cartoon,

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It is USEFUL to occasionally Step Back From The Wagon

It is helpful to view things from a dissociated, other-person’s-viewpoint than to look at things continually through your own eyes. Consider the situation like a TV Show, and instead of being the actor, choose to be the viewer. You can probably see things more clearly and less emotionally.

But me, I will continue to wear my Tar Heels baseball cap when we are playing and my Philadelphia Phillies cap when we make the Baseball World Series again. For now, I will keep that last one in the closet. And knock on wood, we will get there again soon!

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Note: There is a good bit of literature in the field of NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) that gets into the underlying anchors of behavior. Triggers are established between stimulus and event (classical conditioning) that often lead to superstitious behavior or phobias. NLP has techniques that can help deal with these clinical problems or to aid in the establishment of Positive Resource States that help support high performance. It is interesting stuff, for sure.

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+

The Most Contaminated Surfaces in your Traveling

I was reading an interesting article about hotel rooms, that I will duplicate below, and it reminded me of airplanes and since many of my readers travel a good bit, it was my thought to post up some reminders / travel tips.

These days, I am flying with a baggie or baggies of the Clorox-type of disinfectant wipes. These are really multipurpose kinds of things and I will often take a few extras for seat-mates who get into a discussion with me and then get a bit paranoid about touching anything.

Basically, the AIR in airplanes is pretty good. They have improved their filtering and recycling times a lot in the last few years so that the contamination is reduced. This does not mean that all is good, since a sneeze directed at you is, well, directed AT you. Amazing how many people do not cover up. But the real dangers are other places — most notable is the tray table.

I guess the airlines clean them up once in a while, but disinfecting them does not appear high on their list of things to clean up and clean. Same with the top of the seat in front of you (where lots of people put their hands) and the armrests and seat belt buckles. So, I take a few seconds and wipe things down.

| posted up “Most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms” at — which got me thinking about this in the first place. I reproduce parts of it below and suggest you trip over there and check it out.

This isn’t meant to freak travelers out. You see, during every 8-hour shift, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms, spending about half an hour on each room…And identifying high-risk items in a hotel room would allow managers to strategically design cleaning practices, allocating time to efficiently reduce potential health risks posed by microbial contamination, according to researcher Katie Kirsch at the University of Houston. They sampled nearly 20 different surfaces from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana, and South Carolina. And then tested the levels of total aerobic and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each of the surfaces.About 81% of hotel room surfaces sampled held at least some fecal bacteria.

The most heavily bacteria-laden:

  • TV remote
  • bedside lamp switch
  • telephone
  • carpet
  • toilet and the bathroom sink
  • items from the housekeepers’ carts, including sponges and mops, which pose a risk for cross-contamination of rooms

Surfaces with the lowest contamination:

  • headboard on the bed
  • curtain rods
  • bathroom door handle

The researchers can’t say whether or not the bacteria detected can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness. And many could pose a threat to those with compromised immune systems.

The findings were presented at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology this week.

Visual assessment cannot tell if things are contaminated. Me, I am going to pack a few more of the disinfecting wipes! And give them to my seatmates.

How does Lost Dutchman compare to other team building exercises?

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a unique teambuilding exercise in the global marketplace for training and organizational development tools. Unlike many competing products, it offers what we think are an excellent blend of unusual benefits and features as well as our overall sales philosophy that is supportive and simple.

THe Search for The Lost Dutchman Team Building Exercise

Unlike a lot of products, Lost Dutchman has many direct links to business improvement and it can help groups of people focus on how working together will improve profitability and ROI. While this seems like a no-brainer, most organizations find “interdepartmental collaboration” to be an oxymoron and that “interdepartmental competition” is much more the norm. Dutchman is a business simulation wrapped into an experiential, fun, engaging exercise that brings the sub-optimizing aspects of competition to the forefront and clearly shows why collaboration is a big benefit. We have LOTS of users who comment about the excellence of this game for this purpose — making it unique in that focus, we find.

Dutchman also focuses on success! The game design makes it hard for teams to make big errors and die from those decisions, which is common in many other exercises where the focus is more on avoiding failure. (I have facilitators who use my game and some other games who say, “What is so bad about a team dying?” and “I can usually work that point into the debriefing.” On the other hand, they will also say that those teams sometimes disengage badly–like leaving the room or even being very challenging and adversarial in the debriefing discussions– and they will generally agree with my position that dying is not necessarily a good component of the learning process, so why even let it occur?)

In Dutchman, every team is successful, but the ones that do better planning and collaborating are more successful than the others, and can even choose to help the other teams.

We also made a real effort to keep the packaging inexpensive — it is nothing fancy — and to design it so that certification and all those other expensive things like per-participant fees and the like are not included. It was my personal experience in the earlier days when I used another organization’s team building game, that those added restrictions and other kinds of limitations caused a lot of problems in the maintenance of a collaborative business arrangement between me and that other company. So, if I did not like those restrictive and expensive “features.” why would they be included in my business framework.

My game design goals were:

  • to design the best exercise possible for a global audience of workers up to senior managers;
  • to make it link tightly to the actual behaviors we see in organizations and between departments and often work groups in organizations;
  • to make it inexpensive to use and thus generate high value for consultants and trainers to use repeatedly;
  • to make it flexible and useful in a wide variety of different kinds of organizations and developmental situations;
  • to be useful for trainers using it occasionally or for them to be able to blend it into more broadly-based leadership programs than simply team-building events;
  • to design it so a consultant or company could build a business around the exercise and use it with different clients in lots of situations.

The design thinking around Lost Dutchman included avoiding  issues present in some of the other, competitive products in the marketplace. We find that those structures or designs interfere with effectiveness and impact in a variety of ways and simply make the game less of a good value for the customer. Essentially, we felt that:

  • Many of our competitors’ exercises are simply way too expensive. Benefits are not in line with costs, especially when it was a one-time use for a small number of people.
  • Per-Participant Costs are a lousy way to build trust and develop an honest and open relationship between the game agent and the customer. They generate too much friction and administrative burden.
  • Many exercises simply take too long to play and often don’t allow time to adequately debrief the outcomes nor provide time for valuable interactive discussions. Lecturing on an experiential exercise is not an effective learning paradigm.
  • Game leadership often creates intrinsic competition because of the inherent design of the exercise or the role defined for the facilitator. Many designs do not allow for a collaborative leadership delivery style or have restrictive design features. If you are delivering the game, one should be modeling an effective style of engagement, collaboration and facilitation, not being an adversary.
  • Results should be measurable, since organizational behavior is measurable. In Lost Dutchman, for example, we can measure positive results in addition to the sub-optimized costs of teams making decisions not to collaborate and plan and share information among other teams. We do this just as we measure organizational results and outcomes, making the swing from debriefing the game to linking to organizational change quite easy:  “What does Mining Gold mean to us as an organization?”
  • Some of the games have mixed metaphors or design features that make the game very difficult to debrief or they have superfluous content that is too hard to link to other organizational development issues. Team building games should not be supporting competition in our thinking — there is enough of that already in most organizations!
  • Games and supporting products should not require expensive certification training and the costs of travel to training venues. It makes it too expensive to add new facilitators and the tendency would be to cheat the system to get the game in play. It was our goal to make the exercise bombproof and effective while NOT requiring expensive certification or training time.

Our experiences with The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine have taught us a lot about game design and the use of metaphor in generating involvement and engagement during play and debriefing. It is our goal to have an exercise that generates the perceived need to change behavior within an organization to optimize results. Feedback by users says that we have elegantly and effectively accomplished our goals.

You can check out some of our testimonials and learn more about other perspectives by clicking here.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, wearing his Coaching Hat and preparing for Lost Dutchman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Team Building and Collaboration for Performance Improvement – Large Event Management

The past week has been really interesting, since I have had the chance to talk to a lot of people who are now going to start doing some team building within their organizations. Normally, my conversations are generally with consultants and trainers who have been doing these kinds of things and are looking for some new tools and approaches. Many of those conversations were with the, “been there and done that” crowd who were simply looking for some new and better tools.

But this seems to be a new group, rookies in the organizational collaboration and team building arena who have the chance to get things started right. And THAT is really neat!

(Has it really been that long since the average organization has conducted any team building events? Really?)

So, we have been discussing doing team building events with managers and staff and working with slightly larger groups than a training class.Scott Simmerman, wearing his Coaching Hat and preparing for Lost Dutchman

And I have been able to put my Coaching Hat on, and my Event Planner Hat, and offer up some ideas for optimizing impacts. Three of these contacts were going to run large groups (250, 100-200-500 and 1,100 (really!) and I shared some of my learned Best Practices for maximizing impact.

Basically, that approach involves getting all the Most Senior Managers into one room for 3/4 of a day. The session starts with a normal delivery of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, debriefed along the normal lines of collaboration and teamwork and planning. But then, the debriefing shifts to asking about the kinds of behaviors they would like to see from the people at the large event. That is always interesting, and the focus is on the shared mission and vision and generating alignment to goals, objectives and expectations.

Then, we TRAIN this group of Most Senior Managers to be able to support the delivery of the exercise. This group serves as the Provisioners and the Co-Expedition Leaders, operating in the environment where, “The Goal is to mine as much gold as we can.”  Oops — that should read “WE.”

The exercise is about getting help along with information and on collaborating and sharing information and resources to optimize results. But what these leaders see are people choosing NOT to get available planning information, to compete rather than collaborate among tabletops and to choose to not get help from the leaders who are there to help!

By having these real Senior Managers in this game delivery role, it is a great learning lesson on how to implement change and support high performance. One cannot simply TALK about it, they have to behave consistently and congruently. While a few of the teams will have precisely what they need to perform at a high level, those same teams will often choose NOT to collaborate, to thus “win” the game at the cost of negatively impacting overall organizational results.

Anyway, it is really neat to see these kinds of large events start happening again, 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 yourself!


Great, Fun new novel I just read…

This is not my normal blog posting but I just finished a new novel that I thought was really funny and really well done.

The book is about a couple of assassins who are also molecular biologists and run an exterminating business. They are on the run from a cartel boss who is spending millions of money to have them, well, “exterminated.” To get funding for their ecological idea of using bugs to kill bugs, they hook up with DARPA to genetically design some assassin bugs to fight terrorism. The DARPA guy is an end-of-days type who uses the bugs to attack Hollywood stars and bring forth Jesus.

As it rolls forward, there are slews of right wing Christians literally fighting each other over their differences in beliefs, a good-guy CIA type, a Catholic priest, a teenager and her mom and a bunch of honest and dishonest media types.

It is very entertaining, twisting and turning. Reminds me of one of my other favorite books,  Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins.

The Exterminators, by Bill Fitzhugh. 2011.  ( )

Science, religion, guns, drugs, CIA, DARPA, broadcasters of all types, Hollywood, deaths by lethal bug bites

I mean, what is not to like??

Thoughts on Motivation and Engagement

When in India, I did a series of short videos on different questions asked of me regarding my thinking on many different topics.

Here are 90 seconds of me talking about how to motivate people:

Defense is not good for Innovation – Thoughts on Engagement for Innovation

There was an interesting thread on the Innovation Excellence group on LinkedIn, one that talks about an Anti-Innovation Checklist posted by Holly Green. You can see that post at

In think her 10 bullets are good, but it feels like she missed the bigger picture of the reality that employee engagement is more all-encompassing. I think there is more to it.

The list is about what is wrong and not about what to do to address the issues and make improvements. She talks about “unrealistic expectations” in the sense on management looking for “a killer product” while I think that performance improvement is more about having performance goals and objectives that do not allow much thinking, much less alternative thinking.

Consider the customer, which we should all be doing all of the time anyway. The customer calls with an issue and the position of the employee is so often one of defending the turf rather than listening to the problem for some idea as to how to improve the product.

For the past 4 days, I have been having what are apparently a series of different problems with U-Verse and my TV and internet and wireless connections here. Five different technicians have visited the house. And a wide variety of different phone calls to various places around the world.

I can test the connection, but I am limited to running a “speed test” — they show me various computer screens that give them a LOT more data about the connection and such information including history. All I can say is “the TV locks up and un-synchs” or “Safari pauses and locks up.” One would think that someone might develop some application or process that would allow ME to make a more informed phone call to Victor in India, right?

Customer-driven innovation? NO way — they are too busy to meet their performance numbers to listen for better ideas as to how to do things… There is no real mechanism for making improvements. They are too busy solving the problems at hand.

As I so often write, my view of how organizations really work looks like this:

But maybe things more realistically look like this in most workplaces:

SWs One How Things Work ©

How things REALLY work in many workplaces

And how things REALLY work in many workplaces

and when we add senior management, maybe this is more of a normal reality:

It is the perception of how things work that is most important.

It is the perception of how things work that is most important.

A logical result of the situation generally depicted above will often then look like this:

People will circle the wagons and defend themselves…

and continued attacks also generate more predictable results:

That thus reminds me that I wrote up a poem about this:

Square Wheels Defensive wagon poem

And that reminds me of a quote from Dante that many might think should appear over the door of the buildings in which they work:

What to do? I don’t have one of those 5-step or 10-bullet lists. Mine is one pretty simple one, although there are five rules:


Ask for ideas for improvement. Allow people to get involved and engaged and to share their ideas. Support them as they try to implement improvements, recognizing that many have long histories of failure or punishment linked to their attempts to make things better. Recognize that they cannot be empowered and that many are un-empowered.

So take actions to dis-un-empower them. Form teams. Share ideas. Act as if their ideas are important. Let them generate their own intrinsic rewards for making things better.

We sell a simple toolkit for facilitating involvement and engagement. Click on the link below to see how it works:

SWs Facilitation Guide $50


And, if you would like to see more about our outstanding team building exercise, we offer a slideshare overview here:

Slideshare Dutchman icon

The key idea in all this is for leadership to get out of the way and let them make improvements. Let people play with the wheels…

Square Wheel Playing haiku


Give them hope and support. And ask for their ideas,

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

4 Hours for Innovation. What to do to optimize results…

As a consultant or trainer, let’s say you only have 4 hours to help a group of managers or executives become more innovative, what would you present and how would you present it to involve and engage them in the act of involving and engaging others? How would you rattle their cages enough to actually generate some behavior change? How could you influence them to do some things differently with their subordinates?

I would start by showing them a cartoon illustration of a wooden wagon being pulled by a leader and being pushed by others. It is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels. Ironically, the cargo are round rubber tires…

The key is to start thing off by asking them to consider an illustration, “How might this illustrate how things really work in most organizations?”

SWs One green color thin

After giving each person a minute or two to write their ideas on a worksheet, I would then ask them to pair up or group up and discuss their ideas, with a goal of generating a lot of different thoughts. Tabletops of 5 to 6 people are best at pulling ideas together and generating a lot of different anchor points to a wide variety of issues and themes. Then, one can allow the sharing of these different tabletop ideas with the entire group, either by allowing them to take 2 minutes to verbally share them or to spend a couple of minutes capturing them on sheets of paper and posting on the walls.

Either way, the goal is to generate some ownership and involvement and to get people thinking about all the things that don’t work smoothly and might be improved.

Starting with your general question about, “How this is like most organizations…”, one greatly reduces any possible defensiveness, while the very general nature of the illustration is such that people will project their ideas onto the illustration, much like they would do with a Rorschach or an Inkblot Test. People see themselves in the cartoon and they also see their organizations represented, as well.

The Round Wheels ARE already in most organizations — they represent Best Practices of Top Performers in many cases — and a key to innovation is to simply identify what these exemplary performers are already doing. Most systems and processes thump and bump along, working okay when something different might work much better. And the goals are set based on the organization’s history of work, which is often just like the picture above.

Another key to innovation is to dissociate from the reality of pushing and pulling and to “Step back from the wagon” to look for different ways of getting things done. Dissociation is a very common and powerful tool for counseling troubled relationships (and so many workplaces are troubled!).

People DO have ideas, but often those ideas are not elicited by the average manager (so says survey after survey of workplaces!).  People with some general idea as to what might be done can evolve and polish that idea in a discussion with others: synergistic ideationfrom Star Trek, The Borg (the collective consciousness of the entire group).

Most people in most departments in most organizations tend to do the same thing repetitively because the goals are set on the Square Wheel model of how things have been working and will be working in the future. By working together to identify issues and opportunities, you get the benefit of the divergent thinking of the participants, allow them to flesh-out some ideas that they might already have, and put it into the context of play.

Plus, you are adding a new language of continuous continuous improvement” into the workplace, a concept that says that change is a continuous process and that new ideas already exist and merely need to be identified and implemented. By a leader using the cartoon and the approach and asking for ideas, it helps to communicate to everyone that new ideas are needed / required and that discussing these ideas is an important part of long-term organizational success. And this approach will also help generate the required intrinsic motivation to make improvements.

Another reality is that,

“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car”

People who do not have a degree of ownership of ideas will often tend to resist them. By leaders working and engaging people in discussions of ideas and allowing input and consideration, resistance is often minimized and the likelihood of implementation is increased.

One must generate some level of discomfort with the way things are now, get a group of people together to add peer support and some perceived success to the discussions, and to build on what already works — I call that “continuous continuous improvement.”

Innovation is a process of, well, innovating. There are tons of different ideas that are already available for improvement. And when I work a group, I can often generate 10 or more pages of ideas and potential improvements in that 4 hours of play time.

One must also address implementation, since so many of those ideas for improvement just disappear… Most ideas cascaded down from the top will be resisted or ignored — most leader-led improvement and innovation initiatives fail because people are not involved or engaged.

So, give me 4 hours and let me involve and engage any group of people in the framework of “organizational improvement and innovative ideas” and I will guarantee a ton of ideas as well as ideas for implementation. But better yet, get one of the Square Wheels toolkits and do it yourself.

Active involvement and engagement and problem solving generates a commitment to make improvements, even with senior managers of global multinationals.

The beauty of using the illustrations is that they are really simple and bombproof. Once you see how the flow of the discussion works, you can use it easily with other groups or redesign it for different time constraints.

And that concept of Rental Car Care is a real one. People need ownership to generate involvement and motivation and the toolkits just use cartoons, anyway.

If it is to beit is up to me.

If not you, who? If not now, when? 

Just Do It, for The FUN of It!

Another simple elegant solution and organizational development framework…

Elegant Solutions

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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UNC – Clemson Basketball – The Streak

Okay, I just can’t help myself…

My University of North Carolina basketball team beat Clemson University yesterday. Not a big deal, since they are like 126 – 20 in the overall series. The humorous and interesting aspect of all this is that Clemson has NEVER — that is the same as “Not Once Ever” or ZERO — beaten UNC at Chapel Hill.

That makes it 56 wins in a row at Chapel Hill, a streak that covers 15 different United States Presidents. The only good thing about a Republican winning the Presidential Election in 2012 is that it would allow Carolina to extend that streak to SIXTEEN different presidents. (Nah, let’s keep this at 15 for the next 4 years…)

Okay, why is this a big deal? Well, let me go back into the personal history a little, since it might help explain this.

I came here to Greenville, SC back in 1975 to teach at Furman University (The Purple Paladins). But this area was overrun with Clemson Tiger Orange, be it hats and t-shorts, painted tiger paws on the streets and highways, the sports part of the evening news all focused on CLEMSON. (Even now, there is still some remnant of this though the University has not accomplished that much in football in recent years; salaries for the football coaching staffs are exorbitant and among the highest in the country…)

And it was really kind of embarrassing, really. Danny Ford was the Clemson football coach and you can watch for yourself how well he intellectually represented Clemson in these videos. (One is about his selection of chewing tobacco – “Danny Ford’s Chaw” at and just his basic use of the English language (see for but one example).)

(Heck, y’all, the grocery store stock guy at The Nose in Pickens, SC, who quit school after 6th grade, speaks better English than Ford. And he is not representing a University of higher education…)

So, it was great that UNC would always beat Clemson at home. I mean always like a, “Before I was born and I am really old now,” kind of always.

Here are some factoids about the history (from

  • 1929 – Brooklyn’s George L. Pierce is granted the first patent for a basket ball. This is the same year the charging foul is introduced. At this point, Clemson had only played in Chapel Hill once, taking a 50-20 loss on Jan. 15 1926 to the Tar Heels, or White Phantoms as they were then called.
  • 1937 – The practice of having a jump ball after every made basket is abolished. The NCAA is still two years away from being formed. Clemson sits at 0-3 in Chapel Hill thanks to a 24-23 loss a year earlier.
  • 1944 – Goaltending is outlawed and unlimited substitutions are introduced. Also, it is determined that accruing five fouls results in a player fouling out. Clemson is 0-7 in Chapel Hill at this point after falling 52-32 in 1943. This starts a nine-year stretch in which the Tigers don’t even play at North Carolina. During this time, the NBA is formed.
  • 1967 – The dunk is banned. Clemson is still searching for its first win in 19 tries in Chapel Hill. (0-19)
  • 1976 – The dunk is legal again. Clemson’s losing streak at North Carolina now stands at 25 games. (0-25)
  • 1986 – The NCAA adopts a standard 3-point line, set at 19 feet, 9 inches. It doesn’t help Clemson in Chapel Hill as the Tigers are still winless in 32 tries.
  • 1992 – With stars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the Dream Team turns the 1992 Summer Olympics into a showcase for the game, expanding its worldwide reach. Closer to home, Clemson still can’t win in Chapel Hill, its losing streak standing at 38 games. (0-38)

It was nice to see that Brown finally won at Princeton in 2002 to end that streak at 52. So Carolina’s home win streak is now an all-time — and probably never to be “broked” (if I talked like Danny) — record of futility. (Is this another meaning for “homelessness?”)

I understand that Stephen Hawking is now starting to use this concept of ZERO as a anchor point for “nothingness” as it relates to the formation of The Universe. Even though it is referred to as, “The Streak,” that refers to the starting point as actually “being something” — but there is nothing there for Clemson at Chapel Hill in basketball…

Now, I still live in Greenville, SC and I do not every expect to see a lot of Tar Heel Blue on the downtown streets. There is an alumni association group here and one sees some blue hats and t-shirts on the street now and then.

Forever is not the same as Never. But in this case, they seem to mean the same thing.

“Zero and Forever” are equal to “Zero and Never.” Guessing Danny Ford will be proud of my math.

But The Streak sure is nice to think of every now and again. And, it sure has been fun. Will the fun never end?

Proof that meetings make you brain-dead!

Here is proof that meetings make you brain-dead and that un-engagement and un-creativity, as practiced in so many organizations today, is actually working to decrease corporate intelligence and impact performance for the future.

Scientists at Cal Tech and four other institutions studied brain function using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and paper and pencil tests to show that how one is treated in a workgroup directly affects oxygenated blood flow in certain areas of the brain as well as in their demonstrated intelligence.

Your status in meetings or in the workplace can be dramatically hindering your intelligence and the smarts of others in your organization. Intelligence (as measured by IQ) is NOT a stable, predictive measure of mental horsepower and that situations will affect it. The research shows that social status and cognitive processing of information are related and interact directly. (Guess that is why some of us consultants appear so smart, right?)

Actually, this is GREAT information that confirms that using strategies and tools to generate interactive, collaborative and engaged teams of people actually can improve Corporate Intelligence by raising their self-perceptions of their effectiveness in generating ideas and being creative – the data by Cal Tech and other scientists sort of proves this.

Sometimes we just feel like we are working and working and not making progress

The research also shows that people will perform below expectations if we expect them to perform that way. Scores of low performers dropped 17 points during the course of the experiment when they were told that they were low performers. The work made them less intelligent, measurably!

(And the measured activity in the brain supported the fact that fear is an inhibitor — there are lots of research studies that support that conclusion (see Seligman’s work on conditioned helplessness, for example) ).

“The sensitivity to the social feedback of the rankings profoundly altered some people’s ability to express their cognitive capacity,” said one of the researchers. This negative social feedback generated “quick downward spiraling” of intelligence.

We need to look for better ways to improve performance and this data is so straightforward. It seems to say that treating people with more status improves their intelligence, so DO it!

It is not hard to show appreciation for ideas that will make impacts on how things work. And it is not hard to structure activities that involve and engage people in sharing their ideas about how things work and how things can be improved. And doing this as teams can and will affect that team’s intelligence, if they feel mutual support and appreciation from others. Peer support is a very powerful motivator of performance.

There are no dumb guys when it comes to ideas for innovation and improvement

Intrinsic motivation comes from a variety of internal processes. Extrinsic rewards often drive incompatible behaviors and can be something that creates winners and losers. So, look for practices that envolve and engage groups.

I bet that I can replicate this finding by using some of our team building and performance improvement tools (like my Square Wheels and Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine activities) but there are a lot of tools out there that accomplish similar things. By involving and engaging people in the generation of list of workplace performance issues and then engaging them in designing and implementing solutions for those ideas, we can have ALL sorts of positive impacts.

And we NEED to raise functional corporate intelligence!

See more about this at in an article entitled, Neuroscientists Find That Status within Groups Can Affect IQ.

I have not looked at the original research, just the detailed press release above.

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