Experience is a brutal teacher. What serious gaming can do to you...
By Karin Vrij

Every management training teaches you to co-operate, agree a joint approach, stick to the agreements, and above all, communicate with one another. Everyone knows this and think they act on it on a regular basis. Serious gaming taught me to know the real me...

Around six years ago I started work at InContext where they develop business games and simulations. That same afternoon a business game was being played with a customer but they were one player short. Now I could show them what I was made of...

The challenge seemed simple enough. Four teams had to complete their own puzzle. The teams were only allowed to confer at a special ‘exchange’ and consultation point. That was the only place you could exchange puzzle pieces. The challenge was to complete the puzzle as quickly as possible.

Driven by ambition and a bit of rivalrousness – I thought

Karin, show them what you’re made of! You can show them you’re far from dumb and that you can take on a challenge. Just a bit of hard work and you've got it made!

In my own team I set about completing the puzzle. But, whatever I tried, I couldn’t do it. Surely I could do a simple puzzle?

Of course – with hindsight – I didn’t have all the pieces I needed to complete my team’s puzzle. That was what the consultation and exchange point was meant for. Everyone had their own ideas about how to improve the exchange process, people shouting and snatching pieces of puzzle out of one another’s hands. We all wanted to get the puzzle done as quickly as possible. I had a couple of pieces wrenched from my hands. Hey, why should you get something from me? What do I get back from you?

Within an hour it became painfully clear that we didn’t have any conflicts of interest. Everyone had a few puzzle pieces the others needed and we could simply exchange them. Right from the get-go we’d only been chasing our own goals. All the players made the same mistake. And the players who had tried to be above the struggle in the first five minutes were ignored and they were dragged into the individual fight. Leadership, communication, co-operation all went out of the window. Our solo performances cost us nearly two hours. The challenge only needed half an hour if we’d made a few process agreements and stuck to them.

I’ll never forget this experience

The effect of my own thinking (I want to be as fast and as good as I can be, and if possible quicker and better than my colleagues) and not taking the time to listen to the others or their ideas led to certain behaviors.

Now I’ve seen and experienced first hand - via serious gaming – what behavior is like when colleagues work together, communicate and try to achieve unnecessarily conflicting goals, ‘naturally’ and the positive and negative effects of these so-called ‘natural’, behaviors, I can’t go along with them anymore.

At work, everyone is confronted with thoughts and challenges like these. Only there the puzzle is achieving your targets, successfully rounding off a project or achieving departmental goals.

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Meet our gaming & simulations expert: Karin Vrij
Would you like to know more about serious gaming?