Engaging Senior Managers in Large Group Teambuilding Events

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine (LDGM) is a powerful team building simulation that we have been running since 1993. And the initial thoughts on designing the operational side of the game was to make it very simple to deliver, with the idea that the exercise could be run by senior executives.

My goal was to put forward some ideas that can be used with any large group event where involving the senior manager team would be useful for the visibility and for their collaboration. But, I did frame this blog up around my flagship team building game. The ideas should stand on their own, however.

Since we rolled it out, it is great to get the stories about successes in such frameworks, since the impacts of the senior managers leading the play and the debriefing would obviously be much more effective in sending messages than if outside consultants or people in training were running the program. Plus, with the simple design, we could also run very large groups, seamlessly, making the exercise ideal for big group events of 100 or more participants.

A while back, a sole practitioner was asking me how to staff up a large group delivery of the program and how to optimize the debriefing. A perfect question, actually. How better to sell the program than without the added costs of a bunch of facilitators and with the involvement of the senior staff of the organization in the delivery. So, let me elaborate:

First of all, Dutchman is one of the truly great team building exercises that works well with really large groups. My largest session was 600 people, but a software company in India holds the record with 870 people in one room at one time, with a solid debriefing linked to their specific issues and opportunities.

The large group play of Lost Dutchman's teambuilding exercise

Generating real organizational change or aligning people to the new company strategy is always an issue – how does one generate real involvement and alignment and ownership among the senior management team and then among all of the key performers? I think that active involvement and engagement and understanding along with clear discussions about past and future choices for changes and behaviors is what generates impact and value.

Delivering a large group event using the exercise actually represents a unique and unparalleled opportunity to really accomplish some executive team building. Here’s why:

  • Senior managers like to respond to challenges, and what better challenge than having them learn to facilitate a program that generates alignment of their own people toward the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • Senior managers will often talk team, but they operate their own groups in a way to isolate them from real inter-organizational collaboration. We hear the term “silo” enough to know that it represents real organizational reality. So putting them into a situation where their teamwork together is required for effectiveness makes it easier to get these behaviors down the road. Working as a team generates teamwork, especially when there is followup and discussion about the impacts.
  • Instead of some unknown people running around during a facilitated event, why not have these managers walking the talk and supporting teamwork and sharing resources and behaving congruently?

In the Dutchman exercise, the expressed goal is, “To mine as much gold as we can and to generate an optimal Return on Investment.”

We get the managers aligned and congruent with the above as part of the game and as part of the debriefing on what changes need to be made to impact and optimize organizational results.

Dutchman was designed to be easy to facilitate — As part of my initial thinking about how it should play, I did not want my company 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 (managers) to be able to deliver the game — we have had many line managers run the exercise over the years with great success. (You can see 30+ testimonials by clicking on the image below.)

A testimonial on The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold MineDutchman has had 20+ years of polishing to make it into a very straightforward team building program where there are few hidden tricks. It allows for the complete congruence of all of the facilitating staff to support the players in solving the planning and execution challenges we present.

The banking of the game and the tracking of team behaviors was also designed to be really simple and clearly understood in the debriefing. There are no “mechanical” issues or illogical demands and it is easy to learn how to operate the game. The goal was to enable a facilitator to pay more attention to the observed behaviors rather than needing to become some expert on game mechanics and unnecessary complexities.

When I first started my deliveries, I would assemble some people and pay them for a few hours of their time to help me deliver large games (50 people or more). Smaller games, I can operate by myself.

As I was asked to deliver even larger events, I would generally 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. But I eventually discovered that involving the senior managers in the delivery gave me the biggest impacts.

Now, for a large session of 200 or more, I first deliver a real team building event for the most senior managers, running them through the actual exercise with a short debriefing of results and impacts. With a half day designated for such training, we debriefed a bit on the goals that were set for the big event and talked about the mechanics of banking and supporting the exercise on the floor. We would involve them in the full debriefing during the large event.

If I could get them to commit to a full day of training and collaboration, I could also get their ideas and 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. But their active ownership of the overall design was a very strong positive impact,

THIS became my most effective overall design focus for large groups:

  • 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

Dr. Scott Simmerman facilitating team building gameThis design gives me the ability to put my executive coaching hat on, debriefing them with the goal of improving the senior leadership teamwork with real purpose. It also enables me to run really large groups with only ME being required for delivery.

You can imagine how that positively impacts my profitability, decreases client costs and minimizes any staffing issues. We also have plenty of management help for running the game itself, an involved and committed leadership group aligned to a shared goal and purpose.

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 that 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!

We generate a much higher likelihood of behavioral change and implementation of organizational improvement 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 focusing on discussing the kinds of behaviors these senior managers would like to see from the people at the large event helps tie things together. The focus on the shared missions and visions and the generation of 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!

I hope that this framework has been informative and helpful.

We sell the Dutchman game directly to end users looking for a high-impact, low cost training tool. We deliver the game to companies wanting outside facilitation. And, we rent the game for one-time use.

Rent The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

Have some FUN out there!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

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