Changing the Environment to Change a System: Games for Your Management Practice

After reading Jurgen Appelo‘s Management 3.0 #Workout (an excellent book, by the way), I started to use the suggested games with my management team to discuss, learn, and agree on the right management practices for our group. I really liked the concept of using games to demonstrate a point or to start a discussion, so I started to think about other games that I could use.

The following game can be used to demonstrate several key management concepts.

To build a higher structure out of tiles than the other teams
(See photo below)


Tile tower

Teams of between 3 and 5 people
One game moderator


  • An unstable building surface (I used the 1 of the Remicube board, shown in photo above.)
  • 20 tiles (Start with them spread out in random order, laying down, on the table)

Rules: Part 1

  • The timer is set for 1 minute of planning.
  • After the planning period, one team member at a time places one of the 20 tiles on the building surface vertically, NOT horizontally, to create a structure.
  • Each subsequent team member will draw a tile and place it on the building surface with the goal of building a solid structure. Play continues with each team member placing one tile at a time and continuing until one of the following occurs:
    • The structure collapses: Team members will begin to rebuild the structure, using the 20 tiles now laying on the building surface.
    • One team successfully builds a structure from the 20 tiles
  • “Unplanned Work” occurs*: At an unexpected time during the building of the structure, the game moderator might start to shake the table and announce “Unplanned Work”. The game moderator must not explain to the team what is happening and must not answer any of their questions regarding this unexpected event.

*As the game moderator, you need to make sure that the result of this part of the game is a pile of unorganized tiles on the board for all teams. Use “unplanned work” to make sure this is the end result (Yes, you are going to have some fun, as well!). Don’t share your goal with the teams. Let them try to build a structure within the given rules.

After you, as the moderator, confirm that all teams have realized that they can’t build anything in this environment, stop them and move to Part Two of the game.

Rules: Part 2

  • Play will continue as it did in Part 1 except for the following change:
  • Every team can ask for two changes to the environment (rules of the game). Some of these requests might be asking you to stop the “unplanned work”, asking to build the structure on the table as opposed to the uneven work surface originally provided, asking to use tiles horizontally in addition to vertically, etc.


The team first to build the highest structure built from 20 tiles will be declared the winner.

The Takeaway:

  1. In any given environment, systems will always return back to their initial structure.
  2. To change a system, it’s easier to change the environment rather than the system itself.
  3. If a system is malfunctioning, look at what needs to be fixed in the system instead of how to fix or manipulate people. (During the game, some people have trouble placing a tile without shaking the entire structure and causing it to collapse. You can use that point to demonstrate that you can’t change people, but you can change the system.)
  4. Unplanned work is one of the main pitfalls of success.

I’ll be happy to hear back from you with any feedback you might have. You can contact me at



About friedkin companies CIO

Friedkin Companies CIO
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