How Board Games Helped Me Develop Flexibility in the Workplace

By: Aliyah Weinstein

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Once a week, for years, I’ve met up with a group to play board games. When I lived in Paris, it was Wednesday nights at a board game cafe. In Charlottesville, it was Thursdays at a dive bar. And nowadays, it’s weekends at the neighborhood brewery.

As I’ve gotten more immersed in board gaming, I’ve realized that besides the enjoyment I get out of a day full of strategizing and scheming, this hobby has helped me hone my flexibility and adaptability — skills that definitely benefit me during games, but even more so in the workplace.

[Related: Investing With the Bard]

Board games are the ultimate representation of uncertainty. In one of my favorite games, Lords of Waterdeep, you may find yourself sabotaged by a mandatory quest that prevents you from completing the quest you’d originally planned to complete.

In the already-complex Terraforming Mars, if your opponent steals resources from you, you’ll have to rethink which card or tile you can play on your next turn. Any board game is a fast-paced affair, and you only have a few minutes in between turns to figure out how to respond to the changes your opponents enact on your carefully-crafted plans.

Area control games like Scythe and Twilight Imperium (which, I admit, is my least favorite genre of board games) sometimes require players to respond immediately to another player’s actions. Luckily, even the most stressful of these scenarios requires a much more rapid response than the typical workplace situation.

Becoming comfortable with rapid decision-making in the context of board games has made me more adaptable to changes in the workplace; I’m able to respond more quickly, and still in well-thought-out ways.

As I’ve honed these skills, my confidence has increased to help me voice my ideas in meetings, and this even led me to step up on a whim to lead a new cross-functional team. Like when I’m playing a game, I’ve developed a stronger ability to take each new situation at work as a challenge that I have to adapt to in order to move forward and succeed.

[Related: How to Seize the Driver Seat of Your Career]

In this time of COVID-19, I’ve had to adapt to working from home, re-evaluate the marketing strategy for the year that I developed in Q1, and navigate other changes on a daily basis as my team responds to this ever-changing situation. Entering each day feeling confident in my ability to handle whatever comes my way has made this time easier.

In board gaming, I define my strategic style by striving to play the most efficient turn I can each round. This requires keeping track of what’s changed since my last turn, what possibilities I have given the cards or workers at my disposal, and what I think the other players will do next. Once my opponent has drafted a card I wanted, what is the best option I have that will set me up to achieve my goals in the game?

Now that universities around the world have largely shut down, what are the best marketing decisions I can make that will help my company’s research materials reach scientists as circumstances around the world continue to change every day? In the current time, especially, being sure that the adaptations I’m making use our resources efficiently is of the utmost importance. The contexts may be vastly different, but the thought processes are identical.

And while scoring victory points is a different kind of success than seeing our marketing ROI improve year-over-year, I relish both types of successes as a testament to my newly-honed skills in flexibility and adaptability.

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Aliyah Weinstein has a PhD in cancer immunology from the University of Pittsburgh and experience in science writing, outreach, and brand management. She works as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Addgene, a life sciences nonprofit, and as a freelance science writer. She is passionate about inclusion in STEM and volunteers as an Advisory Board member for the STEM education nonprofit, Letters to a Pre-Scientist.

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