Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Sonia Ribaux
Hunting treasures for fun and profit.

Encouraging Participation in Debriefing by Roger Greenaway
More practical tips from Roger.

Book Review
The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney & Dennis Meadows
A special deal from Dennis Meadows.

Calculator Game
Triple Nine
How logical are you?

Web Game
Differences: an online Hangman game.
Can you guess the differences that make a difference?

Event Alert
Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)
See you in Switzerland?

Pithy Saying
Advice to Facilitators
Stop being a control freak.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Julie England

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 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 © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

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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.

Feedback Request

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 . Thanks!

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month’s guest, Sonia Ribaux is an instructional designer whose designs are highly interactive with a special focus on games and simulations. She works with a wide variety of clients on diverse topics. She also has been teaching at Concordia University for the last 15 years. As a part-time faculty member she has taught Instructional Design as well as Educational Gaming and Simulation at the Master’s level in the Educational Technology programme. Actively involved in the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA), Sonia hosted its annual conference last year in Montreal. She has published in NASAGA’s newsletter Simages, in the journal Simulation & Gaming and in The Team and Organization Development Sourcebook 2004 and 2005. She is the co-author of the simulation Choices for Poverty Reduction.

Sonia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education from McGill University and a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Concordia University.

She works in French and in English. Sonia lives and plays in Montreal.

An Interview with Sonia Ribaux

PFP: Sonia, what would you say is your specialty area?

Sonia: I’m very much interested in using games and simulations to create some learning around social issues. I recently developed a simulation on poverty reduction that is being used with new development officers at CIDA (Canadian International Develop Agency). I’m also interested in environmental issues.

PFP: How did you get into designing and using games?

Sonia: I took a Gaming and Simulation course with Harold Stolovitch many years ago and decided to make games a focus of my practice. I soon discovered NASAGA and its wacky, warm and generous members. I learned about games and simulation by having to prepare and teach a university course on it. Initially, I really didn’t know much more than my students when I first started.

PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?

Sonia: About 15 years.

PFP: Where do you use games?

Sonia: I almost invariably use games for warm-ups and reviews since they lend themselves so well to those types of activities. But I also try to use games to help participants discover content and make sense of it on their own.

PFP: How do your clients respond?

Sonia: When I suggest incorporating games in training design I usually get a very good response. I think that many clients already know about my interest in games when they contact me, so it’s not really surprising that they are receptive. If someone else is facilitating my designs, I’m more likely to get pushback from the facilitators. I’ve learned that some facilitators need to be coached on how to facilitate games. I haven’t lost one yet.

PFP: How do your participants respond?

Sonia: The best predictor of participants’ response to games in an instructional setting is how comfortable and confident the facilitator is about using games. Enthusiasm is contagious. If the facilitator loves to play, so will the participants. Sometimes I get a participant who doesn’t want to play. I make that person my assistant or give him or her a special role to play and leave it at that. It really doesn’t happen often.

PFP: What is the most embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Sonia: Once I was facilitating a one-day course which included several small games. The participants were very enthusiastic about games. I made a big deal about the fact that we were going to play a really fun game later in the afternoon, sort of to whet their appetites. Well, imagine my dismay when I realized I had not brought the right game! After all the build-up, I felt embarrassed to admit my mistake. I told the participants the truth and challenged them to develop a new game to review the content. They did this with much enthusiasm and I think they thought this was the plan all along.

PFP: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and using games?

Sonia: First, choose game formats that you love to play. Secondly, keep games simple. Third, test your game before you use it with the client (enlisting or blackmailing friends and family members to test your game is a common practice amongst gamers).

When using games, trust that the spirit of play will be ignited in your participants. Deep down, everyone wants to play.

When you want to get acceptance for the use of games, remember that as with everything else, give your client a solution that meets their needs. Focus on the results and use language that is appropriate to the client. If using “games” doesn’t fit in your client’s culture then simply call it an““activity.”

PFP: What do you think is the most important characteristic of an effective facilitator?

Sonia: I think that learning occurs when a facilitator is able to develop a trusting relationship with the participants. When people trust, their minds open and they are ready to learn.

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of an effective training game?

Sonia: The games that I admire the most are those that are simple and elegant. It’s my life goal as a game designer to develop games that are described as simple and elegant.

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of a receptive participant?

Sonia: I love to see a participant who abandons herself to the spirit of play. So much can happen in these circumstances. It’s really fun to watch.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a facilitator?

Sonia: I hate it when the pre-play period is too long. I want to be able to play quickly.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a training game?

Sonia: When the instructions are too complex I get bored and usually make up my own rules. The game can be complex in terms of ideas but the instructions should be straightforward.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a participant?

Sonia: Poor hygiene! No, seriously, negativity. A participant’s inability or unwillingness to engage in new learning situations not only makes the experience unenjoyable for that person, but can also dampen the experience for other participants in the group.

PFP: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Sonia: In a work setting, I use a lot of board games. I have some quick and easy templates for game boards that I can easily customize for a given client. The basic construct of these types of games is, the more you know (or paid attention) the more likely you are to win. So, it makes sense in an instructional setting.

PFP: What is your favorite game?

Sonia: For fun I love to play games like charades or Pictionary or any kind of improv games.

PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?

Sonia: There’s a book called CITE>Playfair that I love. It was written by Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman. These are games to play for fun anytime you’re with a group. The book is from the 80s (so everyone in the photos has bad hair) but you might still find it in a used book store. I also like Kat Koppett’s book on improv activities called CITE>Training to Imagine. And, I love Thiagi’s book, CITE>Design Your Own Games and Activities..

PFP: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Sonia: I predict a world where game stores are as common as book stores, where Playing Games is a major in college and in which adults and children spend as much time playing games as watching TV. That’s my wish list anyway.


Encouraging Participation in Debriefing
by Roger Greenaway

In the December 2004 issue of Play for Performance, Roger Greenaway introduced seven strategies for encouraging participation in debriefing (investigate, facilitate, clarify, demonstrate, change, consult, and inspire) and explored the first strategy in detail. In the previous issue, he explored the next two strategies, facilitate and clarify. This month, he continues with the next two strategies:


People may expect to learn simply by taking part in activities and just listening to discussions. People may not fully appreciate why their participation in the debriefing discussions is important, especially if this is a new way of learning for them. You can urge people with slogans like “The more you put in the more you get out.” But it is far more convincing (and easier to understand) if you can involve group members in an active and credible demonstration of how experience-based learning works.

Use blindfolds and observers. One of the most effective (and fun) ways of demonstrating the value of debriefing is to set up a team of observers watching a group carry out a task blindfolded. At debriefing time, the people who were blindfolded are keen to find out what was happening that they didn't see. Feedback can be one-to-one if half of the group members are given the role of observers. After this debrief, ask people to swap roles and set up a new task for the blindfolded people to complete. After the second review, everyone will be asking questions and giving answers. To put the icing on the cake explain that all the exercises in your session are in a sense “blindfold” projects because no one ever sees the full picture. By sharing thoughts and observations we can all see and learn a lot more.

Use time-outs or process breaks. Another good way of explaining how experience-based learning works is to create a half-time break in a physical problem-solving exercise. Explain that this time-out is like half-time in a game of two halves, and that this break makes it easier for everyone to think about possible changes in strategy before going in to the second half. For some people, debriefing at half-time will make a lot more sense than debriefing when the game is over. When this is the case, encourage frequent process breaks rather than saving everything for a post-mortem at the end (when it is too late to make changes). Encourage groups to take time out from working on the task and to take a look at the process.

Conduct an observation walk. One of my favorite introductions to how experience-based learning is to send a group on a short independent walk that I call Observation Project. The walk ends at a meeting place that is inspirational and makes people want to open their eyes wide and look around (such as a scenic viewpoint on top of a hill or a place beside some amazing piece of architecture). The debriefing at this point is a series of rounds in which people report one observation at a time. If prompting is needed, I ask people to comment on what they observed about the environment, about each other, and about themselves. I then point out how experience-based learning depends on the sharing of observations about things, others, and self. The more you open your eyes and your mouths, the more you will learn.


Create smaller groups. The size of the group can be critical during debriefing. People tend to speak up more in smaller groups, depending (of course) on the mix of people in each small group.

Create smaller groups of like-minded people. First ask a question that can be answered on a scale and define the two ends of the scale. For example: “If you think the quality of teamwork was brilliant, stand at this end of the line. If you think teamwork was hopeless, stand at the other end. Or find a point in between that fits your perception.” Before anyone moves, ask them to choose the point they are going to. Once in position in the line, people find themselves standing close to people with a similar opinion. They have found like-minded people on this issue. Divide people into triads and give them 5 minutes to prepare to report back to the whole group on why they chose their particular position.

Silence the louder group members. If you are not careful you will end up embarrassing the quieter members and upsetting the louder ones. So how you set up these ground rules is important. Say something like this: “I believe that everyone in this group will get much more value if the quieter members participate more. Do you share this belief?” Discuss any issues that arise in response. Then, if appropriate, say: “Sharing a similar belief is a good start. I have a few gimmicks that will help get you there more quickly. I'd like you to give them a try. But please speak up if you feel these gimmicks are getting in the way.”

Ask the group to form up in a line with the most frequent contributor at one end and the least frequent contributor at the other end. Compliment the two or three people at each part of the line:

Ask people to sit down in this new order, and in the discussion that follows always give those who normally contribute the least the first opportunity to speak. Explain that this is not pressure, but is an opportunity to have your say before everyone else takes the words out of your mouth. Check with the group from time to time if they are happy with this new seating arrangement and the new rule or if they would prefer to return to the original approach.

What Next?

Next month, Roger will explore the two final strategies (consult and inspire) for encouraging participation in debriefing. If you are in a hurry, you can read about all the strategies (and much more) by visiting .

Book Review

The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney & Dennis Meadows

Following Dennis Meadows' Guest Gamer interview last month, many readers wanted to know how to get a copy of his Systems Thinking Playbook (co-authored with Linda Booth Sweeney). We are happy to offer a special deal from Dennis Meadows to PFP readers.

A Quick Review of the Book

The book contains 30 short experiential activities or games related to systems thinking and organizational learning. These powerful games are classified into these areas of learning: mental models, team learning, systems, thinking, shared vision, and personal mastery. Each activity begins with a conceptual introduction, proceeds through step-by-step instructions, and concludes with questions, suggestions, and models for debriefing. Several games include a section called “Voices from the Field” with insightful reports from practitioners who have used the games in different contexts.

As many of my workshop participants point out, there is a big difference between reading about a game and watching it in action. The Playbook has a 2-hour long companion DVD that shows the authors conducting each game with a group of participants. Each video segment lasts for 2 to 5 minutes and captures the essence of the game.

A Special Deal

The Playbook normally sells for $70 without the DVD. You can purchase it for $60 by ordering it through our online store. As a special benefit for PFP readers, Dennis has agreed to include the DVD at no extra charge. Wait, there's more! (I know, I'm sounding like a cheap infomercial.) If you order now, we will throw in free shipping for US orders. (For overseas orders, please send an email to and she will email back with the shipping cost).

This offer is available only until April 15, 2005. Order it right now.

Calculator Game

Triple Nine

The key to such procedures as needs analysis, market research, and evaluation is the ability to find patterns in available information, collect additional information, and come to logical conclusions. We devised a game with a pocket calculator to teach this type of logical thinking.

Here's the basic structure of the game: Your opponent enters a secret three-digit number in her calculator. You supply numbers to be added. Your opponent keeps a running total and tells you how many nines there are in the resulting totals. She also identifies another digit without revealing its position. Your goal is to reach the total of 999 with the least number of attempts.


To think logically and achieve a goal with the fewest moves.


Two. Larger groups can be divided into pairs that play the game simultaneously.


5 minutes for each match. The game can be replayed any number of times.


Secret number. The first player enters a three-digit number (a number from 100 to 999) and tells her opponent that she is ready.

Cathy punches in her secret number 297, presses the plus key and says, “Ready!”

Add a number. The second player calls out a number that has one, two, or three digits. The first player adds this number to her original number. She then informs her opponent

John says, “Add 123.” Cathy does so and gets a total of 420. She says, “No nines and a four.”

Repeat. Continue the process of the second player calling out a number, the first player adding it to to the total, and giving information about nines and one other digit. Keep track of how many moves the second player takes.

John says, “Add 555,” hoping to change the four to a nine regardless of its position. Cathy adds the 555 and gets 975. She tells John, “One nine and a five.” This is the end of the second move.

Four digits. If the total goes over 999 any time during the play of the game, the first player returns to the previous total. She says, “Overflow!” and does not give any additional information. This is counted as a move.

John guesses that the nine is in the hundreds place, though he is not sure of the location of the five. To make the maximum use of the situation, he asks Cathy to add 44. When Cathy does this, she gets a total of 1019. So she presses the minus key, cancels the last addition, and says, “Overflow.” This is the end of the third move.

John is not upset because he has collected useful information. His hunch about the nine in the hundreds place is confirmed. He also figures out that the tens digit (the digit in the middle) is greater than five because only then could the total have gone over a thousand. Therefore, the five must be in the units place. He calls out, “Add four.” Cathy's total is now 979 and she responds with “Two nines and a seven.”

John has figured out the entire number now. To finish off the game, he say, “Add 20.” Cathy does so and announces “Three nines.” The first game ends in five moves.

Reverse roles. The game is played again with the roles reversed. The second player in the previous game now selects a secret number and the other player tries to run it up to 999.

Here's the complete game when it is Cathy's turn to guess:

Move 1. Cathy begins by saying, “Add 123.” John does so and announces, “No nines and a one.”

Move 2. Cathy figures out that the one cannot be in the hundreds place because John began with a three-digit number and added 123. So the “1” has to be in the tens or units place. Cathy guesses the latter and says, “Add an eight.” John does the addition and says, “No nines and a two.”

Move 3. Cathy takes a moment to process this information. Since she did not get a nine, the units digit was not the one. It must have been in the tens place. Since the units digit wasn't a one, adding eight would have made it ten or more, so the tens place must have gone up to 2. To clinch this digit, Cathy says, “Add 70.” John reports “One nine and a three.”

Move 4. Where is this three? Since this is the fourth round, Cathy does not think it is in the hundreds place. So she says, “Add six.” Her guess was wrong. John says, “Still one nine and a three.”

Move 5. Apparenly the three was (and still is) in the hundreds place. Cathy says, “Add 600.” As she expected, she gets two nines and a six.

Move 6. Cathy has the entire number now. She says, “Add 3,” and gets her triple nines.

Match. Two games make a match. The player who gets the triple nine with the least number of moves wins the match.

Since Cathy needed six moves and John only five, John wins.

Web Game

Differences: an online Hangman game.

Hangman is a popular paper-and-pencil game for two people. In this game, you think of a word or a phrase and indicate the number of letters by drawing short blanks for each letter on a piece of paper. The other player tries to guess the word by calling out one letter at a time. If that letter appears in your word, you place it in the appropriate blank. (If it appears more than once, you place it in all appropriate blanks.)

The other player continues calling out new letters and you continue placing each letter in the correct blank. When the player guesses your word completely, she wins.

What if the other player calls out a letter that does not appear in your word? Then you start drawing lines to progressively to build a gallows and hang a stick figure.

The game ends when the other player wins (by correctly guessing your word) or loses (by calling out several incorrect letters and getting “hanged”).

Hangman and Concept Learning

Hangman is an effective tool for helping people master concepts.

For example, if I tell you that I am thinking of a typical de-motivating factor in the workplace, I am challenging you to recall several possible examples from this concept category. (Right now, your brain is probably thinking of such unpleasant things as boring assignments, bureaucracy, delays, excessive paperwork, lack of feedback, and lack of recognition.) As a trainer, I can use a Hangman as a preliminary activity to encourage participants to think of the concept category before explaining how to improve workplace motivation. Alternatively, I can use Hangman as a review activity to encourage you to recall main points from my lecture.

Web-Based Benefits

We have a web game shell that creates online versions of Hangman games. Here are advantages of playing Hangman online instead of playing it with a friend:


We have a web-based Hangman game for you to play. This game is from a diversity training workshop. Its purpose is to help participants recall types of differences among people that make a difference in the workplace.

In this game, the computer displays a question, followed by several blank answer circles. Each answer circle represents a letter in the correct answer. You must type the correct answer to each question before time runs out.

This is how you play the game:

Read the question. Guess the answer. Type a letter that is part of the answer. If you are right, then the letter appears in the appropriate answer circle. If this letter occurs more than once in the answer, it appears in every appropriate answer circle. You hear a positive sound. The corresponding letter in the list below on the screen turns green.

If you are wrong, the computer remembers it. You hear a negative sound. The corresponding letter in the list below turns red.

If you complete the answer correctly, it flashes, and your score goes up by 14 points, minus the number of mistakes you made on the current item. (If you don't make any mistakes on any items, you will get an overall score of 100 points.)

If you run out of time or make too many mistakes, the correct answer flashes.

In either case, the next question appears. Actually, it is the same question, but the answer is different.

The game ends after the seven questions.

Click “Play Again” to replay the game. You get different items in a different order.

You can play the question at different levels of difficulty. At Level 1, you are given a free letter. At Level 2, you do not have any free letters. At Level 3, you have to spell the answer correctly one letter at a time, from left to right.

Play Differences right now (requires Flash and JavaScript).

More About Web Game Shells

Web Games Shells are animated online games. We have a software program that enables you to create five different types of web games. You don't have to be a computer programmer to create these games. Just type the items (questions and answers or statements to be classified) on a template and click a couple of buttons. Your game is ready to play. You can play the game at your computer or upload it to your web site.

You can play different sample web games and read the Game Design Manuals and Instructional Design Tips by visiting the Web Game Shells area of our website.

While the games are effective and exciting by themselves, we blend them in our online learning approach called the Four-Door Approach to Elearning. You can take our free online course to learn (and experience) how to use the library, the playground, the café, and the torture chamber to provide effective and engaging online learning. To do this, visit Online Courses by Thiagi, click on the name of the course, and create a new account.

For more information about purchasing and using the Web Game Shells software, call Matt (415-385-7248) or Raja (812-332-1478).

Event Alert

Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)

Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)
April 25-30, 2005
Winterthur, Switzerland

If your job involves intercultural communication (whose job doesn't?), I'd like to invite you to the conference on Intercultural Competence for Practitioners and Trainers in Zurich during April 25th - 30th. This workshop, organized in cooperation with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur (Switzerland), features such well-known authorities as Milton and Janet Bennett, Anita Rowe, Lynn Witham, Peter Stadler, and Samuel van den Bergh.

I am conducting two workshops. One of them is Interactive Experiential Strategies for Cross-Cultural Training. The other one is Building High-performance Trans-cultural Teams; I am teaming up with my Swiss friend Samuel van Den Bergh to conduct this workshop.

In conjunction with the conference, I am also conducting an online workshop on Online Interactive Strategies for Virtual Teams.

Check out for more information about the conference (PDF file; requires Acrobat Reader).

Special Benefits

Airfare to Zurich is less expensive than to many US locations.

The workshop is held in Winterthur (which is close to Zurich and its airport), a city of culture and a gateway to a region of leisure ( ).

Pithy Saying

Advice to Facilitators

Don't be afraid of losing control.

Be very afraid of keeping control.

You cannot control your children—or your participants—for the rest of their lives. You cannot keep holding their hands, looking over their shoulders, and shouting instructions.

Of course, there is a time to guide and coach the learners. But true learning begins only when you let go of the participants and encourage them to make mistakes. Trial and error is the preferred learning style of some learners. It is also the best way to learn certain skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

What makes us control freaks when it comes to training? Lack of trust. We don't trust ourselves enough to believe that we could efficiently train people. And we don't trust our participants enough to realize that they will practice on their own if we get out of their way.