Play Board Games to Win in the Board Room

Play Board Games to Win in the Board Room


“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation” – Plato

Are board-games better left for child’s play or can they assist the creative and critical thinking processes in organisational leadership? This is a question I posed to myself as my wife and I embarked on a hobby of learning some of the new designer games which have resulted in a renewal in the board-game market.

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Strategy writers may often draw analogies from Chess, which is a clear logic, planning and calculation based game in which the stronger player will almost always win. However, a game of chess only vaguely simulates life and might give us the false impression that success is guaranteed if we follow a few basic principles.

What differentiates modern designer board games from traditional games is that they incorporate the element of uncertainty without reducing the game to pure luck.

Do not pass go

In games such as Power Grid, Settlers of Catan or 7 Wonders there is never a “break in play”, it is always your turn to play as you are forced to constantly re-assess your position as well as the position of your multiple competitors.

Predictions about the future are being imagined on every turn as you attempt to predict supply and demand of the resources in play and how these will affect your own position.

Success does not follow a linear path to victory as in many of the games there are several strategies which one can adopt to secure a win. Also the game situation may require a player to abandon a starting strategy for more profitable one because of competitors or unforeseen events.

Raw calculation and problem solving remains an advantage but the winners are ultimately those who are able to adapt and change strategy fast enough and do so at the optimal times during the game.

Serious play

In the 21st Century, play is not a stranger to the boardroom. Companies such as Lego have already assisted executives in serious play to enhance innovation and business performance.

Perhaps then it is a worthwhile investment to spend some money on a board game for the office and get your team involved in meaningful play.

The time invested may well result in some new perspective and more innovative solutions for the future as play develops such adaptive capacity, creative problem solving and risk management.

As a student of future studies, I am convinced that learning the ability to build an adaptive culture in our organisations will become a pre-requisite for success in every industry.

Change simply is, and organisations need to learn to thrive in complexity. Understanding the future as a complexity is already a step in the right direction as it makes room for pattern and understanding to emerge amid what appears to be chaos.

Unravelling the patterns and leveraging them or disrupting them is how leaders can create new value for our organisations.

Business is but a board game

In leading Bottomup over the past six years, I have noticed how organisational life-cycles are parallel to those in the modern board game. How do you deal with a funding cut?

What strategies should the organisation invest or disinvest in? How do you negotiate deals that add value to the organisation but still seem attractive to others? These questions among others are what serious play help us to wrestle with safely.

Board games allow us to practice the kind of situational analysis that can improve the way we think and act in everyday life. They allow us to practice within the safety and boundaries of the game itself – free of the hurt, pain and violence that real life consequences may dish out to us.

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Ashley Visagie
Ashley Visagie is the Executive Director of Bottomup, a non-profit providing education enrichment services to under-resourced schools on the Cape Flats. Ashley has a keen interest in future studies, education and gaming.