I’m In Your Corporation, Mining Your Gold

Howdy, y'all

While cleaning out closets recently, I found this hat. It reminded me of a team building exercise a former workplace had inflicted on everyone in the corporation in an attempt to make us want  to do mandatory overtime and be more accurate and faster all at the same time because the Big Bosses really didn’t want to have to freeze raises and lay people off while still collecting their eight million dollar bonuses because that decreased morale… But I digress. Has anyone else ever played The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine? It’s a corporate team building game based on a real legendary gold mine. The game was developed by motivational speaker Scott Simmerman and the following summary is (loosely) paraphrased (interpreted) from his site:

Participants are seated at a table with 4 or 5 other drones in need of an attitude adjustment. On each tabletop is a map, a Grub Stake of resource cards, planning tools, job aids and other information. After being subjected to cowboy hats and bandannas, the group listens to the Expedition Leader tell the history of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine and the nature of the challenges they will face.

Teams have 20 days of 2 minutes each to manage their journey to the Mine and return to Apache Junction. There are 3 paths with different risks, weather changes and limited resources. Additional valuable  information is available, but delays the start by one or two days.

Teams have 15 minutes to plan. They must work together to make decisions about tactics, resource management and risk — or they can simply defer to the smartest person(s) at the table and sit there being as useful as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking party… They can also choose to get advice or collaborate with others (especially when the others are over a barrel) and then after the game, there is a break and then a debriefing on what was supposed to be learned.

The announced goal of the exercise was “For us all to return from the mine with as much gold as we can.”

I was assigned to a team with the Department Head and several other coworkers — some from my area and some not. I was elected the Big Picture Person, the one who looked at how everything was going and kept the Master Plan on track — this was because I didn’t say “not it!” quickly enough. But soon enough, it became evident that I didn’t mind all that power as I mercilessly dictated demonstrated my leadership skills. During our team’s initial planning phase, “Juan,” another designer who was put in charge of our resources I think, suddenly looked up at me and our eyes met across the table as we both said, “It’s a board game.” Thus I discovered the other Gamer in the office. Nobody else grasped the significance of our announcement, but from that moment on, he and I were running the show and we were going to win, by God.

the board looks like this

We decided to risk delaying our start to see the “valuable information” which led to us getting some cool extras like spare tires and tents or something. We then carefully cross-examined the “Expedition Leader” in true Rules Lawyer Form on some of the finer points of the game (it turned out that the Leader was there to Help and we needn’t have been so circumspect and cunning in our questions, but when you are used to a Game Master plotting your demise at every turn, you develop some trust issues in regards to authority figures). We planned our whole journey out with every possible contingency covered, day by day. Rather than stressing over each “day” as it came, we’d calmly perform the actions we’d planned, recheck the math as variables came up and then spend the other minute and a half chatting about our favorite web comics and RPGs. No one else at the table knew what we were talking about, but they did what we said and trusted that we had it figured out. We mined the shit out of that gold. We realized we could stay one “day” longer in the mine if we had some extra fuel, so we traded some of our extra tires to another team who were stranded (poor planning on their part; tsk tsk) and yes, we drove a hard bargain. The Dept Head Lady, who was really sweet and a team player, suggested we just give some our unneeded items to other teams to be nice. We replied with a slightly politer version of “That’s crazy talk! We must crush them.

Our team set a record for the most gold collected by a single team. It’s a shame you couldn’t steal the other teams’ gold as well, but it turns out that the objective was for us ALL to get as much gold as possible, so we should have really helped the other teams while getting nothing in return. That is what we were supposed to learn anyway. Juan and I just muttered, “yeah, well, we still won…

And the moral of the story is:

Gamers are awesome at team building games, but not necessarily the best “team players”


Not everyone can rock a cowboy hat. Fortunately, I can.


4 Responses to “I’m In Your Corporation, Mining Your Gold”

  1. Once again, I really am LOL! sitting on the sofa alone, but must read Evil Bekka’s blog before I go to bed. (Dad already sacked out.)

    But…yes, you did win and rocked the cowboy hat too. What was that Dept Head Lady thinking? Evil Bekka GIVE away her items just to be nice? pshaw! Apparently, she’s never played Settlers of Catan with you. 😉 Did you ask the other players who needed tires: “We’ll trade you tires for fuel….would you like to see them dance?” 😀

  2. J. Simmons Says:

    My lesson from this story is one should not use poorly designed board games as corporate training exercises. They are more likely to tell you who the gamers are in your company than to build team spirit.

    • Evil Bekka Says:

      J., those were exactly the lessons learned in the debriefing. After our results were announced, the Manager of Quality Control insisted on a play by play because she didn’t think it was possible for us to have done that well without cheating somehow (yay, team spirit). And when they asked Dept Head Lady how her team had worked together to excel she shrugged and pointed at me and Juan as we admitted, “We play board games. A lot…”

  3. Hey! Good post on the game, but I will react to J. Simmons about the “poorly designed” comment. We’ve been selling and support ing this game since 1993 and I have presented in 38 countries so far and reactions have really been pretty darn good.

    The whole idea is to allow tabletops to CHOOSE – and then live by those decisions. Just like the Real World. Some people make better decisions than others and some just collaborate more. Collaboration gives rise to better results.

    Thank you, Oh Evil One.

    And I hope all goes well out there!

    And funny about the Manager of Quality Control — I used to be very involved with ASQC and AQP and let’s say that sometimes they emphasize the “control” side of things more than the performance side.

    Have fun out there and prosper in all things.

    Scott Simmerman

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