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  • Writer's pictureMohsin Memon

What we can learn from Singapore's response to COVID-19

Singapore's response to COVID-19 teaches us all some very important lessons.

Nearly 2 years ago, I had the privilege of running Evivve MOGL for the Civil Service College in Singapore. I was told that these were the best and the brightest minds of Singapore. "Sure, let's see..." was my reluctant response.

It was a group of nearly 35 people and if you've ever played Evivve then you know it's not easy managing and aligning yourself with so many people. The team effectively navigated through the chaos and didn't lose sight of the ultimate goal throughout the experience. I was amazed at how well the team played the game. The game presents a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment in which things are changing frequently and dynamically. It is essential to put in place certain basics that are easy to overlook and yet pivotal to the team's success. Simple things like quickly establishing channels of communication to report updates on what's happening in real time and analyzing and making sense of the data that they have on the dashboard are some of the many things that great teams do early on.

But this team had taken those essential actions to the next level by organizing an inter-department committee where members from each of the subset groups would actively report insights to the 'command tower' which would have sufficient information to make prompt and timely decisions. Now, on the surface this may seem like a very normal thing to do, but what's unique here is how quickly this team arrived at doing this. A little context: I've ran over 1000 sessions of Evivve across age groups, hierarchies and regions of the world and the kind of behavior this team displayed is usually behavior I see people showcasing in the second and third sessions. Think of these sessions as the passage of time; Session 1 is when you're faced with a new situation and thus it beckons your immediate response (reaction). In Session 2, some time has passed and you've had time to collect your thoughts and it calls for a more reflective response. And Session 3 represents the most passage of time so it expects the most thought-through and planned approach. It is the second and third sessions that most people begin to plan and build strategies that help them move ahead in the game. From my experience, here's how the behaviors transform from authentic to synthetic behaviors from Sessions 1 to 3:

When I experienced the high level of purposeful behavior in just the first session from the group of players at Civil Service College, Singapore; I knew there was something unique and incredible here. What this tells me is that the authentic response of the people who were part of my game-based learning session had some notable characteristics:

1. Affinity towards autonomy: They were naturally inclined towards organizing themselves into high performing teams

2. Lacking ego: They showed little to no ego in following directions from a peer

3. Courage: They had the courage to take responsibility and step up when the situation called for it

Today, we see a similar response from Singapore to COVID-19 as highlighted in this insightful article: What Singapore can teach the U.S. about responding to Covid-19. If I had to sum it up in two words, I'd say inter-agency collaboration. We saw that in the form of how well the Ministry of Health cooperated with the Singapore Police Force to rapidly determine links between people confirmed with COVID-19 and their contacts in order to isolate the cases. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, you can read the article for a detailed view of this.

So what's the lesson here?

In my sessions, most teams typically fail after the first session of the game. This is natural because most people are grappling with the idea of the game, how it works, what are the levers that make the game tick and so on. This is because when we don't know how to be in a certain situation, we choose our default setting which may vary from person to person, but in most cases it certainly isn't one of the three characteristics I highlighted above. If we were to break down the three characteristic a little further, it would look like this:

The point being: when we imbibe these characteristics, collaboration and achieving a common goal (solution orientation) becomes a byproduct.

So the question we must ask ourselves is not:

What can we do to build these qualities in ourselves?


What can we do to build these qualities in ourselves such that they become our natural response to situations we encounter in our lives and in business?

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