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The last place I worked wasn't a particularly great place and there were more than a few nights where we were working late into the evening trying to meet our sprints. The team while stressed out got pretty close and people started bringing in little mind teasers and puzzles, just something we would all play around with and try to solve while a build/deploy was running for the test environment, or while we were waiting for the integration test run to finish.

Eventually it turned into people bringing chess boards in and setting them at their desks. We would play by email sending each other moves in chess notation, but at a very casual pace, with games lasting sometimes two or three days.

Management tolerated this when we were putting in overtime, but as things were being managed better and people weren't working much more than 40/wk, they started cracking down on this and told us that we weren't allowed to have chess boards at our desks, although they were okay with the puzzle games.

What are the pros and cons in your opinion of allowing chess during software development lull time?

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Even better, try something fun. –  Craig Jun 22 '11 at 13:02
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@Craig, says the person who never made the Chess Club in high school ;-) –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 13:07
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I think he meant a game not invented 7000 years ago. Like say Caylus, Rattus, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Puerto Rico, etc. etc. Chess is great and it has its place, but people who act like it is the ultimate thinking game need to lift their heads up and look around a little. If you want something "team building" try one of the many cooperative games out today like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Defenders of the Realm, Arkham Horror, etc. –  John Munsch Jun 22 '11 at 13:21
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@jhocking, I wouldn't, Chess was chosen for a number of reasons. It is quiet and doesn't disturb others at work. It is turn-based meaning that a turn can be easily made and then one can walk away. Chess notation is easily transmitted via a number of mediums making it one of the first long-distance games of all time (I recall the famous 15 year spanning game by post between a British general stationed in India and his friend in Sussex over 150 years ago). And chess notation moves can be easily logged so if the cleaning people knock the board over you can very easily set it back up. –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 15:03
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A Rubik's Cube might work well. –  Bernard Jun 22 '11 at 15:15

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Other than your management sounding utterly dilbertian I have to say Chess sounds like a pretty bad idea as team building goes. Chess is fundamentally an antagonistic game and not about team work and team play per se. There's nothing to encourage discussion or social interactions at all, except perhaps if you analyze the game afterwords or something.

If you want team building do something like a team, like building a Minecraft world or form a World of Warcraft clan.

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Haha - Mr project manager, see, we just need to grind a little more, think of the epics! Can't see that one happening.. But in spirit, you are right :) –  Max Jun 22 '11 at 12:51
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I bet playing WoW "while the tests are running" would lead to a 10-hour build. :-) –  Konrad Garus Jun 22 '11 at 13:02
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I can see your point, but we very quickly learned that certain team members would win over 90% of the time. We generally could guess the outcome before we even started, but mostly we were trialing different opening strategies, reviewing strategic decisions and trying to better our skills for the next time. Nothing is more exhilarating than trying something different and actually beating a superior player. The superior players though differ because they generally don't make the same mistake twice so by beating them you actually make them more challenging the next time. –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 13:05
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I bet 'certain team members' were running the board through an endgame database ;) –  Alain Jun 22 '11 at 17:08
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xkcd.com/303 –  Michael Jun 22 '11 at 17:27

Ok, while I think your intent is great, there's some other things that are a little more cleansing.

My team found a ping pong/table tennis table that was outside of our area, so we started going over there after really long, grinding sessions. It started out as three of us playing, then I made an internal ladder app where we can challenge each other, and there's some points and other fun stuff. The quarterly winner gets $25 gift card as enticement.

It started as three people. We now have 14 people in the ladder after two months. It has actually improved relations between our staff tremendously. I'm on great terms with my SysAdmin because we are the 1-2 on the ladder and play some great matches. We don't devote too much time to it or take it too seriously, so our management doesn't particularly mind.

This comes down to your manager's flexibility, but I think it's very important (especially for programmers) to get away from the computer for parts of the day and do something completely different. That's why I don't think things like WoW are good, because you're still on the computer. Depending on your situation, I think you guys can get creative and come up with something.

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Doom

Nothing is better for team-building than Doom. Or Quake, Unreal Tournament, Portal 2, BioShock 2, et al.

Releases aggression, relaxes the mind, and if your boss will play it's even better.

Do it at lunch or after hours, and watch morale soar.*

(* at least the morale of the people that are good at it, but that applies to chess, too)

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Did you mean Left 4 Dead? –  Anton Barkovsky Jul 16 '11 at 12:45
    
@Anton: any good shooter will do! –  Steven A. Lowe Jul 17 '11 at 16:52

I'm a big fan of games of all types at work. Puzzle, card, board, etc. The more interaction between team members outside of their job roles the better. As long as the competition doesn't rise to unhealthy levels, it is fine.

That said, the underlying problem sounds not one of games, but of time spent. Management is OK with chess when hours logged is >40 hours but not under? Sounds like they're using hours per week as a metric of performance. Not only is that wrong, but counter productive. I'd be more concerned with fixing that before getting the chess boards back.

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How playing chess will improve on the team building? It's only a two player game (unless there is new version which I am unaware of). It will definitely help for team members to come closer if the team consists of two members. But for a bigger team, the only thing chess playing is going to do is improve on chess playing skills. Even this will be great if the company is one which produce chess game. But for others I failed to see how is this team building activity.
For team building you actually need those technical or non-technical forums, where the members come together and discuss some idea not closely related with their work. This is much better than the chess game.

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There is a form of Chess that can be played by 3 or 4 people. 3 is very unfair, but 4 is fun if everyone can manage to wrap their head around playing against 3 other people (it takes a few games to get used to the new methods of thinking). –  Thomas Owens Jun 22 '11 at 13:30
    
Yes it is played by two people but typically only a single game was going on at one time and people would typically enjoy just watching, even the PM would come by to see who was winning. Spectators would discuss the best moves to make based on the current situation so people were playing in their minds thinking about what they would do. –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 14:12
    
... further we would also form teams and discuss each move. Team members would nominate a possible move, then everybody would evaluate the nominated moves and vote on the move they preferred. –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 14:14

I think it is a bad idea.

Chess is a game which consumes a lot of time and requires high brain utilization.

If you do it right you will have no time left to do your job and your mind will be too exhausted to do your job properly.

Your management must see it for what it is which is why they prohibited it. Obviously they pay you not for playing chess but for applying your brain powers to the work that needs to be done.

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Good point. I do remember getting carried away in some really intense games and I would have trouble getting my mind on code and off the board. The project was mostly standard and the heavy brain-lifting development is usually a small percentage of most business applications. I don't personally recall ever burning myself out on a game, but instead using my brain power when I was exceptionally bored. –  maple_shaft Jun 22 '11 at 14:08

I think Paintball is more of a team-building activity than Chess. Believe it or not, many developers do not know how to play Chess. Paintball in of itself is a mindless activity - point and shoot - but it requires you to rely on your teammates to win thus you must work together towards the common goal of defeating the enemy. I do not agree with World of Warcraft or something like that. Video games are good, but there still is a sense of onemanship because you don't win as a team and players can gain certain perks. With paintball, you either win or lose. That's it. The same goes for any team sport really.

When I was in Iraq, we would play cards during downtime.

At any rate, you are there to work not play. I can see management's point especially if they feel that you are taking away from their bottom line.

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