How To Improve Culture By "Assassinating" Coworkers
Games are a huge part of life at Cogo. Wander around the office any afternoon and you’ll likely find people playing Codenames, Karma, Hacky Four Square, Set, or even One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
One of the bigger gaming events we run is a yearly Assassins tournament. If you've never played Assassins, the general principle is that each player is assigned a target player and a predetermined, game-wide mechanic for "killing" them. Stickers, Nerf guns, and water balloons are all examples of kill methods. Naturally, the last player standing is the winner and that’s when the game ends.
Our Assassins tradition began years ago as a way to get the summer interns meeting and interacting with people from all parts of the office. But over the years as we grew, the game became increasingly difficult to win, and occasionally even contentious to play. We found that as a solo adventure, it was sometimes driving players into seclusion and paranoia, and leading them to distrust their fellow employees--which is 100% the opposite of the intended goal.
Last year I tasked myself with changing the gameplay to make it more cooperative--to encourage players to work with each other to achieve common goals. We also decided the revised version would only run for a set number of days, with conditions for naming a winner at the game’s end, to prevent the game from dragging on indefinitely and taking over our entire lives.
Working quickly and cooperatively to solve complex problems is what we do here at Cogo, shouldn’t our big annual gaming event reflect that?
Yes. Yes it should.
This year, the theme for our home-grown, cooperative version of Assassins was MAD MAX: THE COGO WARRIOR, based on one of our favorite movies: Mad Max: Fury Road. There were different "gangs" drawn from the movie series, as well as a narrative that would be easy to convey. Our players, divided into groups of 5 or 6, were stranded in the Australian desert, so the main motivation within the gameplay was to keep your water resources up. Without water, you'd lose players daily until your team was eliminated. This works to both motivate people to play the game, and to cull players who aren't being active enough.
How do you get more water? You "capture" your target team's members. How do you capture people? SELFIES! If it’s not already abundantly clear, Cogopeeps are VERY competitive, in a way that is both frightening and impressive. In the past we've always used Nerf projectile weaponry, but as game intensity ratchets up, it can lead to many heated debates about who shot first. When trying to come up with a new capture method, I stumbled upon a small prep school that does a yearly Selfie Assassins. The result is:
- clear documentation (in the form of "stealfies" (stealthily-taken selfies) that's hard to argue with, and
- tons of hilarious photos of people doing ridiculous things.
So when you set dozens of driven, competitive people at each other for a week-long cooperative Assassins game, how does any work get done? While we do want people to have fun, we also need to be productive. So, the office and surrounding neighborhood were deemed a safe zone from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This allowed players to rest at ease and focus on their to-do list. But once 4:00 p.m. rolled around--just as we’d hoped--things got vicious!
People began stealfy-ing each other, sometimes going to surprising and unexpected lengths to capture their opponents. And as the week progressed we introduced some rule changes and gameplay modifications to both keep people engaged and ensure that the game didn’t drag on unnecessarily. We removed restrictions on “safe zones” and released short puzzles that teams could solve in order to bring back team members who’d been removed from the game.
These puzzles are probably where the most teamwork comes from. It’s really rewarding to see players who wouldn’t often interact with each other in their daily roles sit and pour over these conundrums to better their chances in the game.
Once Friday came around, the game turned into a free-for-all where all players could hunt players from other teams until one team was left standing. Going into the final day, the team that was favored to win didn't even make it to the top three. It's amazing how much can change in the span of a few hours, thanks to a little concentrated teamwork.
The winners of the game (Master's Blasters - a mix of Analysts, Engineers, and Interns) received a fancy dinner courtesy of Cogo (they're thinking Capital Grille) for the their hard work. Was there a slight dip in productivity for the week? Maayyybe. But the benefits of fostering a culture of more open communication, sharpening our problem-solving skills, generating an office-wide morale boost, and building a wacky album full of stealfies is well worth it. We'll have fun stories and memories about Assassins until next year, when we get to relive the craziness all over again. Sign up now if you want to play.