Performance Management Blog

Military Team Building Games – some thoughts on alternatives

Good Governance, rather than autocratic leadership, is one of the keys to creating value and improvement for organizations and society.

Dutchman is Teamwork

Organizations of all types are looking for tools to help improve collaboration and teamwork and they sometimes are looking toward military models of operations, since we tend to view SEAL groups as highly organized and effective. Thus, many view the use of some kind of “military model of leadership” as a tool to improve performance in their own organizations.

And remember back in 1986 when everyone was going toward “Top Gun” kinds of training programs and employee improvement actions because of the popularity of the Tom Cruise movie and the apparent thrill of flying a jet fighter? Ah, if organizations could only work like that! Zoom Zoom! They were printing Top Gun Baseball caps for everyone, it seemed.  (But if you actually remember the movie, the leadership and congruence among the teams sure was not that smooth and everything was a competition, which sometimes nearly got people killed. There was constant conflict and often a lack of coordination, Boss-driven compliance, demotions and all that…)
Stealth SWs yellow

I am sometimes asked how our teambuilding and collaboration products can be used for a Military Team Building Game or similarly themed-exercise, either as a game with a military theme or one that can be used by a military unit to teach practical leadership and teamwork lessons. And there are a bunch of anchor points to generating good results and impacts.

Some of my client colleagues who do these kinds of team building events in various military organizations all say pretty much the same thing. Russ, for example, said, “The only thing I have to say is that military has the same issues as civilian, local focus, lots of distractions, different risk levels,…. Nothing jumps out as specific or different for Military applications.”

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine remains my flagship product and one that we are proud to offer to clients of all types, profit and non-profit, who are interested in generating more engagement and collaboration across organizational barriers. The focus is on the overall result of the group, not any one team. And the applications toward idealized Military Efficiency are pretty straightforward.

My personal beliefs are that an exercise themed on a military team building would tend to be too focused on competition / violence, something that might not sit well with a female audience or one that an objector might find distasteful. My “Military Might!” exercise, for example, is one that my son and I designed initially for his high school Air Force ROTC organization to teach the criticality of planning and attention to detail. As Corps Commander, Jeff needed to improve how things worked and improve attention to detail, as in taking inventories and similar functions.  But Might! game is about planning to kill terrorists – and I am reframing the design to become an oil exploration exercise with many of the same learning points; just a different message medium.

So far as generating compliance because or ordering people to do things, it is common that people commanded may not complain, they may simply do. But the distaste for being told will remain. And compliance does not generate a lot of desired outcomes in general.

And the basic theme of a “military game” may generate unanticipated consequences*.  I have a friend who still suffers from PTSD from his activities in Vietnam. He remains an out-patient in the VA hospital and attends group therapy. If he were one of the players of a military-style game, he would have fun, but there would be a residue left behind from such an event and it would probably trigger a lot of negative memories and emotions. The problem is that one can never really predict what will trigger what in other people…

* (My lawyer friends say that nothing is actually “unanticipated” but that due diligence would discover the unexpected problem and prevent it from ever occurring! “Saying” that it is unanticipated does not remove one from the responsibility for the unintended consequences…)

A colleague in the DC area and who regularly delivers programs for military leadership development and communications courses had this to say about military-themed team building and leadership training in general (in blue):

For decades there’s been a huge emphasis on collaboration information sharing across units and services (between Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy). Collaboration is an important and real issue today between these groups, not to mention between our security services like Homeland, NSA, FBI, CIA and local police forces. There remain a wide variety of teamwork and communications issues that directly impact public safety.

The phrase “joint operations” is used frequently (a similar phrase is “going purple”). This is about reducing the historic inter-service rivalries, and increasing effectiveness through the concept of one, joint fighting force. This kind of military team building exercise can also show up on the local level. It is also related to Emergency Preparedness, where interdepartmental and turf issues can show themselves clearly.

[As an aside here, my personal observations of such joint operations at a local high school among the fire, police, state police, EMS and Public Health Services was so inefficient and ineffective to be almost comical. A big laugh for me came when one of the demolition guys took a great deal of time and space to set off his “explosion” to mark the beginning of the terror-response activity. It was a real “guy moment,” in my view and had nothing to do with the exercise other than the fun he had blowing stuff up! Heck, they had difficulty choosing the radio channel to use for communications among the divisions!]

Dutchman also contributes to understanding these concepts and their power.

– Today’s military and government agencies face a variety of pressures to be more nimble, fluid, change on the fly as conditions change.

– And today’s military members fill roles they haven’t played before, in place like Iraq and Afghanistan – nation builder, mentor, friend, teacher, diplomat, as well as warrior.

Interdepartmental Collaboration is not good

Joint military teamwork can look something like this

Those are a lot of different roles, so feeling part of a team and developing one’s leadership and collaboration skills is a critical component of any developmental initiative. Getting groups to work together across natural competitive lines is a powerful tool to implementing new missions and visions and optimizing results.

So, to the extent that Lost Dutchman helps people see the importance of what I mentioned, in the above, it can help you convince folks in the military of its utility for them.

(You can see more of Russ’ thinking about things here: www.russlinden.wordpress.com)

We think that we have an excellent leadership development exercise in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. It links to the real issues of aligning people to a shared mission and vision and it supports collaboration, even when teams choose to compete. And while it is not a military team building game, it accomplishes all of those things that such a design would need without resorting to attacking others or creating damage or some such thing.

Dutchman is about leadership and collaboration and sharing goals and objectives. It is about optimizing results with limited resources, planning and gaining strategic information that is critical for overall success of the team and the group.

Our many user testimonials say that Dutchman is a great team building game – see some of them here at our other blog

Scott banking LD

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at [email protected]

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. -- You can reach Scott at [email protected] and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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