Managers need to be able to make decisions that affect their entire team and they often need to make these choices in only minutes. A manager may seek advice and suggestions from people inside or outside of their team, but ultimately, it's up to the manager to make the decision. That's why decision-making games can be so useful in preparing managers to make these tough calls.

Shipwreck Decision Making Games

Ask your participants to imagine they're shipwrecked on an island and have only a box of matches and the following items to help them survive the ordeal: a shaving mirror, a can of gas, a rope, a few chocolate bars, a fishing rod, shark repellent, a water container, a sea chart, emergency rations, a floating seat or cushion, a waterproof sheet, a bottle of rum and a ham radio. Give everyone but the manager a chart listing all of the items, then ask them to rank the items in order of importance.

While this is one of the most common decision-making activities for the workplace by asking a group to agree on the importance of the items, it can also be one of the best decision-making exercises for managers by telling the manager to make the final ranking. Have each person explain to the manager why they ranked the items the way they did. After hearing everyone's arguments, the manager must fill out her own chart ordering the importance of each of the items.

You can then reveal the actual rankings as detailed by the U.S. Coastguard and ask each person (including the manager) to score themselves by writing the difference between the official rankings and their rankings. Ideally, the manager should have the lowest number of points (as this means her ranking will be the closest to the Coastguard's) after hearing the points made by her employees.

The Real Rankings

In order to score the shipwreck game, you'll need the official rankings of each item's importance according to the Coastguard. They are as follows:

  1. Shaving mirror (it might not seem important, but it can be a critical help-signaling tool using the sun and can also be used to light fires if you run out of matches)
  2. Can of gas (this can float on water and be lit by your matches, making it a critical tool for signaling help)
  3. Water container (you need water and this is the best way to store it)
  4. Emergency rations (until you discover an alternative food source, these will prevent starvation)
  5. Plastic sheet (both to protect rainwater and to serve as shelter)
  6. Chocolate bars (these can offer an extra food supply with necessary calories and fats)
  7. Fishing rod (it's hard to say if there will be edible fish in the area, but it's worth having and it could double as a tent pole)
  8. Rope (this can be useful for many purposes, but isn't necessary for survival)
  9. Floating seat or cushion (you can use this as a life preserver)
  10. Shark repellent (it may help while you're in the water)
  11. Bottle of rum (while it will dehydrate anyone who drinks it, this can be used as an antiseptic for treating injuries)
  12. Ham radio (this might seem useful, but if you're truly stranded you'll probably be out of range)
  13. Sea chart (without navigational equipment, this is essentially useless)

The Shrinking Vessel

This is a classic team building game that can easily be hacked to serve as part of a set of decision-making activities for managers. Have managers and their teams each stand together and then lay out a rope or string around each group. Over a period of 10-15 minutes, keep shrinking the space and ask the manager to quickly make decisions in order to move everyone around and keep them from stepping out of the boundaries.

Dumb Ideas First

If you're working with only a team of managers to improve their decision-making skills, try this game. Throw out a hypothetical problem that could arise in your company. Then ask the managers to think of the dumbest possible solution they could to the problem and share them.

After writing down all the dumb ideas you can, have everyone review them and look to see if any of the "dumb" ideas might actually might be better than they originally seem. Brainstorm ways to make these better dumb ideas solve the problem and then discuss how sometimes "dumb" ideas are really brilliant ones that are just a little outside the box.