An electronic minefield can be a very useful tool in kicking off a discussion about change and assumptions. The activity involves an eight by eight grid of squares and the ‘mines’ are indicated by an electronic noise. The facilitator controls the safe path through a box which none of the competitors can see.
In this case the teams were made from business owners assembled by a national newspaper and AXA, the insurance company. Each participant had their own business and had a great deal in common. On this occasion I was a participant and it was fascinating to be on the other side of the fence.
The objective was to cross the grid as quickly as possible and earn ‘money’ by doing so. We started with £30 million and every minute we took cost us £1 million. In addition we lost £1 million every time we made a mistake by treading on the wrong square.
We were allowed to speak in the planning stage, but once we started to cross the grid we were not allowed to speak. We had to have a good plan which we all understood and any communication during the crossing would have to be done through hand gestures. Not the best environment in which to deal with any change.
We were divided into two teams. The first team started and, unusually, the second team were allowed to watch. This was good, we felt, as we could watch the mistakes that they made and refine our technique.
Then the second team began and we went very quickly. We had watched the first team waste time and we knew their time, so we had a target to beat. About half way through the exercise we had managed to get half of our team through the grid. Suddenly the square that we had noted as the right one in the journey emitted a beep.
The person on the grid pressed it again, certain that it was the right square and thinking that he had not been central on the pad. When it beeped again he tried again. In all we lost £6 million (6 beeps) before we all looked at each other and realised that the route must have changed.
How could this be? It hadn’t happened to the other team. It wasn’t fair. Was the equipment broken or was the instructor responsible? Eventually we found the new route and finished the task. The debrief lasted a couple of hours and was a rich source of learning and introspection for everyone present.
Firstly, we had been so immersed in the idea that we were competing with the other team that we were totally unprepared for there to be a change. We had not been told that it was a competition, but we had put this into the rules ourselves.
The biggest learning was that we continued to press the pad even when it was obvious that it was not the right route. Things had changed and we were struggling to accept it because we felt we understood the game, that it was a competition and as such would be fair. We continued to ‘waste money’ making the same mistake. It was a real discussion point and if a business was facing similar issues it would be an ideal activity to undertake.
This event would also link very well with the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. Team building activities like this can be enjoyed just for fun but there can also be business linked objectives.