An Exploration into Virtual Leadership and Collaboration

by Amy Judith Tananbaum

Today's worker can be situated almost anywhere -- in a satellite office, at home, or on-site in a client environment. In fact, the number of employees who claim to work remotely is four times greater today than in 1995 (Jones 2015). However, as the popularity of a dispersed workforce increases, so does the need to acquire and develop the skills necessary to navigate its unique challenges. Companies need to be equipped to cross geographical boundaries in order to share resources and ideas, to achieve success in today's global economy.

The Rainforest Game is designed to close that knowledge gap by giving individuals an opportunity to experience virtual leadership and collaboration across boundaries in an insightful, realistic hands-on simulation.

Learning Outcomes

  • Work more effectively across functions, geography, and distance
  • Work through communication barriers
  • Creatively solve complex problems
  • Examine assumptions about how people and functions work together
  • Apply skills for working across boundaries (Reaching Out, Sharing Information, Exploring Alternatives, and Making It Happen) all while Building Relationships and Achieving Common Goals

How It Works

During game play, participants assume the role of artists -- brought together from all over the globe by The Rainforest Collective (an organization promoting endangered rainforest awareness). Their mission is to assemble a mosaic, made of pieces that they and other design studios have created, which is to be displayed at a celebratory art installation for The Rainforest Collective's annual conference. Participants are organized into subgroups, but since no group has all of the required pieces, they must venture across boundaries and work collaboratively to achieve success.

As participants work both within and outside of their assigned group to complete the activity, they face personal assumptions about intra- and inter-team dynamics. In doing so, they build awareness of the challenges inherent in a virtual environment and how to overcome them.

During the debrief discussion, participants are introduced to the four core skills for working effectively across boundaries: Reaching Out, Sharing Information, Exploring Alternatives, and Making It Happen. Together these skills build lasting and powerful relationships that enable individuals and groups to achieve common goals. An action plan at the close of the workshop allows participants to identify what they will do differently in the future to build partnerships, enhance inter-team communication, and enable greater collaboration across boundaries.

Uses & Applications

Perfect as a stand-alone module or in conjunction with a larger organizational learning process, The Rainforest Game (Second Edition) is highly adaptable and flexible. The facilitator can focus discussion on several additional areas that may be relevant for the organization, including:

  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Leadership

What's changed in the new edition of The Rainforest Game?

  1. The scenario in this revised edition has been changed from its original focus on collaboration at work to one that looks at the growing practice of collaboration and leadership in virtual and dispersed teams.
  2. The game now includes more expansive insight into how the simulation experience aids the understanding and development of collaboration, communication, and relationship-building skills within the context of virtual teams.
  3. The extensively reworked and expanded PowerPoint presentation not only provides more insight into the four-phase model for working collaboratively across boundaries, but also provides much more support for novice or inexperienced facilitators.
  4. The debrief discussion now offers more activities to help deepen the learning experience and prepare learners to develop their individual action plans.

Target Audience:

  • Individuals who, are either currently or planning to, work virtually
  • Anyone who works with others across both internal and external boundaries

Product Type: Simulation/Game

Game Objective: To experience the value of collaborating and communicating across boundaries.

Time Required: Approximately 3 hours

What to Order/Product Contents

The Complete Kit contains sufficient materials to play the game with up to 25 participants (or 5 teams of 2–5 people). All materials are reusable except for the Participant Workbooks and sticker sheets.

  • To repeat-play the game, simply order additional Participant Workbooks and sticker sheets.
  • To run multiple rounds of the game simultaneously, order an Extra Game Pack for each additional group of up to 25 participants.

The Extra Game Pack includes 25 Participant Workbooks, 48 puzzle pieces (separated into 5 drawstring bags), 5 sticker sheets (8 stickers per sheet), and 5 laminated instruction cards.