Board Games As: A Team Building Exercise

It was an innocent question. While at work during an all-hands meeting concerning departmental culture, a simple question was asked. “Do all happy hours need to be at bars?”

To be clear, as a whole my co-workers are not big drinkers – at least, not that I know of. Nevertheless, the only after work gathering the team regularly held was a happy hour at a local tavern once every four or five weeks. I’ve attended one or two and they’re fine. No one gets out of hand and we can relax and socialize within reason. It serves its purpose. But, as the innocent question pointed out, it shouldn’t be the only game in town.

Back to the question. “Do all happy hours need to be at bars?” He continued, “Perhaps we could go bowling, or play board games.” I sat up. Someone was publicly talking about board games and it wasn’t me? I followed up with my co-worker after the meeting. Turns out, there are a number of board gamers in my little IT department. Perhaps, I thought, this was a viable idea.

I went to my manager with the request. Now, I’ve been around long enough to know when asking for management’s permission, you must emphasize the benefits to them and the company as a whole. So I billed it as a cross-functional team building exercise. With their permission, it would be held in the lunchroom, after regular business hours, and open to any and all who would want to attend. She agreed and tasked me with setting it up. Here’s what I did:

  1. Determine the attendees – Thanks to my prior conversation, I knew board gamers were sprinkled throughout the department. The first thing I did was to seek them out and measure their interest. Turns out, there was a lot of interest. Confident that at least one person would show up, I moved forward.
  2. Set a consistent date and commit to it – If I’ve learned anything from being a fan of podcasting, it’s this: be consistent. Pick a time and stick to it. Your fans will become accustomed to the schedule and even anticipate it. My first choice was the first Wednesday of the month. When I ran into too many conflicts from the folks I anticipated being my core attendees, I moved it to the first Thursday of the month. With the exception of last July when an emergency dental procedure took precedence, that’s the day when I’ve consistently hosted game night.When the game night first began, attendees immediately suggested that we have it more often than once a month. Afraid of burning out the idea, I encouraged them to host a game night if they wished, but the one I was running would be once a month. Especially during the busy summer months, once a month has proven to be often enough.
  3. Proper game choice is key – If the purpose of these game nights is team building, keep that in mind when choosing the games to bring. Luckily, my non-work Tuesday Night Gaming Group is big on cooperative games, so I have a nice selection of them. Some successful examples are Pandemic: The Cure, Castle Panic, Burgle Bros and Forbidden Island. These work well because the gamers work as a team (there’s that word again), they share a common goal, and they need to constantly communicate. Each game is also simple enough to be explained in five minutes and lasts less than an hour. Most importantly, each game is Euro in nature, so there’s no player elimination so win or lose, the team stays together to the end.The one exception was when I brought my Star Wars Miniatures to game night. Still semi team based, but the key component is player elimination. Fortunately, Fantasy Flight did such a wonderful job on the detail of the minis, that the players enjoyed looking at them even after their in-game demise.One last point on game selection. After hours or not, this is still where you work. Don’t choose games that will get you hauled into HR. You may think the game is a riot, but others may find it offensive or insensitive. In other words, leave Cards Against Humanity and its ilk at home.
  4. Encourage attendees to bring their own games – The longevity of your game night happy hour is dependent on getting buy in from your attendees. Casual attendees will fill out your attendance numbers, but if you have any hope of this effort continuing after you hit the lottery and move to Tahiti, you need to foster that interest. The easiest way to do this is by having folks bring in their own games.We gamers take our hobby personally. We invest in games emotionally as well as financially. Ask a RPG gamer about their favorite adventure and they will tell you, in detail, the time they exited the Temple of Elemental Evil bloodied, but victorious. Or the time they rolled three critical hits in a row to take out a battalion of orcs and save their pinned down comrades. These may be virtual experiences, but they become a part of you the same way a movie moves you or a novel changes the way you see the world.Some game experiences are not purely virtual. The board game Sorry holds a special place in my wife’s heart because she played it with her parents when she was young. It’s more than a game to her. It’s a time capsule and a hope chest of memories.When you encourage your attendees to bring a game, you’re giving them an opportunity to share a part of themselves. It allows them to say, “this art speaks to me and I want you to have an opportunity for it to touch you as well”. By sharing ourselves and forging new memories together, gamers create bonds. And isn’t that exactly the point of team building in the first place?

Overall, our little monthly game night has been a success. While attendance hasn’t been huge, it has given me an opportunity to meet and interact with co-works that I had not spoken to previously. Now not only do I speak with them, but we have been able to forge a more productive working relationship. As long as everyone remembers to separate work time and play time, the company is happy. In fact, these board game happy hours appeared as a positive point on my last year-end review. If that isn’t a stamp of approval, I don’t know what is.

© 2016 Robert S. Moyer, All Rights Reserved