February | Leadership Development | Read time: 12 minutes

An Adult Game

The game is called Traffic Jam – and it’s serious fun.

It started out as a puzzle played with counters in the tea shops or dusty streets of ancient eastern civilisations. Gawd knows what its name was then, but it wouldn’t have been Traffic Jam.

That old puzzle has been renamed, adapted to modern times, substituting humans for counters, and turned into a powerful learning tool that presents itself, initially, as merely a fun game for a group of adults.

Divide the group into two teams lined up on either side of the intersection, lay down the rules by which they can move, and ask the teams to find a way to move ‘lawfully’ through the intersection so that each team ends up on the opposite side, beyond the traffic jam.

So begins the trial and error. The teams quickly realise that, although superficially opposed to each other, they need to co-operate.

It’s akin to modern living. Stand atop the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and watch all those streams of traffic enter and smoothly navigate the huge roundabout; or join the traffic of an Indian mega-city and (slowly) realise there are unwritten laws of co-operation underlying the noisy chaos.

The Traffic Jam teams eventually crack it, accompanied by cheering, laughter and a burst of bonhomie. Then they are asked to do it again – quicker. And again – quicker.

The times usually fall dramatically as the teams get slicker. In Keogh’s experience – and it has used the game hundreds of times – what starts out as 15 to 20 minutes of fumbling about before initial breakthrough can be reduced through repetition to less than a minute. (The record is 7.6 seconds).

Once in a blue moon an adept player deduces the mathematical formula at the core of the game’s solution.  But it’s not necessary.

The game’s real power, as an experiential learning tool, is in the debriefings afterwards: what players have observed about their behaviour and the behaviour of others, and whether any of it is applicable to their workplace.

The conversations can jump off in all directions but they tend to distill  down to observations about leadership, communications, inclusiveness (the people at the back of the queue often have a different perspective to those at the front) and phased improvements. The important thing is: it is the participants’ observations and their discoveries.

Kids love games. Adults love games. And Keogh loves games – it is a leader in the field of experiential learning and  Traffic Jam is just one in its professional tool bag. Beneath their engaging fun, games are a powerful mechanism for learning.

What are your favourites, personally and professionally?