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Board Games in the Boardroom

C. Rosenberg

Dice, cards, and game boards in the conference room? According to gaming experts, corporate games aren’t only fun — they can significantly impact the bottom line

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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GAME THEORY Learning from games is significantly more effective than just sitting passively in a room during a lecture, hearing about various theories. “Similar to the way a personal trainer will train his client to work specific muscles for optimal strength, corporate games ‘work’ the mental muscles so they perform well in the business world of 2017,” explains FreshBiz cofounder Simcha Gluck (Photos: Simcha Gluck, Tani Prero)

R oll the die, shuffle the cards, move that playing piece… sounds like a leisurely Shabbos afternoon in the playroom? Actually, it’s a team of executives, employees, and business students at a polished table in the conference room.

In many businesses around the world, the modern workday may include a playing board, Legos, gaming software, even spaghetti and marshmallows. Although they seem to be mere children’s toys, these become building blocks for important corporate skills, tools for getting the job done.

How does playing games fit into the boardroom? What do games accomplish? Joseph Sherman learned what games bring to the workplace when he was first exposed to them as an eMBA exchange student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

“A core competency in international business is learning how to think like other people, to know their goals, priorities, and sensitive points,” says Sherman, now director of partnerships at Kahro Diamonds, where he designs and facilitates corporate games. “It’s not enough to know the company’s strategy. You need to know the individual personality and motivation of each person you’re working with.”

Pretend play using games allows you to practice and perfect these types of skills. In Sherman’s KEDGE-Shanghai program, he and other participants took on roles in games — importer, exporter, as well as other positions at different corporate levels.

Each participant received a unique case study describing a business, a potential deal, and a job description (including a personal profile of the goals, risks, and rewards for the individual).

Sherman recalls how he was assigned the role of CEO looking to sell an unprofitable business division at a good price, meet quarterly earnings, and receive a nice bonus. The other “companies” involved had very different goals: one was looking to lower business costs, another was looking for a specific technology, while a third was interested in saving jobs and gaining government support for a public–private partnership.

“Why would I use your service, when I can go to your competitor instead?” the game asked. It was an angle neither of them had thought about before, and showed that they needed to rework the strategy

This game taught Sherman not only how to think about capitalizing on his own resources, but also what interests others — and how to negotiate in ways that appeal to them.
It doesn’t stop there. The evolving world of serious play extends far beyond role-playing. 

Why Play?
Creativity, innovation, and teamwork — all buzzwords in the corporate world. Which employees can actually apply them, or better yet, maximize them? Those who play games, say experts.

Similar to the way combat fighters are put through extreme conditions and simulated fighting circumstances to teach them skills and to build endurance, corporate games often simulate obstacles in the real business world, with the purpose of teaching players how to master core business values.

Corporate games accomplish this in a variety of ways, depending on the type of game. What they all have in common is the ability to engage players in a fun activity while teaching important business skills. Therein lies the difference between a corporate game and a company lunch or competitive basketball game. Though both breed camaraderie among peers and employees of higher rank, and allow for constructive collaboration later, corporate games teach actual skills immediately transferable to the workplace.

Take FreshBiz, a very popular game in the frum business world. This board game — played with at least four players — has a basic goal of using an allotted sum of money in the smartest way possible in 60 to 90 minutes. With tolls, stock market trade, non-monetary skills and assets, business opportunities, and other players as rivals or partners, the game is charged, yet exhilarating. More importantly, it’s a valuable learning experience.

Tobey Finkelstein, principal at Upstart Consulting, was introduced to FreshBiz at an entrepreneurship workshop during a convention for Jewish outreach professionals. “Because we only have 60 minutes to win the game, we can get to see our personal and group dynamics really quickly,” Tobey says. “We see what holds us back and what propels us to reach our goals.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 542)

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