A Treasure Hunt Leads to Leadership and Teamwork Skills

Students from a Louisiana university searched for Mardi Gras beads as part of a teambuilding and team-bonding exercise, but they found so much more in the process.

In New Orleans this spring, 28 students and 2 staff members from Grambling State University participated in National Treasure, an interactive game from AdVenture Games that started at Andrew Jackson’s memorial statue and led them on a tour through the French Quarter.
The students and staff are part of The President’s Student Leadership Initiative, a leadership development program at the university. Program Coordinator Larry W. Green, Jr., wanted the students to be involved in an engaging experience that they would never forget. He did not think that a traditional leadership conference or an outdoor retreat would accomplish that goal. “I wanted to do something innovative.”
So Green and the program’s executive advisor traveled with the students to New Orleans for some sightseeing and a treasure hunt. Participants were divided into five groups and given a mission: to follow clues related to local history and find the “lost treasure,” in this case, Mardi Gras beads.
Each six-member team had to communicate and collaborate effectively to accomplish the mission. “There was a 90-minute time limit, but it could take you 4 hours if you were not efficient with communication or if there was a conflict with your team,” Green explains.
Participants walked miles throughout the city, using an iTunes® app to monitor the locations of the other teams and to find clues that would lead them to the treasure. “I got a good workout,” Green says. “I got my 10,000 steps in that day.”
His team won the game with 37 minutes to spare, but not every team completed the mission within the allotted time frame. Still, the experience was beneficial for all, helping them polish problem-solving skills and create team bonds.
In addition, the experience taught participants that “you can overthink things sometimes,” Green says. “Sometimes, the answer is right there in our face, but we don’t realize it because we are too close to it.” There are times when you have to pull back and look for the obvious answer—a concept that Green wants the students to carry with them once they enter the workforce.
During the game, students also learned about “functional fixedness”—that is, “the cognitive bias that you tend to only see things your way,” he says. However, in business, “we have to be diverse with our thoughts.”
The experience helped students consider other people’s perspectives and helped prepare them to become effective leaders, Green says. “It taught them to embrace diversity. It took them outside of their comfort zones. It forced them to communicate with each other. They had to take charge. They had to learn to be part of a team.”
The game was beneficial to college students and would be an effective training activity for employees as well, Green says. “It’s innovative. It builds team bonding. It embraces diversity. It highlights effective communication. It also gives employees opportunities to build new skills, and it takes them out of their comfort zone.”
Offering such an activity has many advantages for employers, and Green recommends leveraging those advantages. “Show employees that you are progressive and that you embrace diversity and innovation. Think outside the box,” he says. “No organization wants to remain stagnant and do the same things all the time.”