Science behind Tower Builder

How does a tower building game contribute to scientific research? Here we elaborate on how and why the gameplay, paired with a survey, helps research in well-balanced team formation.

“A need for a well-balanced team” is a well-known adage, be it in sports, organizations or startups. However, what comprises a well-balanced team and why should a team be “balanced” is difficult to answer. These are precisely the research questions that inspired and informed the development of Tower Builder. Additionally, a balance of skills and traits is crucial for teams to have the best possible start as they venture into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship.

So, if we were not using Tower Builder, what other methods could we use to study team formation? There are three basic methods commonly used when assigning student teams in Universities and schools: methods using random, self-selected (student) or instructor/facilitator-selected approaches[1]. Random assignments are generally the most commonly used methods for experiments with student teams and are also considered the fairest as they replicate experimental design conditions the best (Bacon et al., 2001). Another study of 40 instructors in large-scale business simulations found a higher prevalence of self-selection as a method (Decker, 1995). Engineering design research, on the other hand, suggests that instructor chosen teams are more effective in the academic environment (Felder, Woods, Stice, & Rugarcia, 2000).

Now let’s delve a little deeper into why one needs a well-balanced team. Already in 1996, it was found that teams of individuals with diverse thinking styles obtain better results than homogeneous teams (Hermann, 1996). However, more recent work into team effectiveness has also found that while diverse groups outperform homogenous groups on complex tasks, routine problems are solved easier by homogenous groups (Watson, Kumar & Michaelsen, 1993; Higgs, Plewnia & Ploch, 2005). This means that when creating a balanced team we also need to take into account the context of the task being set. Tower builder was first developed in the context of Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not just the starting of a new firm but it is also a way of thinking that tries to embrace uncertainty and creativity so that one can either discover or create an opportunity and exploit it to provide value for self and others including society as a whole (Shane and Venkataraman, 2000). However, the entrepreneurial pathway is fraught with uncertainty and the path is seldom clear. It is here that the presence of a balanced team can help in the successful navigation of such uncertainty. A well-balanced team can provide these benefits:

  1. Overcome the time challenge – there will never be enough time to do everything.
  2. Advantages of skill mixes – diversity of domains and skills
  3. Diversity of Perspectives
  4. Scaling of complexity – the more complex the problem, the more points of view shed more light on the unknown problem.
  5. Shared burden – financial, social and psychological
  6. Investor-friendly – Generally, investors invest in teams more than the idea. There is a common saying in the startup world that “A B-team cannot carry an A-Idea forward, whereas an A-team can carry a B-Idea forward”.

Secondly, entrepreneurial teams need to have certain core competences as illustrated in Figure 1 below.

The problem

Of the three team-formation methods mentioned earlier, the Random and Self-selected methods are more frequently used because of their perceived fairness over “instructor-selected” methods. Also, these are, in general, less time-consuming and resource-intensive compared to any “dedicated” instructor-selected method that tries to balance teams based on the model above.
There is no good scientific method to form well-balanced teams.

The Solution

The Tower Builder game: In this game, we try to hit two birds with one stone as this game allows for – 1) fast collection of a team with diverse cognitive profile (especially targeted towards certain entrepreneurial preferences) and 2) The use of the generated data to form balanced teams. So, for example, pairing a person with a higher risk tolerance with a person of lower risk tolerance, should theoretically, create a balanced pair. This method can then be extended to more players within a team such that the player's strengths and weaknesses are balanced. The more data we can collect on a player’s gameplay, the more accurate our model and thereby our solutions can be.


How can you help by playing this game?

This is where you come in. By playing this game AND completing the accompanying survey – you can help us map out the way you think in certain parameters. To avoid biasing your game-play and thereby the data generated, you are not told about which entrepreneurial traits we are currently mapping. This is known as “stealth assessment” and you are welcome to read more about this (Insert link to stealth article by Valerie Shute on SAH). As your gameplay data still needs to be correlated with your opinion of yourself, if you play both the game and fill out the survey, you will help us improve our model. Once the future model of the game is ready, we can reveal your personal profile and individual entrepreneurial trait strengths and weaknesses. Thank you for helping us with your time.


  1. Bacon, D. R., Stewart, K. A., & Anderson, E. S. (2001). Methods of Assigning Players to Teams: A Review and Novel Approach. Simulation & Gaming, 32(1), 6–17. doi:10.1177/104687810103200102
  2. Decker, R. (1995). Management team formation for large scale simulations. In J. D. Overby & A. L. Patz (Eds.), Developments in business simulation & experiential exercises (22) (pp. 128- 129). Statesboro, GA: Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning
  3. Felder, R. M., Woods, D. R., Stice, J. E., & Rugarcia, A. (2000). The future of engineering education II. Teaching methods that work. Chem. Engr. Education, 34(1), 26–39.
  4. Hermann, Ned (1996). The Whole Brain Business Book, New York:McGraw-Hill.
  5. Higgs, M., Plewnia, U., & Ploch, J. (2005). Influence of team composition and task complexity on team performance. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 11(7/8), 227-250.
  6. Shane, S., & Venkataraman, S. (2000). The promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research. Academy of management review, 25(1), 217-226.
  7. Watson, W. E., Kumar, K., & Michaelsen, L. K. (1993). Cultural diversity’s impact on interaction process and performance: Comparing homogeneous and diverse task groups. Academy of management journal, 36(3), 590-602.
Science behind Tower Builder