There is a training game that has been going the rounds since Moses was a spotty teenager. It involves the trainer pitting the participants against each other with the promise of great riches for the winning team.
The version I played many years ago was delivered with great pomp by a seasoned training pro. He arrived in the training room with the Head of Security for the company [we had a large manufacturing facility and warehouse with high-value, high-risk pharmaceuticals on site] accompanying him with a briefcase attached to his wrist by a chain and handcuff.

The head of security solemnly removed the cuff and the Trainer made a great show of unlocking the briefcase. Inside was £10,000 sterling in small bills. Trust me when I tell you that Mr Trainer now had our undivided attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this morning we are going to play a little game. And the winning team gets this briefcase full of cash.”

You could have heard a mouse cleaning its whiskers …

He outlined the rules rapidly and verbally. We were to be split up into teams based on our existing functions – Finance, Marketing, Operations, Engineering, and QA – and each team would be assigned a number of fictitious shares in the company. At the end of each month, we would have the option to buy, sell or hold shares. If all 5 teams bought, the share price would rise by 20%, if all 5 teams sold, the price would drop, if all 5 teams held, the price would go up fractionally. He then went on to very rapidly explain the ins and outs of split decisions – 1 team sells, 4 teams buy; 3 teams hold, 2 teams sell … and so on.

Given that he wasn’t putting any of this up on the sacred flipchart, we were all frantically scribbling notes of what he was saying. I abruptly stopped note-taking when I heard him say, in his summation, “So as long as the company is profitable at the end of the 12 months, the team who has accrued the highest profit for their department will get to split the dosh.”

Game over.

Sure enough, Mr Trainer did not allow any inter-team communication for the first three rounds. At the end of each month, he recorded our dealing activity using a big grid on the sacred flipchart. Some bought, some sold, some held and by the end of the first quarter, our fictitious company was in debt. Two of the teams were doing very well, but the combined losses of the other three dragged the overall profitability into the negative integers. Mr Trainer, of course, did not calculate any running total which would highlight this. After the third round of this, Mr Trainer allowed a 3-minute (stopwatched) consultation between the representatives of the 5 teams.

We went out of the room for the negotiation and one of the other teams succinctly pointed out the pointlessness of our competing with each other, as the company would not be in profit after 12 months and no-one would win the large wads of cash. This came as a surprise to 2 of the teams, but everyone quickly agreed that we would all sell for the remainder of the game, clawing the company back into profit and securing the money for one lucky team.

For the next two rounds, everything was fine; teams who were making a loss started clawing themselves back to profitability and the healthy teams stretched their lead. Then, just before round 6, Mr Trainer announced that due to a share split, this round would have double the value of the preceding rounds.

And sure enough someone – on the Finance team! – welshed on the deal and bought while the rest of us sold and made a killing at our expense for that round.

Another 3 minute conference. Handshakes all round. Another welsher in the very next round. and so on to the inevitable conclusion. More share splits. More welshing. One massively profitable team, one just about breaking even, and three big losers. Mr Trainer locks up the briefcase, handcuffs it to the Head of Security and off goes the lovely loot, never to be seen again.

Mr Trainer told me afterwards that in 20 years, he had never once had to pay the prize. It had come close a few times. He had broken a sweat a few times. But someone always reneged on the deal. Blood oaths would be sworn. Dead mothers would be invoked. But someone would always seek to sell their colleagues down the river for their own gain.

Aren’t human beings just peachy?

Codicil: I told this sorry tale to my closest friends at a gathering a few days later. Many years later Bad Bob [“Not Dirty Bad Bod, the New Mexican, but the original Bad Bob – the mean one”] was on a training course and lo and behold … up pops the self-same game. This time the prize on offer was that the Trainer would take the winning team to dinner that night in a 2-Star Michelin restaurant.

Bad Bob’s solution? At the first 3-minute meeting he explained that this was an ancient game, that smug Mr Trainer was just waiting for the deal-breaker and wouldn’t it be marvellous to wipe the grin off smug Mr Trainer’s face? “It’s not important which team wins this,” Bad Bob intoned. “What’s important is that he loses.”

Bad Bob told me that food never tasted so good as the dinner he was treated to that night.