There exists a whole class of board games where all of the players are on the same side against a common enemy. The opponent to beat is the game itself. This style of game is great for building trust, as there is no reward for a competitive streak or a doing double deals in as in negotiation games.

The classic in this co-operative genre is ‘Pandemic’. In this game everyone is trying to find cures for four virulent plagues. They take turns in moving around the board, healing diseases, sharing information and doing research. Each player turn is then followed by the diseases spreading, and the situation getting a little (or a lot) worse. It’s all mechanically actioned by the game, but effective at throwing up new problems for the players. Here’s a good overview and play through by Wil Wheaton in his youtube show ‘Tabletop’.

The game is most fun when all the players are involved in the planning and discussion on how best to proceed. Information can be shared, but not every piece of information is on show for all players. So collaboration skills are needed, and everyone taking part has a different perspective on the problem the team has to solve. This is magnified by each player having their own special ability, so you’ll tend to look at the problems based around that specialty.

Trust your team mates

What I have noticed in playing this game is that trusting your team mates to make good moves is important. If all the players are solving every problem individually, crossing checking every single idea, then the game slows down. Not only that; everyone may come up with variations on what to do next. This leads to the team bogging down while they debate the details, rather than the strategy. Often in Pandemic no move is obviously perfect. So two different plans could both be as good as each other. Or both doomed to failure.

So you should learn to trust each other. You may fail on one playing of the game. But using the same players to take up the challenge again, you’ve now got shared experience. And a level of trust has been built. Repeat, and you collectively get better, especially when knowing that no one player is controlling every little aspect of the game. It is important to explore the game as a group and taking a chance together builds the team. If someone takes a move that leads to the diseases getting out of control, that’s fine in a game environment. Understanding what led up to this event by all the players helps for the next time you attempt to win.

Real Life reflections

In real life teams, the same is true. Without time working together, there’s no easy point to gain that trust. Sure, someone can be highly recommended, but until you work with them, the trust to be work as a highly performant team won’t be there. Team building events can build that trust and understanding, but they don’t need to be large scale events. Games and short activities, where there is a chance of failure can help build the team. Allowing risks to be taken by all team members outside of a critical work situation and failing in a safe environment helps builds trust. There has to be some risk, or playing it safe leads to no chance to build the shared experience.

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