SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
An Interview with Marc Shiman
A world traveler has some interesting thoughts.
Encouraging Participation in Debriefing by Roger Greenaway
Roger Greenaway provides some valuable tips.
A teambuilding activity from an African folk game.
Even your clearest presentation may confuse some participants.
Classification Card Game
Rows and Columns
Another fast-paced two-person training game.
Learning from Games
Two contradictory statements.
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2004 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (email@example.com) for permission.
All registered subscribers receive Play For Performance free of charge.
However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.
Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Marc Shiman, is an international management consultant who specializes in bringing together people unaccustomed to working together to solve problems. For the past 14 years, he has been working in developing nations in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Former Soviet Union, and the Caribbean States to help governments make it easier to for businesspeople to get businesses started. Most of this work requires the interaction between businesspeople and government officials, two groups of people that have not historically interacted.
Thiagi: Marc, what types of games do you typically use?
Marc: My games are primarily designed to help people reach that “ah-ha” regarding their work and their relationships with other stakeholders. Many of my clients have built bunkers and fortified themselves against other stakeholders and aren't really aware of the nuances and commonalities of the relationships between each other.
“Process” is a big part of my work too; I help government officials recognize what aspects of their work is non-value added and what part contributes to the goals of the government. I have a few games that require officials to identify and weed out steps that are unrelated to their goals.
I also do customer service training for government officials frequently. Good customer service training requires a great deal of role play, and games liven that up considerably.
Thiagi: How did you get into designing and using games?
Marc: I was facilitating my first workshop in 1996 in a lakefront facility in Malawi, a small country in East Africa. I had experience in co-facilitating, but I had never designed a workshop on my own before. I picked up a book called The Winning Trainer by Julius Eitington which I later christened “my bible”. This book truly advances the concepts of active learning as suggested by the one chapter on lecture entitled “if you MUST lecture”. I believe this book is out of print now, but my dog-eared copy still sits next to me in my bookshelf.
Because my workshop wasn't exactly training, but a problem solving session, I found a game in The Winning Trainer which, with easy modification, I was able to use to help government officials understand why bureaucracy exists. The game was much more powerful way to illustrate a difficult point than anything I could have said or facilitated through question and answer. Since then I've always made it a point to use games to illustrate and reinforce key points.
Thiagi: How do you design games?
Marc: I wish I had a methodology that I could repeat in designing games. I am not very good at designing something from scratch; I do much better taking someone else's brilliant idea and modifying it to meet my needs. Often the “modification” is actually an overhaul as the original designer hadn't considered the possibilities that I see.
I also don't usually start with a set of objectives and modify to suit. More frequently, I see a structure of a game, see a value in communicating a message which I struggle to do through roleplay or verbal communication and build both the objective and the game simultaneously. My best games come when the objectives and the game evolve over time.
Thiagi: How do your participants respond?
Marc: Most of the people I work with, government officials in developing countries, have never been exposed to a “playful” environment during a workshop. However, I usually set the tone early and often that this will not be the standard workshop in which we trot out lecturers and then send everyone home. By the time we reach the game, people are already active and upbeat. Still, they often begin with some trepidation but participate in the game with enthusiasm.
One technique which sometimes works is to co-opt the two most senior officials in the room as “judges” (in games in which judging is necessary). This has a strong flavor of coercion in getting people to play and play actively, but my experience is that nature takes its course and people really enjoy playing.
Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and using games?
Marc: It's hard for me to advise someone else, because many different people have different approaches to design. Some people are very linear thinkers: they start with a goal, determine the types of games available, choose one and maybe practice it once or twice before rolling it out. Personally I can't really work this way. Games for me have been about inspiration and opportunity.
The problem is that unless you've been in front of people and you've come to understand what points are easily illustrated without games and which ones need an active learning approach, it is close to impossible to take an opportunistic approach to game design.
Reading books on game design is good, but for all but the extremely introverted, I can't think of a better source of inspiration for game design than being around other designers like those you come across at organizations like NASAGA. At the last conference I attended, I must have come up with a half dozen ideas for new games, a few of which I intend to use right away. For me, that's a lot of games as my games can often be fairly complex.
Thiagi: Can you please describe a game that you frequently use.
Marc: One of the first games I used—and one that I still use—is a building game. The original game was to give participants bricks, blocks, newspapers, magazines and anything else you could find. Their job was to build a tower that would be evaluated on aesthetics, strength, and height.
I slightly modified this to include several building objects that would not help the participants achieve objectives (such as string and leaves). I then created two teams of 6 each and assigned each person on the team a building material. I gave each team 15 minutes.
Some teams have tried to use all of the building materials that existed, some tended to just use the ones that help achieve the objectives. This usually provides a launch point for a discussion on using tools that do not contribute to the organizations goals (which is ultimately pointed out as unnecessary bureaucracy). As with all of my games, the key to a successful game is a quality debrief.
By the way, offering to buy the winning team a round of beers at the end of the workshop does wonders in getting people active.
Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Marc: Clearly the use of computers and the geniuses that are driving more realistic games by the day are stretching gaming and simulations well beyond a point that was ever thought possible. Now with the internet we see teaming and interaction in computer gaming, something that was never possible just a few years ago.
However, I believe in the power of people working together to solve problems, and I'm not referring to some sort of virtual workspace. Virtual teaming may satisfy the introverts and those who wish to wear nothing more than underwear while they learn, but I believe that the lack of interaction and all of the non-verbal cues that go with virtual learning take away from the experience.
The concept of an in-workshop game is not changing very dramatically, and the number of practitioners that can effectively use a game in this setting is limited. To be a game designer and game implementer, you have to have a passion for seeing people learn, an ability to improvise, a comfort level in front of people, and a level of humility that allows you to accept that people need to learn, and in most cases they do this with your guidance, not your teaching. Unfortunately this is not a set of characteristics found among the majority of trainers.
Despite your best efforts to get everyone fully involved in the learning process, some people still choose to stay on the sidelines. So how can you get everyone eagerly taking part?
Here are some tips to encourage participation in debriefing sessions. Please note that these tips assume that participants are reasonably happy about taking part in the “doing/experiencing” part of experience-based learning, but that in your group there are a few people who switch off during debriefing sessions and who contribute very little.
Here are seven strategies to encourage participation in reviews. Each strategy is illustrated with examples in the latter part of this article.
Let's now explore each of these seven strategies in more detail. In this issue, I will provide additional information about the first strategy, Investigate. Future issues will contain details of the other strategies. If you are in a hurry, you can read about all the strategies (and much more) by visiting http://reviewing.co.uk/ .
Find out why people are not participating. This is an obvious place to start, but it can be a “Catch 22” if people remain quiet when you ask them why they are quiet. By putting people on the spot you also risk making them feel even more uncomfortable and even more reluctant to get involved. So find a way of finding out perhaps asking them on their own or via someone who knows them well. You are not guaranteed (and may not want to hear) the whole truth and a full explanation, but you should learn enough to improve participation levels.
Find out what would make it easier for people to participate. Review the initial experiences of the group by asking people to complete the following sentence beginnings in paired interviews. If you use these as rounds in the whole group, be sure to allow passing.
Sequencing—yours or theirs? Sometimes people will find it difficult to contribute because the sequencing of your questions or review tasks is out of tune with the stage that they have reached (however sound the theory on which your sequencing is based!). Find out if you are going too fast, too slow or are heading off in a different direction. Allow for individual variation in learners—who have each had different experiences and who each learn in different ways at different depths and different speeds. Encourage diversity in learning, however convenient it might be to streamline the process and attempt to find one pace and style for all.
At the recent annual Conference of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research, I participated in an interesting group activity called Yan-koloba®.
I first heard exciting reports about this activity (created by Emmanuel Ngomsi from an African folk game) a few years ago. But I carefully avoided it because the game reportedly involved singing and doing rhythmic stuff. However, I did attend the play session at the SIETAR conference (only after making sure that none of the other Thiagi Group members would be there to watch me making a fool of myself).
I enjoyed the session so much that I invited a bunch of friends to dinner and played the game! How's that for total conversion?
The idea behind the game is delightfully simple: Three to 50 participants sit on the floor or at tables arranged in a circle. Each participant has a wooden block that she taps on the table to create a sound. All participants do this rhythmically in unison. Once participants master the simple act of keeping time with each other, the facilitator adds additional elements such as chanting the “Yan-koloba” song (I avoided the singing part by lip synching with the group) and passing the block to the participant on the right. The group continues the rhythmic chant, the synchronized tapping, and passing the block. When a participant misses a step, the group corrects itself automatically and keeps the rhythm going. During later rounds, the facilitator introduces complex movements such as tapping the block six times in an elaborate pattern before passing it on to the next participant.
The activity becomes an interesting metaphor for teamwork, collaboration, trust, leadership, and other such concepts. The activity is stopped from time to time to debrief the participants and relate their experience and insights to their workplace.
My friend Diane Hofner Saphiere (the talented designer of several diversity games) says:
Yan-koloba is a wonderfully energizing and unifying activity. It clearly shows us how important the contributions of each and every team member is to team success, and how that success in turn affects our personal feelings of achievement.
I could not have said it any better myself.
Details: Yan-koloba Corporate Edition Game Package (contains 24 blocks and pads, facilitator booklet, videotape, and audiotape) US$119.95. To order, call 888-646-5656 or visit www.universalhighways.com .
Even the clearest presentation is likely to confuse at least few audience members. Setting aside ample time to answer questions from the audience is an effective strategy to clarify your ideas. This interactive lecture uses a card swapping strategy to help participants share their confusion without revealing their ignorance.
You make a fast-paced presentation covering essential topics. Participants anonymously ask questions about confusing and difficult aspects of your presentation. You answer these questions and use a simple strategy to help participants recall and summarize key concepts.
Explain the format. Tell participants that you are going to set aside half of the time assigned to you for responding to questions from the audience. Warn participants that your initial presentation will be fairly fast-paced and encourage them to take useful notes.
Chuck is making a presentation on US corporate benefits to a group of 15 Customer Service Associates at a Help Desk facility in Manila. His presentation is scheduled for a 50 minute time slot. Chuck explains that he is planning to spend half of that time for the question-and-answer session.
Make your presentation. Present the information in a logical and coherent fashion. Do not provide unnecessary and redundant explanations. Discourage questions from the audience at this stage. Conclude your presentation quickly to leave sufficient time for the question-and-answer discussion.
Chuck spends 5 minutes on each of these four topics:
He takes care not to talk fast and rush through the content. Instead, he focuses on presenting a few key concepts related to each topic.
Ask participants to write questions. Invite them to review their notes, think about what they heard, and recall difficult, incomplete, and confusing topics about which they would like to have additional information. Distribute two blank index cards to each participant. Ask them to write a question on each card that they would like you to answer. Tell participants to work independently and set a 1-minute time limit.
Aida, one of the participants, immediately writes this question on one of the cards: “What exactly do you mean by the portability of the defined benefit plan? I do not understand how a corporation will let an employee take his pension funds to a new employer.” After reviewing her notes she comes up with a question for the second card: “Can an employee transfer funds from a defined contribution plan to a defined benefit plan?”
Redistribute question cards. At the end of the minute, blow a whistle and ask participants to complete their two questions. Instruct all participants to hold their question cards with the written side down, stand up, move around, and swap cards with each other (without reading the questions). Ask them to wander around and swap their cards for about 30 seconds. Ask participants to return to their seats with the two cards they most recently received.
At the end of the card exchange period, here are the questions that Aida ends up with:
“Can we classify Social Security as a defined benefit?”
“What does the word ‘vested’ mean?”
Explain the procedure. Point out that participants do not know whose questions they currently have, so they don't have to worry about appearing foolish by asking silly questions. You are now going to invite participants to take turns reading questions from the cards. Add a playful alternative to the procedure: A participant may pretend to read the question from the card but actually ask a question that she wants answered.
Aida does not think that either of the questions she has are important ones, so she decides to ask her original question if she is invited.
Encourage participants to listen to the answers. Invite them to take notes about your answers. Warn them that a future activity requires careful note taking and recall.
Aid gets her notebook ready.
Conduct the question-and-answer session. Invite the first volunteer to read one of the two questions she has. Give a short and relevant answer. Repeat the process with additional volunteers. Encourage participants to read the most important questions since time is limited.
Chuck listens to the questions carefully and gives simple and straightforward answers.
Conclude the question-and-answer session. After about 25 minutes, announce the end of the question-and-answer session. Explain that you are going to tie up some loose ends. Make a brief presentation covering important topics that were not explored in your earlier answers.
During the question-and-answer period, Chuck was slightly surprised by the fact that nobody asked any questions about trends in US corporate benefit. So he spends some time recapping important trends and predicting their future impact.
Invite participants to reflect on your presentation. Distribute additional blank index cards. Ask each participant to review her notes, reflect on your answers, and write down a summary sentence on the index card that captures one important idea. After a suitable pause, collect the cards with summary sentences. Randomly select three of these cards and read the sentences.
The sentences that Chuck reads indicate that the participants have a good grasp of the key concept. Chuck is happy about the situation.
Conclude the session. Thank the group for taking the responsibility for their own learning. Acknowledge that you probably did not answer critical questions from all participants. Ask participants to collect cards with unanswered questions and give them to you. Collect these question cards and announce that you will post the answers on your web site.
After removing duplicates, Chuck ends up with 17 different questions. With the help of a couple of his friends, he writes clear answers in plain English and posts at the company's website.
There is not enough time? Set aside half of whatever time you have. Remember that it is more important to clarify participants' confusion rather than to unload more details.
There are too many people? Ask participants look at their questions and decide if it is important. Respond to the first five or six questions. Collect the remaining questions and create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) web page.
Participants feel left out because you did not read their summary sentence? Collect all of the cards and tape them to the wall. Invite participants to take a “gallery walk”, read the cards, and compare them with each other.
Here's another game in our recent series of two-person games with classification card decks. This game is different from most typical card games.
To rapidly recognize the behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, perceptions, expectations, problems, and strategies associated with the four stages of team development.
Two. Larger groups may be divided into pairs to play the game in a parallel fashion. If an odd player is left out, the facilitator can play the game with this person.
5 - 10 minutes. The game may be replayed several times to determine the winner of a match.
How To Play Rows and Columns Handout. This handout (which includes a glossary page) summarizes the rules of the game. Make a copy for each player.
Four Stages of Team Development Handout. This handout summarizes Tuckman's model. Make a copy for each player.
Feedback Table. This table is used for settling disputes during the game. The table lists each card number and the correct team-development stage (or stages) associated with it. Photocopy this handout to provide a copy of this table to each player.
A deck of GROWING A TEAM Cards. This deck contains 99 cards. Prepare your own deck by typing the numbers and statements from this list on your own cards. (See below if you don't have the patience to do this.)
Assemble play groups. Organize participants into pairs. Give a deck of Growing A Team cards to each pair. Also distribute a copy of the Feedback Table to each player, asking players to place it with the printed side down.
Introduce the four stages. Distribute copies of the knowledge-base handout, Four Stages of Team Development. Make a brief presentation, using examples that are relevant to the players.
Brief the players. Acknowledge that most players may not have a complete grasp of the four stages in team development. Explain that you are going to play a card game that will help them become more fluent with these stages.
Introduce the Growing A Team cards. Ask each player to pick up a card from the deck. Ask a player to read the statement on the card and invite everyone to identify the team-development stage associated with the statement. Announce the correct stage. Explain that this is the suit of the card. Demonstrate how to verify the suit by using the Feedback Table.
Explain the rules. Distribute copies of the handout, How To Play Rows and Columns. Walk the players through the rules.
Monitor the game. Ask the players at each table to select the first dealer and begin the game. Walk around the room, clarifying rules and settling disputes among players as needed.
Deal the cards. Deal 10 cards to each player, one card at a time. Take the next card from the deck and place it, face down, in the middle of the table. Place the rest of the deck aside, face down. You will not be using these cards during this game.
Object of the game. You and the other player take turns, playing one card from your hand, face up, all around the face down card. Eventually you and the other player will create a 3x3 grid of cards with the face down card marking the center. If you are the dealer, your objective is to create horizontal rows that contain cards of the same suit. If you are the nondealer, your objective is to create vertical columns that contain cards of the same suit. (The face-down card in the center is a “wild” card and it may be included in the central row or middle column to represent a card of any suit.)
Scoring. At the end of the game, when the 3x3 grid is complete, you calculate your score. If you are the dealer, you score 5 points for any horizontal row that contains all three cards of the same suit. You score 2 points for any row that contains two cards of the same suit. Similarly, if you are the nondealer, you score 5 points for any vertical column that contains all three cards of the same suit and 2 points for any column that contains two cards of the same suit. (Because of the wild card in the middle, your score will never be lower than 2.)
Analysis. After the deal and before the play of the game, each player studies the 10 cards in her hand and organizes them by suit. Play begins only when both players have completed this analysis.
Taking turns. Nondealer plays first. She studies her cards, selects any card, and places it above, below, to the right, to the left, or diagonally to the face-down card. The dealer now studies the placement of the cards and the cards in her own hand. She selects a card and places it face up on the imaginary 3x3 grid. Players take turns playing cards in this fashion, making sure that all cards are placed adjacent (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) to the face-down center card.
Concluding the game. Game ends when the dealer plays her fourth card face up, completing the 3x3 grid.
Computing the score. The nondealer identifies the cards in each of the three columns and scores
After this, the dealer calculates her score for each of the three horizontal rows.
Continuing. Players alternate dealing the cards and keep a running total of their score at the end of the games.
Determining the winner. The first player to reach a total of 15 wins the match.
Dealer. At the beginning of the game, one of the players shuffles the deck and distributes the cards one at a time. This player is the dealer. When more than one game is played, players alternate being the dealer.
Hand. All the cards each player receives at the beginning of the game.
High. Scoring one point by winning the trick that contains the highest-ranked card played in the game. In case of a tie for the highest-ranked card, the winner of the highest-numbered card scores one point for high.
Suit. One of the three attributes of a card. The suit is the category to which the printed item on the card belongs (example: Forming). Some cards belong to more than one suit.
In 1965 B. W. Tuckman, who had been studying the behavior of small groups, published a model that suggests that all teams go through four distinct stages in their development:
Forming. The first stage in a team's development is forming. During this stage, the team members are unsure about what they are doing. Their focus is on understanding the team's goal and their role. They worry about whether the other team members will accept them. Team members frequently look for clarification from their leader.
Storming. The second stage in a team's development is storming. During this stage, the team members try to get organized. This stage is marked by conflict among the members and between the members and the leader. Through this conflict, the team attempts to define itself.
Norming. The third stage in a team's development is norming. This stage follows storming, after the team members have succeeded in resolving their conflicts. They now feel more secure with one another and with their leader. They effectively negotiate the structure of the team and the division of labor.
Performing. The fourth stage in a team's development is performing. During this stage the team members behave in a mature fashion and focus on accomplishing their goals. This stage is marked by direct, two-way communication among the team members.
|Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit||Card. Suit|
|1. P||21. F||41. P||61. S||81. F|
|2. N||22. P||42. F||62. N||82. P|
|3. N||23. S||43. S, N||63. F, S||83. P|
|4. P||24. S||44. S||64. S||84. N, P|
|5. F||25. N||45. N||65. F||85. P|
|6. P||26. N||46. N, P||66. N||86. F, S|
|7. F||27. P||47. P||67. F||87. P|
|8. P||28. S||48. F||68. P||88. P|
|9. F||29. N||49. S||69. P||89. N|
|10. S||30. S||50. F||70. P||90. F|
|11. S||31. S||51. P||71. P||91. S|
|12. N, P||32. S||52. P||72. F||92. S|
|13. F||33. N||53. S||73. N||93. F, S|
|14. P||34. F||54. F||74. P||94. P|
|15. F||35. N||55. P||75. N||95. F|
|16. N||36. N, P||56. F||76. P||96. S|
|17. P||37. F||57. F||77. N||97. P|
|18. F||38. N, P||58. P||78. P||98. N, P|
|19. F||39. N, P||59. S||79. F||99. N|
|20. N||40. N||60. P||80. N, P|
We will sell you a deck of ready-made printed cards with team-development items, along with the Feedback Table. Currently selling for $18, we will give you a 50 percent discount of $9 and throw in free shipment (for USA orders only)! Order your decks through our secure online store.
Here are two apparently contradictory statements:
You cannot play any game without learning something from that experience.
You cannot train anyone by using games.
The first statement is obviously true. It does not matter what game you play. Whenever you play any game with anybody, you learn something useful—even if only never to play that game with that person. In most cases, you learn more useful things about the game, about your “opponent”, about strategies and tactics, about planning and being in the moment, about winning and losing, and about yourself.
Many books highlight how playing some game or other will eventually lead to the discovery of the meaning of life. Even though I have never played golf, I enjoyed reading Steven Pressfield's The Legend of Bagger Vance. The book lives up to the blurb on its flap: “[A] story in which the search for the Authentic Swing becomes a metaphor for the search for the Authentic Self….[I]n life as well as in golf, the real battle is not with outside opponents but with oneself.”
The second statement is obviously false. But it is frequently made by trainers and trainees alike. So it must have an element of truth to it.
When people suggest that you cannot learn by playing games, they are referring to the learning of content: facts, figures, concepts, technical terms, and other such things. You do not learn financial accounting by merely playing a lemonade stand simulation game. However, you do learn basic concepts of keeping track of money and making profits by playing the simulation—even though you may not master the terminology associated with cash flow and balance sheets. To ensure effective learning, we need both experiential learning (playing a game) and rational learning (mastering the logic and terminology). Rational learning alone will not result in the application of new concepts to real-world situations. Experiential learning alone will not result in the mastery of logical principles and procedures.
This is the reason why I emphasize the use of framegames to provide practice, application, and feedback after being exposed to content from books, lectures, video presentations, and websites. This is also the reason why I emphasize lengthy debriefing discussions after the play of simulation games.