Two valuable lessons from 11-year old online gamers

Today my 11-year old son gave me a good reason (again!) to reflect on what lies at the core of great teamwork. He also confirmed some of the well-known truths about what makes learning easier and faster. How did he do all this?

Well, it just took a short while and I was not even in the the same room as him. I just happened to see him sitting on the floor in front of the TV, playing Xbox with his headset on, fully engaged in a conversation with someone who I later found out to be a 11-year old kid somewhere in the UK. The fluency of the conversation blew my mind. You see, my son is Swedish and he is just starting to learn English in school. He’s got good grades, but this was something else. He spoke fast, clear, making very few grammatical mistakes, and using a vocabulary I only wish I’d had when I was his age (no swearing, in case you wonder). How could this happen? He did not learn that in school, that’s for sure.

Fun learning is fast learning (or learning disguised as play)

You see, perhaps not all is bad with the few hours he spends playing video games every week. He’s actually attending an intensive English course with huge amounts of practice together with same-age native speakers, and none of them have even thought about it in this way.So that’s my first take away. There is no doubt we learn faster and better when we engage in playful, enjoyable, hands-on activities together with people we appreciate and respect. And to develop a new skill, like speaking a foreign language, practice is by far more critical than theory. No wonder there is a revolution going on in learning called “gamification”.

When teamwork just happens

My other insight courtesy of my son has to do with teamwork and collaboration. These kids barely know each other names. They live different lives in different countries and cultures. They will most probably never meet in the physical world and perhaps not even connect again online for some new multiplayer effort.

And yet, after just a few minutes of randomly connecting through their consoles, these two boys worked intensively together to achieve a common targets in “minecraft” and “plants vs. zombies”. They helped and covered each other, they developed plans to succeed, they took different roles as required, they briefly shared disappointment when things went wrong, and they both cheered together when victory was theirs. They were even quick to apologise and forgive when they accidentally “killed” each other.

In my work as a consultant I always emphasise the importance of building trust in order to build lasting and effective teamwork. At the same time, research shows that while trust develops, two factors are critical to boost team performance from the very beginning. First, a clear, unambiguous common goal. Second, enough clarity about individual roles and responsibilities to reach this goal.
Going back to my son’s online experience, I realized that his initial assumption is that he can trust this other anonymous kid in England.  Why wouldn’t he?  He didn’t not expect or require any kind evidence that his new acquaintance was trustworthy.  That first assumption may be seen by some as naive and even childish.  I think it is a an admirable and hassle-saving attitude that many of us unfortunately lose as we grow up.
My son and his new online buddy had no concerns here and focussed immediately on the task at hand.  A clear, shared and engaging goal, one they both found meaningful and made an active choice to work for.
This is perhaps not much more than an anecdote, an isolated example.  However, I realise there are many more, happening every day, where teamwork and collaboration don’t need to be a big deal.  They just happen when the right conditions are there.
Juan Pablo Ortiz
Juan Pablo OrtizSenior Performance Consultant

*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images