Team Leadership, Business Games and The Observer Effect

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated January 2018

The Observer Effect in Physics states that the very act of viewing something can change the state of the thing being viewed.

For example, to see any object you must first shine light on it to cause it to emit light to interact with your eyes. This light shining on the object changes its energy levels which most of the time is no big deal but can make profound differences at a sub-atomic level (see Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle). 

The Observer Effect also works at a human level, for example, if a manager observes a member of their team in action then this team member may well behave differently than they would if unobserved! In the world of Team Leadership and Team Dynamics, The Observer Effect also applies.

If you can enable a team (or an individual) to observe their behaviours, or more importantly the impact of their behaviours on others, then this in itself is the first step in allowing them to start to change those behaviours. In other words, awareness is the necessary first step in any real individual or group form of Change Management.

A highly effective way to do this is to run a Business Simulation or Business Game with a team. 

I think I first heard Nicholas Negroponte, Director of MIT's Media Lab, make the quote “Radio is like TV only the pictures are better”. In Business Simulation Games, this means that if you can trigger the participant’s imagination then you don’t need a full 3D user interface to have them quickly forget it is “only a game”.  No computer interface can match the human imagination when its effectively triggered!

There are a few great low-tech. techniques for achieving “participant immersion”. The first one is to deliver a really good briefing on the importance and context of the Business Game. The second one and probably the most effective is to have a very senior person be associated with the Business Simulation which sends a powerful subliminal message to the participants. 

If this is done well the participants will quickly forget it is “only a game” and will exhibit all their normal individual behaviour patterns, helpful and unhelpful. Similarly, that group of people, if they are an existing team will also quickly fall into the rut of their normal Team Dynamics. 

As long as the business game is played as a team the choice of topic is not critical, just as long as it is business relevant - such as Commercial Acumen or Business Strategy Execution

Now so far this is still “business as usual” for the individuals and the team as they still will be as blind as ever to all their behaviours. The key ingredient is to have a competent facilitator who can observe the team playing the Business Simulation Game and help them look with fresh eyes at what is happening, to reveal their individual and collective blind spots.

A good facilitator has two powerful techniques for revealing these blind spots. 

The first one is simply to ask insightful questions such as “Fred how did you feel when Sally talked over you?” 

Once the facilitator has built some trust with the team, for example by generating useful conversations from these questions, they can then use the second technique of making challenging observations which the team can be invited to reflect on. 

For example, “I was impressed you all agreed that everyone should have their say in all decisions but in the last round, when you were under pressure, I saw you did not do this. Does that mean this not so important after all?”

In summary, The Observer effect combined with a Business Simulation Game plus Team Facilitation is a great way to develop Team Leadership skills, develop High Performing Teams, enhance Teamwork / Team Collaboration, address unhelpful Team Dynamics and have a positive and lasting impact on Team Building


I first came across this idea that “awareness automatically starts change” many years ago in a book called The Inner Game of Skiing by Tim Gallwey and Robert Kriegel. The authors talk about how as you ski instead of constantly telling yourself that was a bad turn or I am leaning too far back instead you should simply grade the turn or your stance non-judgementally in terms where your weight was distributed on a score of 1-10. They argue that your body knows what to do so its counter-productive to keep telling it that was good or that was bad (“Self1” in a constant judgemental dialogue with “Self2”). Better simply that you become more conscious or mindful of the slope and trust your body to use this information to do the rest. 

Let's Connect

And a member of our Team will be in touch


We have 150+ articles on a wide range of Business Leadership Topics
Explore articles

More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

Contact Ken

Want to know more about this topic?

As well as starting the conversation we will send you a FREE Executive Summary of our Book:

A Systematic Guide to Game Based Learning in Organizations


We transform Leadership Development using Business Simulations, guided by three principles:

Goals, Roles & Souls

Why Choose Business Simulations?

We champion Business Simulations as an effective and engaging form of Leadership Development. 'Learn by doing' hones skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Learn more

Let's Talk Business Simulations

We would love to tell you more about what we can do for your Business.
Feel free to give us a call on +44 2896 237253

Close App
Request a Consultation