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4 Leadership lessons from CodeNames (game)

December 29, 2017

One of the games our family was given for Christmas this year is CODENAMES. With 25 words (CodeNames) set forth in front of the two teams, two spymasters (one for each team) try to get their teammates (field agents) to guess the correct word (CodeName) giving only a one word clue. They are to say the clue word and then the number of CodeNames the clue word applies to.

For example: the Spymaster may say “Continent, One” if the word the field agent(s) is supposed to guess the CodeName “Europe.” However, if Asia or Africa or Antarctica are also options, the Spymaster could say “Continent, Two” and hope the team guesses both CodeNames.

Obviously, any clue can be misunderstood or misapplied. This could give the other team a point, one of the seven bystander words, or in the worst case, the Assassin CodeName (the other team automatically wins if you choose the assassin CodeName).

For example: a Spymaster gave the word “Volleyball, Two.” The field agents guessed “ball,” and “net” but also discussed whether they should guess “match” or “court” or “point.” “Ball” was actually a bystander word. “Court” and “match” were the other teams’ words. The clue was intended to point the team to “net” and “point.” Quickly, the Spymaster realized the clue given was not very helpful and her confused team tried to eventually guess the correct words and not the other options.

As we played this game with four generations of people from at least two different language groups (Canada and Asia), I realized quickly how this would be a GREAT game for a leadership class or retreat, or as an icebreaker for work teams. Really, any team building or human resources related group would benefit from insights learned in this game.

Why? Because there are at least four leadership lessons to learn as you play CodeNames.

Importance of a Common Language. A Spymaster may use a word (even spelled the same, not a homonym), yet there can be a variety of meanings for most English words. Obviously, some players will hear the word as a noun, others as a verb. But some will also picture totally different items in a word, and simply may not know the alternate meaning (eg. bat = a flying animal or an object used to hit a ball). One quickly realizes how context plays a vital role in understanding the meaning of a word.

Along with sharing a common understood language, equally important are the Connections people associate with a word. As the Spymaster playing with the aforementioned four generations, I had to double-check before I used the clue “Bolshevik” hoping the field agents would understand the connection to the CodeName “Revolution.” Fortunately, there was one field agent old enough to do so, while those field agents under 40 years old looked blankly after I shared the clue.

While a clue like “Bolshevik, One” seems fairly straightforward, the key to winning the game… not just successfully giving understandable clues… is gaining multiple correct CodeNames with one clue. If the Spymaster can give a clue that conveys two (or even three) CodeNames for their field agents – without hitting the other teams words or innocent bystanders or the assassin – you can collect your eight words before the other team and win.

Thus, the Spymaster needs to find Commonality between two (or more) words, while still accounting for the previously mentioned challenges (common language and connectivity).

However, the final skill needed to be a successful Spymaster in this game is the ability to recognize the other teams CodeNames and ensure your clue does NOT have commonality with them also. So as a Spymaster (Leader) you need to know the opposition as much as you need to be aware of your own team. You need to know not only how the clue relates to your teammates common language, connections, and commonality, but ensure it does NOT have commonality to other CodeNames. You certainly do not want them to guess the Assassin word when you give your clue, but you do not really want your field agents to give the other team points by guessing their CodeNames from your clue.

I would encourage you to join family and friends and play CodeNames. I would also encourage you as a leader to play the game with your leadership team. Its great fun and is open to all ages (8+). Not only will you laugh and sometimes be confused, even perplexed at your teammates, but you may also get to know and understand new aspects of everyone’s lives.

From → Leadership

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