Management Games, Exercises, Energizers and Icebreakers: Prisoners’ Dilemma

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Prisoners’ Dilemma

“Prisoners’ Dilemma” is an excellent management game/exercise that can be used effectively in the sessions or modules on team work, team building, decision making, win-win approach, trust building, cooperation, communication etc. It is a participative game and is played between two groups.

You as the workshop leader or seminar conductor will distribute the “instruction sheet” or “brief” to each participant of your seminar/workshop. Tell the participants to read the brief carefully.

Start of the brief or the instructions

Brief (Instructions)

Two persons are taken in custody by police as suspects of a serious crime. The police cannot convict them immediately in absence of sufficient evidence. So, the police plans to take down the suspects’ statements in order to fix up the conviction and to decide the sentence/punishment.

The suspects are separated and imprisoned in two different rooms/cells where the police makes enquiries with them. The police takes down their statements separately. One suspect does not know what the other suspect is telling the police.

Based on the statements made by the two prisoners the police decides on the following types of sentence/punishment:

1. If one suspect confesses and the other remains silent, the silent suspect receives 10 year prison sentence and the confessor is released immediately.

2. If both confess, each receives a reduced sentence of 4 years.

3. If both remain silent, each suspect receives a 2 year sentence.

So, to confess or remain silent is the prisoners’ dilemma.

However, one suspect has no clue of what the the other suspect will do- whether he will remain silent or will he confess of having committed the crime.

Now to play this game each one of you will act like one of the suspects.  Therefore all of you (participants of this workshop) will be divided into two groups consisting of equal number of participants. We will call these two groups as “suspect/prisoner group 1” and “suspect/prisoner group 2”.  Each group as a whole will act as a suspect.

The police are quite lenient and will give you ten opportunities to change your decision before the final sentence/punishment is passed, which will be the cumulative sentence/punishment resulting from all ten decisions.

So you will play the game in ten rounds of decision making. You will be given two minutes for each round of decision making. After first two minutes each suspect group will give its group decision whether it wants to remain silent or it wants to confess to the police. The program leader (the faculty) will act police. The program leader will receive the two decisions of the first round from each suspect group and read them out to each group. Based on the decisions given by the two suspect group, the police  will pass the sentence and declare it to both the groups. The groups will note down the outcomes of the first round.

The second round will start after this. The process described for the first round will be repeated for the second round.

Subsequently, likewise, rest of the eight rounds will be played.

At the end of all the ten rounds, the cumulative sentence/punishment will be decided, passed and announced.

End of the brief or the instructions

After the participants of your program finish reading the brief, divide them randomly into two groups consisting of equal number of participants in each group. you can easily management around seven participants in each group. If you have larger batch, you can play the game in two sets of two groups each.

As mentioned in the instruction sheet, you will coordinate the game and finally declare the results.

Now bring the two groups together and discuss the game. Let each group tell you and all the participants why they played the game the way they did. How else they could have played the game for better results. What were their learnings from this exercise?

As the program leader, fill them up with your observations, comments and suggestions. You may like to give them additional theoretical inputs if necessary.

Get Hold of the Related Books

You can order the following books on “management games and icebreakers” as printed books and eBooks from Amazon online:

  1. Classic Management Games, Exercises, Energizers and Icebreakers
  2. Classic Management Games, Exercises, Energizers and Icebreakers (Volume 2)
  3. Classic Team Building Games, Exercises, Energizers and Icebreakers
  4. 101 Classic Management Games, Exercises, Energizers and Icebreakers

For More Guidance, Assistance, Training and Consultation


Training in all the soft skills and various management functions/techniques is imparted by Prodcons Group’s Mr Shyam Bhatawdekar and/or Dr (Mrs) Kalpana Bhatawdekar, eminent management educationists, management consultants and trainers- par excellence, with distinction of having trained over 150,000 people from around 250 organizations.

Also refer: (Prodcons Group), (Training Programs by Prodcons Group), (Productivity Consultants)


About Shyam Bhatawdekar

35 years’ industrial/business experience as a top executive & 35 years’ parallel academic/consultancy experience in general management, behavioral sciences & technology. Areas: general management, production, human resources, industrial engineering, systems, MIS, computers, corporate planning, audit, sales/marketing. Penchant for information technology & behavioral sciences; integrated with conventional technology makes him unique thought leader. Conversant with academic theories & realities of business, fuses the two into practical approaches. Was associated with Tata Motors, Hindustan Motors, Hindustan Aeronautics & ThyssenKrupp; held top positions as highflier executive. Presently Chairman & Managing Director, Prodcons Group associating with 250 organizations; providing management & I T consultations & conducting seminars/workshops. Been a faculty for IIM’s, TMTC, Railway & HAL Staff Colleges, Symbiosis. Speaker with 35000 hours’ experience benefitting more than 100,000 people. Published 35 articles in Economic Times, Indian Management & Computers Today. Authored 27 books. Invited as key speaker in seminars by AIMA, HRD Network, NIPM, QCFI, CSI, NPC. Widely traveled. Education: Engineering & Management.
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