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

Stupid Research Tricks
“Which is better?” is a silly question.

Simulation Game
White Water
How to cope with frequent change.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Stella Ting-Toomey
A conversation with an expert in intercultural communications.

Nonverbal Violations by Stella Ting-Toomey
An unusual roleplay to explore important principles.

Event Alert
Intercultural Competence
Cheap thrills in two exotic locales.

Five Books on Five Different Topics
Games, teams, generations, energy, and trust.





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

Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin

Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. 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 © 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

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 Workshops by Thiagi, 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!


Stupid Research Tricks

Which is more effective: training games or instructional videotapes?

A lot of people write to me for research data to prove that training games are better than other types of training strategies.

This question above is very much like another question: Which are better: apples or oranges?

The answer obviously depends on a number of factors.

The comparison between training games and videotapes (or lectures, or textbooks, or CBT, or workshops, or any other training strategies) is as meaningless as comparing apples and oranges.

What Type Of Game?

When we say training games, what exactly do we mean? At this time, I have worked on more than 60 interactive experiential strategies that fall within the popular definitions of training game. Obviously, there is an enormous difference between a simulation game that authentically reflects workplace processes and an icebreaker that requires participants to match the lines of a limerick. Similarly, what do we mean by the term videotape? Are we referring to a talking-head video of a lecture by an expert or an award winning documentary of creative behaviors, or a segment of a feature movie that is used to illustrate some instructional content? How about a videotape that presents critical customer-relations vignettes, pauses after each vignette, requires teams to analyze the situation and come up with recommendations, and score points based on the similarity of these recommendations and those from a panel of experts? Do we classify this hybrid technique as a training game or a videotape?

A decade ago, my friend Richard Clark at University of Southern California did a meta-analysis of controlled research studies that compared different training media such as an educational film and classroom instruction. Not surprisingly, Clark came up with the conclusion that media don't make any difference. What makes the difference is the design elements. For example, we can use a “discovery-learning” design approach in an educational film or a classroom lesson. The critical factor is not the medium but some specific feature of the medium. If we extrapolate Clark's findings to our initial question, we will conclude that it is not training games but specific features of games (such as active participation, score points, interaction among team members, and competition across teams) that make a difference. It is not videotapes in general, but the critical features (such as realism, motion, and audiovisual capabilities) that make a difference.

What Is the Purpose?

Whether a game is more effective than a videotape also depends on the purpose to which it is being used. A simulation game is effective when used for helping participants acquire certain analytical skills. However, it would be ineffective for helping participants get acquainted with each other at the beginning of a training session. An icebreaker with lines of limerick effectively serves the purpose of getting acquainted but it will be perceived as being silly when used in the middle of a workshop on cost-benefit analysis. Whether we compare a training game with a videotape, or one training game with another, or one videotape with another, it is important to specify the purpose for which the training technique is being used.

Who Are The Participants?

Different people react differently to the same training game. For example, a game that highly motivates a typical US group may be perceived as fluff and irrelevant by a typical Canadian group and downright threatening by a typical Japanese group. Similarly, a videotape that excites a group of young adults can confuse a group of older adults. The opposite could also be true: a traditional videotape that appeals to baby boomers may bore members of the Nintendo generation.

Toward The Answer

Comparing training games with other training techniques is a meaningless exercise unless we specify exactly

Here's one way our initial question could be rephrased:

Which of these two techniques is more effective in helping a group of experienced hotel employees acquire customer-service skills: an authentic simulation game that incorporates critical incidents and includes a lengthy debriefing by an expert facilitator or a documentary-format videotape with workplace vignettes and graphics and captions followed by a group discussion?

The answer to this version of the question is obvious: Either technique can be equally effective.

A General Question

Sometimes people accuse me of academic hairsplitting when I analyze the question comparing training games with other training techniques. These people protest that all they wanted to know is whether training games, in general, are effective.

Let me answer this question.

In my definition, these are the critical features of games: They have a structure (rules), they require active participation, and they frequently involve collaboration among team members and competition across teams. A critical feature of a training game is its direct relationship to a set of relevant skills, knowledge, and attitudes. If we agree to this definition, let me make some generalizations about the effectiveness of training games. In doing so, let me use Kirkpatrick's four levels of instructional evaluation:

Level 1 in Kirkpatrick's model relates to participants' reactions. In general, participants react favorably to the use of training games. This generalization is based on reports from external observers and from the participants themselves. Participants are fully engaged in playing a training game; they immerse themselves in the activity.

Level 2 evaluation relates to learning outcomes. Test results indicate that if the training game is relevant to instructional objectives, participants learn effectively in terms of both immediate recall and long-term retention. This is probably because games provide opportunities for repeated practice in a highly motivating situation.

Level 3 evaluation relates to behavior changes. Games tend to produce more transfer and application of newly-learned skills to workplace situations. This is especially true of simulation games that involve authentic reflection of workplace situations. The transfer a training game to the real world increases when participants are debriefed after the game and encouraged to do some action planning.

Level 4 evaluation relates to organizational impact. If the instructional content of a game is directly related to skills and knowledge associated with improving the organization's bottom line, then it has a high probability of achieving a high impact.

Simulation Game

White Water

Technological progress continues to catch us by surprise. We create more efficient keyboards, and computers begin accepting voice commands. We design better books, and pocket computers display multimedia presentations inexpensively. We invent better mousetraps, and ultrasonic speakers chase away household pests.

White Water simulates this type of chaotic future (and present) where constantly changing goals demand new types of flexibility. In this game, the task given to teams keeps changing unpredictably. The team with the highest total score (which rates the team's ability to do the best job under each of the changing contexts) wins the game.


To explore strategies for coping with constant change.


10 to 50


30 minutes to an hour



Form teams. Divide participants into 3-10 teams, each with 3 to 7 members. It does not matter if some teams have an extra member.

Assign team roles. Randomly select one team to be the judges. All other teams play the role of Marketing Teams hired by a large publishing company.

Distribute instruction sheets. Give each team (including the team of judges) a copy of the General Instructions. Ask team members to review the information. Clarify the instructions by answering questions from participants.

Brief the judges. While the other teams are reviewing the instructions, give the following instructions to the team of judges.

Begin the activity. Distribute a copy of the Round 1 Product Specifications to each team. Explain that teams have 5 minutes to come up their list of suggestions. Start a timer.

Stop the activity. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle to get the participants' attention. Explain that you are interrupting their activity because there has been a significant change in the project. Before explaining the changes, ask teams to give you copies of the list of suggestions in its current form.

Begin the second round. Distribute copies of the Round 2 Product Specifications. Ask the teams to restart their activity.

Rate lists from Round 1. Give copies of the lists of suggestions from Round 1 to the judging team. Ask the teams to rate the activities within the next 3 minutes.

Shift to the next round. After 3 minutes or when the judges have rated the list of suggestions from the Round 1, blow a whistle to attract participants' attention. Explain that more significant changes have taken place. Collect the lists of suggestions in their current form and give them to the judges.

Distribute the results of the Round 1. Explain that the scores range from 2 to 10. Return the lists of suggestions to the appropriate teams so they can check their scores.

Proceed to the next round. Distribute copies of the Round 3 Product Specifications. Repeat the instructions as before.

Repeat the procedure. After 3 minutes, stop the activity. Return the previous lists with scores awarded by the judges. Give the next Product Specifications and ask teams to come up with fresh lists of suggestions. Repeat this process until the end of Round 5.

Debrief. After collecting the lists from Round 5 and handing them over to the judges, begin debriefing the Marketing Teams. Discuss the following types of questions:

Announce the final results. Return the lists from Round 5 with the scores to the appropriate teams. Ask teams to add up their scores and announce the total. Identify the team with the highest total score. Discuss the implications of these scores.

Conclude the debriefing. Ask the judges for the comments. Ask each participant to come up with two or three personal action ideas for coping with frequent changes in the workplace.

Handout 1

General Instructions

You are a member of a Marketing Team hired to provide suggestions to a large US-based publishing company.

The publisher has definite plans for a new product and a specific target market based on systematic market research. You will be provided with specific details.

Your task, as a team, is to provide 5-10 specific suggestions (each expressed in 1-3 sentences). Your suggestions should provide guidelines for improving the competitive position and potential profitability of the product.

Please record your suggestions legibly on a single side of a piece of paper. Prepare two copies of this set of suggestion (by having two team members simultaneously record them).

You have 5 minutes to come up with your suggestions.

Handout 2

Specifications for Each Round

Round 1

Context: Retired people are traveling in larger numbers.

Product: Travel guide to the top 30 vacation destinations around the world.

Target Market: Affluent U.S. American senior citizens.

Round 2

Context: A Japanese publishing company has acquired your publishing company.

Product: Travel guides in seven different languages.

Target Market: Young middle class professionals in Asia.

Round 3

Context: Your publishing company has organized a multimedia group.

Product: A CD-ROM version of the travel guide.

Target Market: Computer literate professionals around the world.

Round 4

Context: Your company has opened a web portal.

Product/Service: Web site with updated vacation travel destinations.

Target Market: Same as before, with a focus on young professional women.

Round 5

Context: The R&D group has developed a virtual-reality kiosk with a motion-activated treadmill, helmet-mounted 3-D goggles, data gloves, data shoes (that enable the wearer to feel different ground surfaces), along with temperature and odor control.

Product/Service: High fidelity virtual travel to popular vacation destinations.

Target Market: Affluent people who can pay the hefty rental fee.

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer is Stella Ting-Toomey, who is a professor of speech communication at California State University at Fullerton. Her books include Communicating Across Cultures (Guilford), Managing Intercultural Conflict Effectively (Sage; with John Oetzel), and a forthcoming book, Understanding Intercultural Communication (Roxbury; with Leeva Chung).

An Interview with Stella Ting-Toomey

Thiagi: Stella, what is your specialty area?

Stella: My favorite courses are Intercultural communication, interpersonal conflict management, and intercultural communication training.

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

Stella: It all began with my teaching a 125-student class in a 3-hour block (from 7 to 10 PM) on intercultural communication. I needed a hook to wake up the students, many of whom were taking the course because it was a requirement. The experiential, interactive approach worked very well with the class in conjunction with mini-theory lectures. Teaching this course and my other training and consulting activities propelled me to create more games and exercises to translate theory into practice, and to transform practice into a personalized theory.

Thiagi: How long have you been designing and using training games?

Stella: Approximately 12 years—starting with my large lecture class plus my interpersonal conflict management class. I use training games in the classrooms and in various training workshops with corporations and non-profit groups—in both domestic U.S. and international settings.

Thiagi: How do different organizations respond to the use of training games?

Stella: This depends on the clients, the culture, the organization mosaic, individual participant factors, and training objectives. Cultures that value didactic, instructional mode need more persuasion. Cultures that are used to playing are more receptive. Overall, however, based on my experience of playing with multiple cultural groups, members in all cultures can enjoy the challenges and rewards of playing different games—as long as they are well-placed, well-paced, and well-debriefed.

Thiagi: How do your participants respond?

Stella: In “playing” with a multicultural, multinational audience, establishing a safe, trusting climate is a good start. Acknowledging that there are different styles of learning on the cultural and individual level conveys sensitivity and respect. Encouraging them to stretch beyond their comfort zone and learn to experiment with their learning styles helps them to reframe their outlook on game playing.

Thiagi: How do you handle embarrassing moments in conducting games?

Stella: I just keep playing even where there are embarrassing moments and try to turn stressful moments into learning points. You can always improvise on the spot—for the most part, the trainees would not detect that you did a detour in interactive game playing.

Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers?

Stella: In designing training games, focus on clear objectives, clear instructions, and clear design. Simple and straightforward games equate to elegance.

In using training games, memorize and internalize the objectives, the instructions, and the design of the game. Practice the game in a user-friendly environment first. However, you do not need to always spell out the objectives ahead of time. Sometimes, this approach spoils the fun of the game.

In getting acceptance for the use of games, use an effective set of debriefing questions to connect to theories and conceptual frames and profound insights (drawn directly from the participants). This type of debriefing would greatly enhance the credibility of training game usage.

Thiagi: What are the most important characteristics of a facilitator, an effective instructional game, and receptive participant?

Stella: For a facilitator, a flexible, creative, adaptable, and mindful playfulness.

For an instructional game, multiple relevance, meanings, and resonance points for diverse participants. This permits personalized “aha” experiences for everyone.

For a participant, willingness to stretch, willingness to risk, and willingness to play even under fear and anxiety.

Thiagi: What are some things that you dislike?

Stella: In a facilitator, arrogance. In an instructional game, lack of debriefing. In a participant, been-there-done-that attitude.

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

Stella: Communication violations games and cultural clash games.

Thiagi: What is your most favorite game?

Stella: Thiagi's “shoulder-touch” exclude-include exercise.

Thiagi: Who are your favorite game designers?

Stella: Thiagi, Silberman, and Koppett.

Thiagi: Do you have any book recommendations?

Stella: Thiagi's Design Your Own Games And Activities, Mel Silberman's Active Training, Kat Koppett's Training to Imagine.

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

Stella: We will have more games that tackle cultural dilemmas, ethical dilemmas, multicultural team building, and synergy.


Nonverbal Violations
by Stella Ting-Toomey


To experience nonverbal violations and then debrief with a mini-lecture on intercultural nonverbal differences.


Two or more, divided into pairs. (You may have one or more triads to accommodate all participants.)


10 - 15 minutes.


Nonverbal violations slips. (See the instructions after the game description.)


Stand-up paired interaction


Brief participants. Give these initial instructions:

Distribute slips of paper. Give the participants about 4 minutes to get into the conversation. Walk around the room and offers each participant a slip of paper with nonverbal instructions.

Continue the activity. Give them 5 -10 minutes to continue their dyadic conversations and a chance to dramatize the nonverbal instructions.

Conclude the activity. Stop the action and invite participants to share the instructions in their slips of paper before moving back to their seats.

Debrief the activity. Ask questions to explore concepts such as intercultural nonverbal differences, ethnocentrism vs. ethnorelativism, and mindless vs. mindful interaction.

Handout 3

Nonverbal Violation Slips

Each slip of paper contains two instructions. Each set contains separate instructions for the two members of each pair. Make as many copies of these sets as needed to accommodate all participant pairs.

Set 1

To one person in a pair:

To the other person in the same pair:

Set 2

To one person in a pair:

To the other person in the same pair:

Set 3

To one person in a pair:

To the other person in the same pair:

Event Alert

Intercultural Competence

See You In Montreal

I hope to see you later this month in Montreal at the annual conference of North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA). If you still haven't registered for this exciting conference, it is not too late. Simply visit the NASAGA website for more information.

See You In Zurich

If your job involves multicultural communication (whose job doesn't?), I'd like to invite you to the conference on Intercultural Competence for Practitioners and Trainers in Zurich during November 27th - December 6th. 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, Michelle Le Baron, and Anita Rowe. The conference hosts seven workshops on different aspects of intercultural competence. I am conducting one of the workshops, Interactive Experiential Strategies for Cross-Cultural Training. I am teaming up with my Swiss friend Samuel van Den Bergh to conduct another workshop, Managing Multicultural Teams.

Check out this PDF file with more information about the conference (requires Acrobat Reader).

A Couple Of Secrets

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 ( ).


Five Books on Five Different Topics

(Click a cover to order that book from

Gallwey, W. Timothy (2003). The Inner Game Of Work. New York, Random House (ISBN: 0-375-50007-3).

Timothy Gallwey is the author of bestselling books about the inner game of tennis and the inner game of golf. His inner game approach is about learning how to learn. Gallwey applies this approach to the corporate workplace to explain how to replace inner obstacles (such as fear of failure, resistance to change, stress, and boredom) with natural potential for learning, performance, and enjoyment. The inner game also helps you to differentiate between rote performance and rewarding performance and between conformity and mobility. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Use the experience sandwich to learn from work. Before beginning a project, set up specific learning. After completing the project, conduct a debrief conversation to reflect on your experience and to allow for insights.

Parker, Glenn (2002). Team Depot: A Warehouse Of Over 585 Tools To Reassess, Rejuvenate, And Rehabilitate Your Team. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer (ISBN: 0-7879-6218-X).

My colleague Glenn Parker has created the most comprehensive and practical collection of teambuilding tools and techniques ever. Using the metaphor of a warehouse, he has organized 585 tools in such aisles as revisiting your team's goals, redefining team member roles, reestablishing ground rules, rebuilding trust, and rewarding team success. Each tool is described in ready-to-apply terms. Several excellent indexes help you locate the right tool for different needs. All reproducible instruments are available on the included CD-ROM. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Appoint a parking lot attendant to record issues that come up during the meeting that the team does not want to discuss at the time. This team member parks the issue for consideration at a later time.

Lancaster, Lynne C. and David Stillman (2002). When Generations Collide. New York, Harper Business (ISBN: 0066621070).

Lancaster and Stillman point out that generational differences are a critical diversity issue in today's workplace. For the first time in history, four different generations, each with its own formative experiences, values, and preferences, are thrown together in the workplace: traditionalists (born 1900-1945), baby boomers (born 1946-1964), generation Xers (born 1965-1980), and millenials (born 1981-1999). Understanding the needs and characteristics of different generations will help managers, consultants, and trainers to recruit, retain, reward, train, and manage the cross-generational workforce. Co-authored by a baby boomer and a generation Xer, this well-organized book contains valuable advice. Sample practical suggestion from the book: In corporate training, create “generational Montessori” by organizing training groups that are generationally diverse. Participants in such training can benefit from the experiences of the older groups and values of the younger ones.

Loehr, Jim and Tony Schwartz (2003). The Power Of Full Engagement. New York, Free Press (ISBN: 0-7432-2674-7).

The main premise of the book is that energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. Using a variety of examples, the authors explain that full engagement depends on being physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned. Summary checklists and worksheets in the Resources support the application of principles and procedures from the book. Sample practical tip from the book: Strengthen your emotional characteristics (such as patience) in the same way that you strengthen your bicep: Push past your current limits and follow up by giving time for recovery.

Reina, Dennis S. And Michelle L. Reina (1999). Trust And Betrayal In The Workplace. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler (ISBN: 1-57675-070-1).

Dennis and Michelle Reina use a research-based model for building trust and healing individuals, teams, and organizations from betrayal. They divide trust into two categories: Transactional (reciprocal and incremental) and transformational (self-generating and synergistic). Transactional trust consists of contractual trust, communication trust, and competence trust. Transformational trust includes four factors: conviction, courage, compassion, and community. The book identifies the nature of each type of trust and specifies behaviors that foster that kind of trust. Sample practical suggestion from the book: You have to forgive yourself as an important part of forgiving others. To do this, you have to honesty face the fact, admit your faults, and acknowledge the pain you caused. Then you have to put your inner critic on mute.