There is no way that this team-building game is designed to achieve the result I see coming.
I was attending one of the coolest “corporate” training courses I’d ever been to. It’s called Woodbadge. It’s offered by the Boy Scouts of America. They teach leadership, organization and team building.
I call it scout camp for grownups.
In fact, we were at the Tifie Scout Camp in southern Utah. And my three sons were attending merit badge classes with their troop while I learned leadership skills.
The evening of the second day we played a game called Win All You Can. This game was going to blow up and make people hate each other. As a long time corporate trainer I was fascinated by the prospect of the BSA presenting a activity designed to make people distrust each other.
We spent the first two days divided in patrols competing against the other patrols in various scouting type competitions. By the evening of the second night the competitive juices were running pretty high.
The game setup was pretty simple. There were 8 patrols. The patrols were divided into two groups. Each patrol was handed two cards, a red card with an Axe on it and a green card with a log on it. There were 5 rounds. At the beginning of a round a representative from each patrol met with the reps from the other patrols in their group to decide whether to play a Red Axe or a Green Log that round.
Points were awarded as follows
Four Red Axes: ………………………Each patrol loses -100 points
Three Red Axes, 1 Green log:….Axes +100, Log -300
Two Red Axes, 2 Green logs:…..Axes +200, Log -200
One Red Axe, 3 Green logs:…….Axes +300, Log -100
Four Green Logs:…………………….Each patrol +100
Now, I’m no game expert, but I grew up with one (Where Did THAT Come From?) My brother and I played games all the time growing. It was pretty clear to me how to maximize points for our patrol. You get your representative to convince everyone to go with the green log and “we all win.” And you do that for two turns. On the third turn you pull a Red Axe. You get +300 for round three, the other patrols in your group lose -100. Then, you go back to convincing everyone to throw green log cards.
However, I suspected there was something more to the game than what they were showing us. I didn’t know exactly what it was though.
Round one and Round two everyone was singing Kum-ba-ya. We all put out the green log and all eight patrols were tied at 200 points. Round three we pulled our switch. Our representative wasn’t very happy that we were asking him to lie to his counterparts. Sure enough the cards were revealed and our Fox patrol was now in the lead.
There were a few people that were pretty upset that we’d doublecrossed them. We assured them that we were really sorry, and we’d play nice the rest of the way and we did.
At the end of the 5th round we were in the lead, 700 to 300 for the other patrols in our group and the other group had played it straight the whole game. Their four patrols all had 500 points.
You’ve probably spotted where this is going.
The person running the game then announced that the scoring was NOT by patrol, but by group. Our group had 1600 points. The other group had 2000 points.
And then the fireworks started. Actually, in talking to the staff our responses were pretty muted. In previous years they had people quit the training after this “game.” I really tried to figure out why they presented this exercise.
I realized as we started in on Wednesday’s activities that the focus of the training had shifted. Where Monday and Tuesday were all about pitting patrols against each other, Wednesday through Friday were all about making the group stronger.
Win All You Can illustrated the danger of a group where everyone is out for themselves. My patrol scored the most points, but our group lost. How often has that happened in your company? Do you have teams that view their coworkers as the competition? Do they think that the way to do better is to make other teams appear to do worse? If so, you have a problem that needs to be fixed.
I’ve taken and taught a lot of training courses in my career. I’ve never seen one that was as well designed as Win All You Can. There was a danger that you’d push people too far. But, if you are going to go to the trouble of sending your team to a training event, isn’t it better to challenge some of their assumptions?
I don’t remember a lot about Woodbadge, but Win All You Can will stick with me for a long time. We all do better when we are each looking out for each other’s success.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist, IT Consultant, and a member of the Mighty Fox patrol. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.