As you think over your life, which has motivated you the most: the promise of a reward or the threat of a penalty? This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot of late. Let’s say, for example, I set a goal for myself of exercising at least five times a week. I have two choices for motivating myself: I can 1) “incentivize” the process by giving myself a nice treat (let’s say a chocolate bar–yum!) upon each successful work out or 2) administer a stern, self-imposed penalty (perhaps liver and brussel sprouts for dinner–yuck!) for each failed exercise session. Which do you think is the least and the most effective?
Long before Facebook, Instagram and Angry Birds, in an age long past (or so it seems), families spent hours together huddled around the kitchen table, enjoying spirited games of Monopoly, Sorry, the Game of Life, and Risk. A welcome break from television — the chief electronic entertainment of the era — board games provided adults and kids alike a chance to interact with each other in real time: laughing, communicating, and strategizing together, across generations.
One of the most common questions I hear from prospective clients is, “So what can you tell me about your scavenger hunts?” For a native San Franciscan like me, this is akin to a tourist saying “I just love Frisco…especially your trolley cars.” Sad to say folks, my lovely hometown by the bay is San Francisco (not Frisco), we have cable cars here (not trolleys), and Dr. Clue creates treasure hunts (not scavenger hunts). Semantics do matter!
So what exactly is the difference between a scavenger hunt and a treasure hunt?
What exactly is a “game”? A quick search on Wikipedia delivers this definition:
“A form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.”
Although I agree that games must necessarily have rules (and structure), what strikes me as Interesting about the definition above is the phrase “[especially] a competitive one”. It seems that the internet, like most of society, has bought into the notion that games must be competitive in order to qualify as “games”. But is this necessarily so?
There’s a popular social movement in schools these days, compelling teachers and coaches to minimize competition on the playground while increasing collaboration. It’s gone so far that one school I heard about even removed the scoreboard from their high school football field, insisting that keeping score put too much pressure on the students and inflated the competitive element, reducing self-esteem.
A few days ago, I watched a fascinating movie from 2008 — “The Wave” — available widely on DVD, Netflix, etc. Although the film takes place in Germany (with an all-German cast), it’s actually a dramatization of the true story of an unusual teaching experiment conducted by Ron Jones at his Palo Alto, CA high school in 1969. As the “The Wave” begins, young teacher Rainer Wenger finds himself compelled to teach a one-week course on the topic of “autocracy” — not his favorite subject. After his first class — taught in the traditional, lecture manner — fails to inspire much interest from his students, Rainer decides to try an experiment.
One of the most popular axioms in western culture is the Golden Rule, loosely summarized as “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.” Although valid in general (who doesn’t want more love, respect and kindness?), the Golden Rule is flawed when it comes to personality styles and preferences. People just aren’t all wired alike; they have different needs, different ways they want to be treated. And this is particularly true during times of stress. At work, it is the leader’s task not only to know how he, himself, prefers to be treated in times of hardship, and how his staff might react in the pressure cooker, but also what each of his teammates might need in order to recover from the crisis and get back on track.
Earlier this year, I was in Denver preparing for a treasure hunt. The night before the program, the client asked me to join the group for a drink at the hotel where we were staying. Expecting fifteen people when I arrived in the hotel lounge, I was surprised to see that only fourteen team members were present. Who was missing? “Oh, that’s just Mark being Mark” explained my client contact, Anthony. “He doesn’t believe in business-related socializing during his ‘private time.’”
Explaining what their son does has never been an easy task for my parents. “Oh, there’s Mrs. Weinstein—her son’s a doctor. And Mrs. Honeywell—her daughter’s an attorney. Our son?—oh, uh, yes, he’s a teambuilding trainer. No, no, I don’t know exactly what he does either, but he’s quite good at it, I can assure you.”
With an eye towards helping them out before their next awkward cocktail party, I embarked on a Google “treasure hunt” this morning in hopes of discovering a satisfactory working definition of “teambuilding program.”
By Jennifer van Stelle, PhD Sociology, Stanford University
Some time ago, Dave Blum and I were discussing the positive impact of teambuilding on organizations. I’m an organizational sociologist – I study how organizations work (or don’t work), how people inside companies relate to each other, and how organizations themselves relate to other organizations. Dave claimed that teambuilding can improve a company’s financial performance. Of course my response, as an academic, was, “But has this been measured? Where are the studies?” In the end, I was intrigued enough by the topic that I offered to research and write an article about it for a subsequent issue of his newsletter. Here, then, are the results of my research-from a sociologist’s standpoint.