I recently bought a new board game to use during our family vacation. It had good ratings, displayed a Mensa seal, and boasted rich imagery and an intriguing name--Forbidden Island (Gamewright ®). But, when I sprung it on my adult children, they were less than enthused. Although our family plays board games occasionally— they certainly aren’t board game fanatics. I would have to keep things exciting. I read the description out loud: “…capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise and escape by helicopter to win—if the island sinks before you complete your tasks, the mission ends in defeat!” So far, so good. The family was with me. Playing time: 30 minutes—check. But then I announced: “…the latest creation by cooperative game master, Matt Leacock.” That’s right… it was a cooperative board game.
Wikipedia lays out the definition: “In a cooperative board game, players work together in order to achieve a goal, either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition...”
Competition had been expected, but cooperation? My kids’ eyebrows rose and they blurted out their suspicion: “Is this one of your leadership development/'team-buildy' things?” Surprisingly, although I’ve been known to try a few team building exercises out on the family, this wasn’t a premeditated cooperative plot.
We carried on. We formed the Island with the tiles, placed the treasures on the board, and set the water level marker. We distributed ‘adventurer’ cards which gave each of us a special power that only we could perform. The game began. We could only move our pawn to an adjacent tile but never diagonally. We had card hand-limit restrictions. As the flood cards ‘sunk’ certain tiles, our movements became more restricted and we were forced to work together if we wanted to ‘shore up’ (i.e. ‘unflood’) a tile, keep the water level from rising, collect the treasures and escape the island. We played as a team. We still had tension, excitement and fun, but we also learned to work together.
Of course, a few of the lessons we learned apply to other teams as well:
As simple as these ideas appear, when we had to apply them, it was much harder. That’s because, as a society, competition seems to come more naturally and is modeled more frequently, than cooperation. In a sense, the game helped us practice and develop the ‘muscle memories’ for cooperation and collaboration.
For teams, stressing cooperation over competition is a refreshing and smart business tactic. But, if we want our team (or family) to get better at collaboration, we must allow time for practice and be intentional about it. Many team building exercises and cooperative games take only ½ hour, so why not plan time for your team to practice creative thinking, communication, problem-solving and collaboration more often until it becomes second nature and part of their collective ‘muscle memory’? Sprinkle short team building exercises throughout each quarter, rather than reserving them for retreats. Spend a little bit of time, google team building exercises, try them out on your friends or family and go for it. You might get a few groans from your team at first, but they’ll eventually appreciate it and be stronger for it.
Don’t underestimate the power of practicing collaboration. Let the cooperative games and team building exercises begin!