Games Managers Should Play

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Board Games and Management Skills - This article presents innovative uses of board games in management training, and demonstrates the power of this technique with some example games.

Board games have been played for thousands of years in all human cultures. They are a source of fun, social interaction, as well as amateur and professional competition. However, the use of board games as a focused and specific tool for developing thinking and other skills is a recent and less known practice.

Imagine you are screening candidates for a senior executive position.

The job demands strategic thinking abilities and complex decision-making skills. You've narrowed the search down to 3 candidates, all of whom have impressive educational background, relevant experience and the right personality for the job. You take another look at their resumes and notice an interesting fact about one of the prospective managers - apparently her hobby is playing various board games including Chess, Bridge, and Go (an ancient and complex Japanese game).

Will this fact affect who you ultimately choose for the position of manager?

Apparently, characteristics and skills that are required for playing board games are especially relevant for managers of all levels.

Quite a few senior managers say that the skills and habits they acquired in playing games give them an extra edge in business and in management. This includes handling fast changes, taking calculated risks, self-discipline, improved memory, coolness under pressure, and determination to carry-through the right strategy - even if it leads to short-term loss.

According to different managers, each game has a distinct focus on skills that stem from the nature of the game.

Thus, for instance, Backgammon increases the ability to quickly and intuitively calculate odds and risks in situations of uncertainty;
The game of cards - Bridge - develops social interaction and communication based on partial information;
Chess requires strategic thinking and system vision, as well as experience in exploiting tactical patterns and opportunities.

The skills needed for playing games are not only cognitive. The basic setting of games requires the ability to operate while involved in intense competitive social interaction, with alternating moments of cooperation and confrontation.

Obviously, similar skills are needed in the daily functions of people in general and of managers in particular. Improving these skills is a great part of the learning and training managers need to undertake.

Managers Play to Train and Learn

With the above mentioned similarity of the skills required in board games and those required of managers, it is almost natural that board games have indeed become a powerful management training tool.

The subjects that may be addressed with this type of learning are diverse, and include effective decision-making, problem-solving techniques, development of creative thinking, improved personal communication, synergistic teamwork, work under pressure, and more.

Games such as Chess, Go and Bridge usually require more than a basic understanding and quite a long period of learning in order to reach a level that enables significant practical management learning.

However, there is a large number of games with simpler rules, that may be understood in minutes, and can still be used as powerful learning tools. Examples of such games are included in the second part of this article.

Using this unconventional method of management training carries several advantages:

A. Exposing Patterns of Thinking and Action

As managers play different board games, their patterns of thinking and action, as well as the results of those actions, are brought to the surface. This makes it possible to analyse these habits and point out group tendencies as well.
Thus, for instance, a tendency to make decisions based on partial information and without dialogue may lead to grave result in the game, teaching the manager that he needs to improve his communication skills in the game and in life.

B. Real-time Feedback

The link between action and its results in games is almost instant. This makes it possible to examine in real-time the results of using thinking tools and structured patterns of action and behaviour, A team that has to solve a game problem quickly and effectively, can learn to use problem-solving techniques and see their immediate effect.
In addition, team members may evaluate the personal qualities each of them brings into problem-solving situations, and train in using those abilities in game and life processes.

C. Personal, Team & Group Learning

Training managers through board games simultaneously works on personal skills, small team and large group interaction. Game situations may be planned and built so that learning is focused on personal learning (even through one-on-one coaching), team interaction (two pairs playing against one another, and required to make unanimous decisions), or group aspects (presenting a game position on a screen and holding a discussion on the recommended course of action).
This kind of flexibility lets us achieve a variety of learning goals on all levels.

D. Powerful Emotional Learning

Most of the subjects learnt through board can certainly be presented in other, more conventional, ways. An added advantage of using board games is the strong emotional involvement of the participants. The cognitive challenges, the state of competition, the hands-on approach all contribute to greater awareness, openness to change and to fun and interest in the learning process.

The following article was contributed by Amir Elion

Plato summarised these principles of learning in the following quote:

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation


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