Continuous Continuous Improvement and Team Building

Dozens of years ago, when I chaired our local ASQC group, it was common to hear these quality managers say that they had done continuous improvement.

It was so common that I resolved never to use that phrase and to only use the term, CONTINUOUS Continuous Improvement, which STILL gives my grammar checker fits, as the Wordpress editor is doing right now…

I mean, how can you complete something that is continuous?

And why isn’t continuous continuous improvement a better overall goal for organizations? When does stopping improvement make any sense?

Now, those ISO standards forced organizations to go way deep into compliance and process management, which is an antithesis to innovation and improvement, and those issues still hang around out there in the world of manufacturing. And to see people put a Six Sigma framework around customer service still seems goofy, in that the processes are simply so far from rigid statistical control. But, whatever.

So, let’s shift to the issues of workplace reality, team building and continuous continuous improvement of people and processes, focusing on collaboration, alignment and communications.

Winemaking is often the art of nurturing grape juice through a process of continuous incremental improvement until it ends of as a spectacular product, if that is the winemaker’s goal. Sure, you can make a million gallons of wine that all tastes the same, but the artwork and artistry of this vocation is not focused on consistency but on excellence, much like we should be striving for with out workplace improvement initiatives.

In the case of developing a team building game, one can also devote 20+ years to learning the art and substance of teamwork and collaboration and to continually fine-tune one’s ideas to optimize desired outcomes. And I can honestly say that I think we have reached that point with The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a team building exercise that has been continually improved since its first deliveries back in 1993.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding exercise

Selling and supporting a game was never my main objective; designing and refining an organizational development exercise to deliver consistently excellent results and have widespread positive impacts on people in organizations was always my goal and hopefully my legacy. Surveys of users say we have pretty much optimized our impacts from this single framework (see a supporting article here or download the results here.)

Dutchman’s existence grew out of dissatisfaction with a “team building game” that I represented as the first USA selling agent back in the late 1980s. That game’s play and its debriefing supported competition among teams — it’s program design allowed teams to quickly die because of their decisions, claiming that this was a reality of teamwork in most organizations. And the focus on competition was a distraction from the expressed objectives of building teamwork, something that I didn’t feel created a better Return on Investment than what a Collaborative approach would do. (Read more about that here)

When I tried to collaborate with that game’s developers, they resisted any ideas from any of us who were representing their product, ideas that would strengthen the game’s outcomes and impacts. So, over 24 years ago, Dutchman was created because there was a need in the team building marketplace for an inexpensive exercise that would support a serious learning framework for how collaboration beats competition in getting the best ROI.

We wanted a design that linked to real workplace issues, but also an exercise that could be easily facilitated by trainers or consultants and didn’t have a bunch of restrictive licensing and continual payment requirements attached to it. I wanted to sell Dutchman as a one-time cost game with a money back guarantee that could be used by virtually any type of organization and I soon found that this was a much appreciated concept compared to the typical way that team building products were put into the marketplace.

Once this exercise entered into the playing field, it immediately received accolades for how it drove home the concept of collaboration better than anything else out there. Through a much stronger debriefing than the other game provided, I was able to show how teams could have increased their ROI by the simple act of collaborating. We MEASURE the team and group results and can clearly show where and when collaboration would have had significant positive impacts on results. (If you own the game or are interested in performance metrics, you might find this detailed results analysis to be of interest.)

It is our belief that leadership, communications and strategic planning were all essential to creating a collaborative environment and Dutchman set this up well. Active involvement and engagement are also important for the success of any implementation, so the game plays really well in a situation where you want to better implement tops-down change and strategy.

The funny thing is that competition is a compelling force for players and they end up sub-optimizing their gold intake because of this, which is also a very common workplace observation. Therefore, this further indicated that a solid Debriefing was necessary to the game in order to get people to realize how choices around Collaboration brings in a better ROI.

Behavioral flexibility also became an important addition to the game and its debriefing because organizations have different reasons for using team building games and as Dutchman’s debriefing continued to evolve over the years so did its flexibility for creating different outcomes. Within its first year of use, Dutchman became a worldwide product that easily worked in various cultures and countries. And it is really neat when people working in one organization change jobs and buy the game for their new company. THAT is good evidence that the game holds high value and relevancy for them (and is a safe move to make!).

Today, we sell a variety of different Dutchman games, with LD-3 for up to 18 players or 3 teams; LD-4 for up to 24 players (4 teams), LD-6 for up to 36 players (6 teams) and our LD-Professional Version for any number players.

These various versions and their scaled prices were well received and our idea of making a Rental Version of the game available for those who weren’t ready to invest in one of the other choices or who had a one-time delivery requirement. We have training consultant users who purchased the game to use in small classroom settings who can now profitably do that large organizational retreat (100+ people) for clients.

Throughout the years, I’ve continued to improve upon the game play not only from my own ideas but also from collaborating with Dutchman owners who have given me great ideas to incorporate into the game. The game materials have evolved over the years, the Debriefing presentation and slides have expanded, the training materials have evolved to now include videos of how to work the game, etc. Even the original game board has changed into a different version.

People purchasing the game 24 years ago can still play with the materials they received at that time while those presently purchasing any of the game versions will have an updated set of materials — All versions will work exceedingly well to create a session worth facilitating because the outcomes of the game are like a fine wine in that the depth of appreciation for Dutchman and it’s return on investment continues to grow as it ages.

testimonials for Lost Dutchman Gold Mine slideshare

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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We rent the exercise, with great testimonials, to consultants and trainers in North America. See more details here about its play and its outcomes.

ASQC — American Society for Quality Control is now the ASQ /AQP, the American Society for Quality and the Association for Quality and Participation. I was actually a member of both groups and much more aligned with the frameworks of AQP — And I spoke at a couple of their international conferences.


Originally published at Performance Management Company Blog.