Magic Maze: Finding Everyday Empathy in Consulting

“If you’re unable to help all of the characters get out of the mall before the time runs out, everyone loses.”

Yikes. That sounds pretty intense – and how does the mall factor in?

How does any of that relate to empathy?

One day after wrapping up our Annual Company Meeting, we celebrated with good conversation, fun group activities, and a taco bar. (We could mention the unrelated guacamole and salsa puns heard that evening at Emelar headquarters, but how much time do you have?) This is a brief re-telling of connecting the dots between consulting and a simple tabletop game.

A group of Emelar employees commandeered a conference room to check out a new board game called Magic Maze. Jason (Client Success) brought it from home.

Very intriguing, we thought. As very curious people, we wanted to know more about this game. It seemed like a perfect venture for the handful of game aficionados among us. We played the game and had a great time, chatting about it into the next day, over coffee.

Because of the way our brains work, the discussion turned to how the game scenario reminds us quite a bit of how we work; how empathy is a natural element in our practice.

Consultants talking about consulting — cool. Very meta. But how do these things actually correlate?

magic maze game playing moving GIF of Emelar employees' hands moving the game board pieces

 

The broader business role and practice of consulting can be hard to pin down in a succinct definition because there are many different specialities and methodologies, sometimes resulting in confusion around what it is.

A consulting firm typically provides niche capabilities and services, advising a specific group or industry of clients. For example, Emelar advises organizations – specifically, clients at businesses who have chosen Salesforce as a powerful tool to help them achieve business objectives.


We weren’t sure what Magic Maze was all about, but got a decent idea by reading the colorful box and instructions, asking Jason questions to see if it would be fun for the group. We were totally sold and convinced to jump into the game. (As if the look of sheer delight on our friend Jason’s face wasn’t already convincing enough!?) What did we have to lose? Let’s do this!

Consulting takeaway

It is especially important to ask questions to determine a client’s specific needs, and make sure they match up with the firm’s range of expertise and ability to advise and address their needs. Unlike the Magic Maze scenario, there is quite a lot to lose if these items aren’t covered before we embark on the consulting journey. Assessing risk is an important step, as is checking in with them to validate our assumptions about their needs, being transparent, and setting clear expectations.


On to the rules of Magic Maze: according to BoardGameGeek.com, (yes, really) it’s intended for community play with up to eight players, and suitable for ages 8+. We met all the criteria except for one: Magic Maze is weighted 1.68 out of 5 in the complexity category. While, as consultants, we tend to enjoy complex problem-solving, we dove right in.

Consulting takeaway

Select your team and capabilities thoroughly before committing to a new consulting project. Difficulty level? Although some tasks in the project may seem very straightforward, they could later end up being just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. 

(We’ll remind you here that we promised no more taco-related puns but made no mention of iceberg or seafaring metaphors!)


Where would the maze lead us? The night was young, and we were willing to let this *magic* take us where it may. For the sake of context in the game, the destination ended up being a shopping mall. More than a shopping mall, a magic mall!

Consulting takeaway

When a project seems simple, remember that there is no way to know the final outcome or predict changes to the plan. Even though a simple job may not showcase the capabilities of the consulting firm or utilize the most advanced skillset of its team members, there may still be learning opportunities among the team – like refining routine processes through repetition to gain efficiency.


The premise of the game is for a mage, an elf, and some other mystical creatures to band together to take part in the less-than-wholesome activity of robbing the local Magic Maze mall to get some equipment needed for their next adventure. Obviously.

We’ll pause to acknowledge that we do not condone stealing unless it is 1) part of a well-articulated baseball metaphor, or 2) part of a fun and whimsical board game.

We quickly encountered obstacles when moving the characters through the maze. When we’re all controlling and impacting each others’ actions with different goals, the game descended into a state of chaos. Who is helping who? Who is going where?

Consulting takeaway

Be flexible and agile.

Plan as much as you want, it is difficult to anticipate when change occurs, and how the complexity of circumstances shift — in any of life’s scenarios, not just consulting! At Emelar, we use agile methodology to help us serve our clients because we believe this gives them more value out of the project because they get frequent chances to inspect and adapt.

Consider the full team of clients and consulting partners involved in any given project, devising creative ways achieve the agreed upon outcome. On the other hand, know when a project or task simply is not beneficial for a client and advise alternative solutions.

Magic Maze game


Every player in Magic Maze has a specific ability that they can use to control a specific action of the characters. What is the result of this mashup? The answer is: a collaborative game experience in which every player must cooperate in order to move the heroes across the board and to the mall exit.

These mystical characters agree to map a labyrinth in entirety, find each individual’s favorite store, and then locate the exit while avoiding being caught. Though it’s a competition, we must trust one another. We all have a vested interest in winning. Did someone say “map”? We love maps at Emelar! Side note: we’r’e headquartered in the U.S. Midwest, where one autumn tradition is plowing paths through farm fields of dry corn stalks to make an interesting “maze” for visitors. Imagine having a map of the maze to help you avoid dead ends and disorientation. As consultants, our pre-project process helps prevent clients from getting “stuck” at a dead-end. The possibilities for solutions to the maze can seem numerous – but those without a map may occasionally wander through this beautifully-built maze, perhaps exploring a little before eventually finding an exit. Later, they realize they’ve lost valuable time and productivity.

Consulting takeaway

A basic tenet to deliver a positive consulting experience is to make sure that there is a map to success. At minimum the map must be our guide and have a clear endpoint. Can both consultant and client imagine the same end result? Thorough understanding of work deliverables, scope and the business’ needs is required before undertaking the project. Once determined, still be ready for things to change. Prepare clients to provide incremental feedback and be agile to make the result even better in practice.


In Magic Maze, you can’t talk during game play. Did we mention that? No verbal communication. No visual signals. And you’re up against the sifting sands of the hourglass. Oh man, things just got a lot more difficult. To our amusement, we ended up getting pretty good at reading each others’ actions and one another. Despite the strict rules of the game, it was a blast to figure out fellow players’ motivations and style of gameplay.

Consulting takeaway

A unique challenge to the game! Consultants love challenges! Time is often a constraint in consulting work, adding to the challenge. The best consultants are also effective communicators. Sometimes there can be differences in communication style. Good communication helps resolve this. Convey facts, status, and recommendations with clarity. Communicate in a way that simple, direct, purposeful, and with an awareness of the other person’s circumstances.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Empathy and Trust

For empathy, you have to “see” things through the eyes of another person. This comes naturally to some more than others, but whether an inherent or learned skill, practicing empathy is important to a consulting practice.

For trust, you have to learn about one another, establish boundaries, and show respect. This builds trust, which grows stronger over the course of the consulting relationship. In our Magic Maze game, we had to trust that the other player actually needs you to do something before doing it. As consultants, we must put in the effort to understand one another and to get to the root of the needs.

At Emelar Consulting Group we believe this concept parallels our relationship with clients. Our methodology allows us to become part of an organization by partnering with them. We look at the current processes to find the pain points. We assess existing goals and help them create a smarter, leaner strategy. We use a lot of tools (including Salesforce), but we rely on our many years of experience to help each individual business.

Together, we win

We understand that you are running your own business, building your own career, accomplishing your own goals. You’re on your own path through the maze, just like everyone else. We get that, and we get you. Together, we win the game.