Learning in practice: make the BZ Dilemma Game a regular feature of your team meetings

At BZ we're constantly confronted with changing circumstances and new developments. To keep up, it's essential that we keep working to develop our skills. We believe that training sessions and courses are not the only way to learn. A casual chat with a close colleague about what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour can provide a different perspective, say Stephan van den Hoek, unit head for support at Netherlands Worldwide (NWW), and Lianne Belt, a trainer in the Consular and Visa Affairs Department (HDCV). Once every three weeks, during their regular meeting, they discuss one of the scenarios in the Dilemma Game.

How do you feel about your colleague regularly putting their hands on your shoulders? One of your colleagues is an activist, and often shares their strong political views with the team. Is that a good idea? What kinds of things are okay to discuss in a WhatsApp chat group for colleagues? What topics should be avoided? 

Stephan van den Hoek decided to use the Dilemma Game in meetings so that staff can discuss ethical questions and interpersonal behaviour in an informal setting. ‘People ask each other what they would do in a particular situation, and the conversations we have help us to create an open, respectful working environment and to learn from each other.’

Links op de foto Lianne Belt en rechts Stephan van den Hoek. Beiden zitten op een bruine stoel met een banner in het midden.
Image: ©academie
Lianne Belt (left) and Stephan van den Hoek (right)

Let's talk about it

The Dilemma Game helps give staff insights on integrity and a safe and supportive working environment. It also encourages people to talk about sensitive topics. Using workplace issues, debate propositions and factual questions, staff can informally discuss what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t. This could relate to touching, for instance, but also to comments that people could perceive as discriminatory.

‘We also talk about what to do if you see a colleague doing something you know isn’t right,’ says Lianne. ‘What steps do you take? Should you bring it up with the person involved, or talk to another colleague first about the right way to proceed? Should you go to the person’s manager? Or maybe there’s something else you could do? And how do you interpret what you've seen?’

Lianne believes these conversations have been positive. ‘It's easy to state your opinion. But really listening to someone else’s is harder than you might think,’ she has learned. ‘We know we’re all here with the best of intentions.’

An enjoyable exercise

Stephan brought the game to the team meeting without too much prior discussion, and he also advises others to simply get started rather than making a big deal of it. ‘Ultimately, the point is to make it easier to talk about difficult issues. The game removes some of the awkwardness, and it's enjoyable when we achieve something positive together. Playing the game helps people understand each other’s values. You can see someone's attitude changing on the spot.’

It's important to start with a safe topic, says Lianne. ‘Pick something that’s not going to spark too much emotion. Then you can work towards other issues you need to talk about together.’

Ongoing attention

Stephan thinks the game is a great way to reflect on dilemmas and appropriate behaviour on an ongoing basis. The conversations are casual, though they are planned at regular intervals. ‘There’s always something worth discussing. That’s why I want to keep doing this: to make sure we stay alert. Team dynamics, norms and values are not things that should only come up when there's talk of inappropriate behaviour, for instance, or when a racism report is published. That reduces it to a box-ticking exercise – it doesn’t achieve anything.’

Through the game, group members learn from each other and work together to foster a positive atmosphere. Stephan: ‘The idea is not to find a definitive solution. It’s not about right or wrong. The point is to listen carefully to others and ensure that no topic is off limits. That way you're working together to create an environment in which people feel free to be themselves. You're able to say: I hear you, but I feel differently about that. Then you all know where you stand.’

It's also important to keep things light. ‘You won’t get far without humour,’ says Stephan. ‘One minute we're working on the details of our specialist jobs, and the next we’re making a joke. It all helps to build trust. We may not agree with each other, and that’s fine. But we do have the courtesy to treat each other with respect.’

It's okay to make mistakes

‘You always think you know everything,’ says Lianne. ‘So you don’t ask as many questions as you should. People sometimes come up with really good questions, things I hadn’t even thought of. That’s when I really learn something.’

During the game, Stephan looks carefully at the process and the end result. ‘In one of the sessions we held, I should have pointed out some things beforehand and checked back with the group. That would have made it more effective. I learned from that, and I'll do things differently from now on. We all make mistakes, and that's okay.’

No individual examples

During the Dilemma Game people sometimes bring up real-life examples or describe very specific situations. When that happens, Stephan brings the group discussion to a close. ‘If it's about someone who isn’t there, we don’t discuss it. We want to create a safe and supportive working environment. Even if the issue in question is important, I'll stop the discussion if this isn’t the appropriate forum to discuss it. People can always come to me directly with these issues, and I hope that everyone feels free to do that.’