Startups and established teams face tremendous pressure to deliver. The breakneck speed of changes in languages and framework ecosystems, delivering code well thought out and written for maintainability and scalability adds another dimension to this pressure. But the one that stands most out is level of interaction and collaboration within the team and outside. As we manage this chaos with routine practices like recruiting good talent, enticing with good options, equipping with best infrastructure and software tools, training and orienting in best practices, pair programming and team building to enhance group interactions may not be sufficient in short and long term.
Personally, I have been through lots of drab team building activities – paintballs, movie togethers, charity activities, dinner and dances, laugh it throughs, corporate self-help trainings, Da Vinci Code themed hunts on taxi hops, etc. Take a moment and name those you have attended so far and my question is – has it really improved your outlook of working collaboratively, boosted output and understanding of your peers and sneers?
A stream of questions arises. Does your team have the requisite team dynamics, energy and camaraderie to act in unison to deliver what the company wants out of them – orchestrated by the program/project lead? Is team cohesion and communication superb or subpar? Also, is there a practical, genuine and approachable way to rejuvenate and maintain the team spirit? Has our mastery of ‘the science of teams’ adequate to meet these challenges?
‘The science of teams’ answer needn’t be high octane. Enter the Board Game.
You might think I’m silly and guess what? a board game is a family activity for leisure and fun, full of name calling, commotion, laughs, benign barbs, teasing, strategizing and winning. But it’s more than that. There’s no sense of loss even when you lose the game – all that matters, is the journey. It’s full of fun, camaraderie, surprise and ample talk and that’s what we need for teams in team building – gentle yet reinforcing. The corporate driven, high octane team building activities isn’t going to help in anyway. Conversely, it benefits only event companies, and drains the ‘must be spent’ budget.
When I joined this gaming enterprise’s data team that had a close-knit group of developers, artists and learning designers, I was skeptical of what playing a ‘Board Game’ can bring to the team which is already developing 3D games (using Unity) for their bread and butter. I was wrong, it did wonders. We have ‘Board Game’ time every fortnight sandwiched between the last hours of work time and the evening. We start our sessions around 5pm and end around 7pm, so the team members are not disrupted of their routine commute. There’s a choice of drinks for every other person – beer, wine, coffee and sodas. Of course, depending on the budget – some healthy finger foods and pizza. Obviously, the game master is the one who has supposedly gone through the rule book and is expected to be familiar with the game by either playing it her/himself, or watching it explained from YouTube videos by the game provider. We take turns to be the game master to save time and guide rest of the team to be effective, extracting maximum fun out of the play. Ideally the board should support at least 4 or 6 players. If the team size is 8, then others can join to form groups within. Those who are really not interested in participating can be spectator supporter for a player still. Those who were reluctant initially became active players subsequently.
What I noticed and witnessed for myself during game play: people talk freely (over their choice of drink and food), discuss their strategy, question, cheer and tease other players. Every dice throw is fun in anticipation of their desired number to catapult their position in the game. With constant conversation around rules, booties won and lost, twists and turns the game – takes you through a journey of fun, anticipation and interaction – hence camaraderie & respect develops. This breaks the ice, and starts conversation that flows beyond play time into work time. The fun is amplified, when the winner decides who the future game master is and new game to play next time from the repertoire of board games in stock, sometimes even proposing a new board game to buy. Every year our budget is to acquire 6 new games in the $100 to $150 price range with older ones given away to employees. On a side note, the game master has to really understand the rules of the game well, read through the cryptic rule book and decipher the nuances to instill the gaming spirit. Be the gate keeper on errant players, gently nudge them to participate, benevolently whip the procrastinators into action and take leadership in steering the gameplay.
No wonder, as we’re 3D gaming company ourselves, being emboldened in our physical board game play, we wanted to create our own board game. It was in the true spirit of startup and experimentation, we recently released our own on Kickstarter, called Avertigos. I humbly encourage you to take a look at it and see whether you can turn your team building activity into something genuinely fun, indoor, refreshingly new and authentic; not only with Avertigos, but with any board game of your choice. Be mindful of the game genre, and give it a try. It can do wonders. It did for us.
This could be one simple step in mastering the science of teams and certainly helped on aspects discussed in this ‘the science of teams’ article for us.