Today’s workplace can have teams made up of four generations of individuals – boomers, GenX, GenY and millenials. Each generation has its perspective on work and perception and prejudice about the other generations. Many organizations look to off-site team building or bringing in external consultants often at great expense with little or no evidence of how much return they are getting on their investment of time and money. Something that I enjoy doing immensely on a weekly basis gave me the idea that organizations can build savvy and supportive multi-generational teams by allotting two hours each week to play timeless and traditional games like bridge and mah jongg. These games are more often played by seniors rather than individuals of younger generations.
Once a week, I play mah jongg as a member of a multi-generational group of five smart, sophisticated and successful women. One woman is in her mid-thirties, three women are in their early forties and I am the oldest in my very late fifties. Mah jongg is a game that requires risk, focus, thought, strategy, attention, discipline and the ability to adapt, listen and observe. Over the months that we have met to play 10 or more games one night each week, I have noticed how the group has become more solid, savvy and supportive despite our differing ages, backgrounds, generations and life experiences. Personal and professional news, advice and confidences are generously and thoughtfully shared and solicited as the tiles are mixed, dealt, thrown and picked up. Even though the competitive spirit has intensified, there is plenty of time and opportunity for generous doses of patience and perspective. The initial part of the game is played with the group and then once tiles are passed around and exchanged, each individual plays their own hand. The conversation continues as we pack up and walk to the subway where we go our separate ways. Though a completely different and for many people a much tougher game to learn and play compared to mah jongg, bridge demands the same and, in the opinion of long-time, experienced players, even more requirements and affords many of the same benefits.
Every week, I arrive at mah jongg knowing that I will learn something new about the game, about myself and about the others in the group. Even though we have a patient teacher who is an excellent player, as we improve she challenges us and we challenge each other to raise our games to the next level. Games like ping pong which are seen as a must-have of employees in many leading edge workplaces encourage individual competitiveness rather than games like bridge or mah jongg that promote team or group cohesiveness.
So the next time that you want to do some team building, instead of going the expensive route, organize one or more foursomes for weekly games of bridge or mah jongg as a fun, informal and inexpensive way to build momentum and bolster motivation. Over time, your multi-generational team will become more savvy and supportive which will result in stronger performances and sustainable success.