“You feel the rotting plank give way beneath your boot, and watch as the shattered splinters fall the hundred-or-so feet that separate you from the roaring rapids of the river below.
You hear the snap of a rope from the cliffside ahead of you, and then feel the bridge jolt.
What do you do?”
This is the kind of situation Dungeons and Dragons players find themselves in all the time. And it makes D&D the perfect exercise for improving your employees’ collaborative, interpersonal, and problem solving skills. No, seriously.
Why? Because unlike other team building exercises, D&D necessitates that everyone involved pretends to be someone else – making it much easier to self-reflect and be open to new ideas. It’s not them in the situation, it’s the character they’re pretending to be. It’s a game about working with what you have, rather than what you want – and how you can use what’s available to you in the moment, in order to solve the problem at hand.
In other words, it fosters the growth – and eventual mastery – of personal qualities and traits that make a great team player. There’s also the added benefit of having a lot of fun while playing it.
So, how do these pretend skills transfer over to the professional world? Let’s get into it:
“I cast grasping vine, originating from the cliff-wall.”
“What’s your target?”
“The rope that snapped.”
Confidence is key to any successful career, but it’s absolutely necessary for a team to remain cohesive and productive – take, for example, a development team in the middle of code review during the end of an agile sprint. The programmers need to be confident in the code they made, so they are able to clearly explain their work – the person reviewing the code needs to be confident in the decisions they make as well – without clear and concise goals, productivity suffers.
Knowing how to set goals – and how stick to them – requires a certain level of confidence. There are moments that (quite) often pop up throughout the work day that could end up throwing a wrench in your plans – having the confidence to tackle those issues on the fly is something D&D teaches extremely well. If you don’t make a decision fast enough, your character, or other party members, can die.
D&D teaches you how to pivot quickly – and not just by yourself, based on your own skill set – for every decision a player makes (and the confidence that decision requires), they must also balance that decision against the needs of the team as a whole. They need to have the confidence to be able to say: “No, Sam has a spell better suited to this situation. I’ll save my spell slot for later.”
You’d be surprised what happens to someone’s confidence levels when they’re pretending to be someone else. It’s a freeing feeling – you can be whoever you want to be – the dashing rogue, the devout paladin, the quick-witted wizard. When you’re playing the role of someone else in a fantasy world, it’s easy to gain the confidence necessary to say “I got this,” or, on the other side of the confidence coin, “I’ve got your back.”
Someone who isn’t comfortable making snap-decisions in real life might find themselves more willing, or even ready to go with their gut. The employee who is insecure about their role in their team has the freedom to make mistakes without worry – as well as the freedom to let go of controlling every aspect of a project – which gives everyone more room to grow, and at a quicker pace to boot.
These are all very transferable character traits to working in an office setting as part of a team.
“I cast feather fall.”
There’s two ways D&D promotes humility – everyone will die if they don’t work together, and in order to pretend to be a different person, you have to get over yourself.
Yes, you can do whatever you want, but that also means anything can happen. The plan you cooked up might fall apart due to one unlucky roll, the GM might surprise your party, a locked door might halt your progress.
A rope bridge might snap as you cross a chasm.
Players learn the humility to accept that bad things happen – as well as the humility of when to bow out and let someone who is more suited to a task handle it.
This goes both ways – a character with high athletics might be able to scale a wall without a hitch – but other members of their party might see it as an unsurmountable obstacle. Players need to learn how to not only pass the torch, but how to reach back down and lift each other up.
This teaches an important team building mindset – taking the time to help each other out. Often, projects miss deadlines because of a hiccup somewhere down the line – not because everyone failed at the task at hand. When your team members are willing to put their work aside for a few minutes, or even a few hours, project derailment becomes a thing of the past.
A rising tide floats all boats – but in order for this type of teamwork to consistently happen, your team members need to be humble enough to pay attention to their teammates – and be willing to “run to the roar” when something happens.
The other aspect of humility that D&D teaches is that it’s okay to be open. From an outsiders’ perspective, a session of D&D can look extremely silly – even a little crazy, depending on what’s currently happening in the land of make believe.
Pretending to be someone else in front of a bunch of professional adults is a very humbling and personal experience. But the game will implicitly teach your team that the more they are open with themselves and the other players, the deeper the story, the better the experience, and the more fun everyone has.
This is a great way to instill an inherent value for diversity amongst your team – it’s the differences in skillsets that make each character invaluable, just like without creatives and strategic thinkers, business can’t happen.
“How far are we from the cliff?”
In D&D, there’s no limit to the options a player can take to solve the problem they’re presented with. This means the players are using real skills to solve pretend problems – it’s all the skill-building with none of the pressure that comes with real world issues.
There’s one caveat though – no single player can solve every problem on their own. “Don’t split the party,” isn’t just sage advice for D&D players – it’s just as poignant for businesses as well. I can’t believe I’m about to write this sentence, but synergistic collaboration is key to a successful project.
Just like in real life, in D&D, when presented with a problem, you use the tools available to you to solve said problem. The difference is, in D&D, you can be presented with problems that wouldn’t be physically possible in the real world.
When people are given the option to practice skills, such as problem-solving, in a fantastical setting, it’s not as disheartening if you make a mistake – it’s these moments of temporary failure that bring humor and flavor into the game as well.
The comfort D&D brings to a skill-building experience is essential to its ability to teach these skills. The best part is that it teaches these personal skills in a highly interpersonal setting, solidifying your team’s ability to simultaneously solve problems through…
“I give Sarah my rope.”
“I take John’s rope and tie it around one of my arrows.”
If something happens in a session of D&D, it happens to everyone. Because of this, a game of D&D can be broken down into a pretty simple formula:
Again, the medium that a session of D&D exists in plays a key role in the power of the game’s skill building. The problems the party faces aren’t mundane or tedious – they’re exciting. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes desperate, sometimes hilarious. When your (pretend) life, and the (again, pretend) lives of your teammates are on the line, it makes the lessons you learn stick that much more than a typical team-building exercise.
Players have the freedom to figure out how to solve these often (pretend) life-threatening situations, without the consequence of actual death. You get to slay dragons together. Have each other’s backs in the deepest, darkest caves. Save kingdoms, and topple evil empires.
You’d be surprised at the bond a party will build with each other – and not just in-game. You’ll find your party to be much more in-tune in real life as well.
Try out a session of D&D with your team. Downloading character sheets is free, and a set of dice is less than $5. A session of D&D can be as short as two hours. Give it a roll.