ON BOARD – How To Use Board Games to Build Corporate Skills

Board Games

16 years ago, working in Silicon Valley, I was invited for a backgammon party.

Visions of the Bangalore Club card room, where I would peek in to call on some severe   looking aunt or uncle, as a child surfaced. Yikes. What was I in for?

I tentatively accepted. I had never played the game in my life and I was quickly inducted into the rules by my teammate. It was a great evening, with folk from different disciplines and companies. There was bonhomie, drinking and civilized arguing. (no one can call a cheater a cheater like we Indians can) And best of all, there was laughter, lots of it.

I was intrigued. Done to death with Monopoly and Pictionary, I went on a board game hunt. It was a revelation when I cracked open the then recently launched Cranium and several bottles of red while entertaining some colleagues and their business contacts one weekend. Geeky startup founders who were mostly withdrawn were dancing, mimicking, and trying to hold a tune, drawing, sculpting with Playdoh and yelling – the game made everyone a star that night. But most interesting was people who barely spoke, or who seemed quiet and aloof, really came alive. (It wasn’t the wine) It was a great icebreaker.

I then started my collection of board games, and used them more frequently at small work gatherings of about 8-12 people. They helped teams bond, feel challenged, get to know one another better, build healthier relationships with each other and have fun doing it.

Over the years I discarded many games and added new. And more people started to borrow my now much guarded games to play. Sometimes for over vino after hours, or for the office cafeteria when they needed a break from “glazed computer eyes time.”

Here are the keepers.

For encouraging creativity

Morphology: It’s a simple game that can be played over lunch. You get a clue and instead of drawing it, you use objects like strings, cubes, beads, icecream sticks and pawns to make it. Great over short work breaks.

The Extraordinaires Design Studio: Become product designers. Get a project to research, deign and improve. Crazy clues like a timer for a robot or an outfit for a fairy over 200 projects. Great to build alternate thinking for non-creative teams. Also can be scaled to be played with large sized teams at offsites.

For building communication -Listening and articulating

InStructures: Competing teams construct sturdy wooden block shapes based on instructions from either one leader or two. Your crew listens to a leader giving verbal or in some cases gesture led instructions from a blueprints. A challenging game from both the leader and builder’s perspective.

For dealing with speed and pressure – and building vocabulary.

Articulate: Describe a word without saying it. Your team has to guess. While the words are simple, the idea is to get as many cards within 30 seconds. You can play just three rounds each over a break at work.

Taboo: While it’s been around for years it’s a tough step up from Articulate because you can’t use “taboo” words to describe the clue. For instance if the clue is Sun – you can’t use yellow, sky, star, burning, hot.

Now that’s real pressure.

Building Healthy CompetitionFor growing patience:

Melissa and Doug Suspend: The hanging wobbly balance game for which you need steady hands, and a quiet mind to get this right. Perfect for highly wired folk.

For getting away from the desk:

Fitivities: Instant Energy booster. I had a colleague who would in the middle of the work day yell “Fitivities” and the entire floor of 40 gathered round the game and played. It involved silly yet fun things like jumping jacks, lunges, in the air cycling and we played teams of 20 against 20.

Telegruv: Not for the faint hearted, this crazy dance game requires you to shed your inhibitions. It is wonderfully contagious when played in large groups of 15 or more (safety in numbers). Great for people who are shy and need to move out of comfort zones, but feel safer in groups.

To provoke and build tolerance:

Cards Against Humanity: Dark, racist, gender biased and just plain mean. As mean as some twitter comments so in that way, great for building perspective and walking on the dark side. (since the cards are seriously against humanity)

Pushing the big picture outlook (small groups of 4)

Machi Koro: Beautiful Japanese game. You are elected mayor to a city full of demands. To build the city and roll dice for resources to build the city. Wheat Fields, Bakeries, Radio Towers, Amusement Parks.

Splendor: You get to be rich merchants in the renaissance period who collect gems and jewels. Complicated but once you get into it, you realize strategy is key.

Moving away from your desks and gadgets can only be good for you. So try these and let me know how they worked. And for the traditionalists – there is always the favourite of many – Scrabble.


Aparna Jain is an Integral Corporate & Mental Coach. 

This is her  micro-coaching column on success that is integrally informed. Inputs, Ideas, questions? Write to aparna@zebraa.in


Cartoons: Ross Williamson

Days of Wonder 2010 calendar

Debbie Ridpath


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