SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
Bonuses and bad luck.
An Interview with Chris Saeger
A conversation with the Chair of NASAGA.
Connections and Tensions by Chris Saeger
A holistic exploration of <your idea here>.
Online Course Announcement
How To Design Training Games
In less than 10 minutes?
Eight books that tell you how to tell a story.
Backlash from Students
This Month's OQ.
Funny but true.
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
Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin
Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>
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 (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 Workshops by Thiagi, 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!
During the last decade, storytelling has earned its rightful place as a powerful communication strategy. To learn more about the why and how of storytelling, check out this month's Bookshelf.
Here are brief notes on different uses of stories:
Explaining. Trainers can use stories to explain complex ideas to participants.
Concepts and principles. Trainers can use stories to provide examples of different concepts and principles.
Procedures. Trainers can use stories to provide real-world illustrations of how a procedure is applied.
Communicating. Facilitators can communicate ground rules and roles to team members through stories.
Visioning. Team leaders can communicate their vision and the goals for the team through stories.
Providing insights. Therapists can use metaphorical fables to provide insights to their clients.
Healing. Mediators can use stories to heal the pain of conflicting individuals and groups.
Mental models. Leaders can communicate their mental models through stories.
Community building. Employees in an organization can share stories and anecdotes to create an organizational culture.
Knowledge sharing. Practitioners can share their real-world strategies by embedding them in anecdotes.
During the past 10 years, we have been investigating the use of stories from different angles. With her theater background, Kat Koppett has designed and used improv-based storytelling activities. Matt Richter explored the conceptual and theoretical bases of storytelling by working through graduate courses on narratology. Raja Thiagarajan is currently co-authoring a textbook on science fiction. I have been experimenting with the use of stories as a needs analysis and appreciative-inquiry technique.
Our conclusion from these explorations is that there is more to stories than just telling them. We believe that we can maximize the benefit from stories by moving from one-sided presentations to two-sided interactions.
Participants can learn a lot by creating their own stories and sharing them with each other. For example, in Success Stories, we ask individual participants to come up with the history of their future by fantasizing how they achieved success and what factors contributed to this outcome. In another activity called Conducted Story, the facilitator points to different members of a team who make up segments of a story and keep it going. In collaboration with Patti Shank, we created an online version of this activity (called Interactive Fiction) in which different participants contribute different paragraphs to a continuing story.
Listening to a story and analyzing its inner message is an important interactive strategy. We frequently tell a story to participants (or have them read it prior to the training session) and conduct an interactive debriefing session. As a variation of this approach, we tell a story to the audience but stop it before the conclusion. We then task teams of participants to come up with a suitable ending to the story.
Participants can also listen to stories that they themselves had created and analyze them to identify common themes. A standard procedure in appreciative inquiry involves participants coming up with positive stories, sharing them, and analyzing them to identify the themes that reflect aspects of the organizational culture.
Several interactive strategies incorporate stories as their foundation. Here are brief descriptions of these activities:
We have come a long way from reserving storytelling to charismatic leaders and inspirational speakers. By empowering everyone to create, share, listen, and analyze stories, we are tapping into all of the benefits associated with stories.
Textra Games combine the effective organization of well-written documents with the motivational impact of interactive strategies. Participants read a handout and play a game that uses peer pressure and support to encourage recall and transfer of what they read.
Games of pure chance discourage smarter players from mastering new skills and knowledge. Games of pure skill discourage weaker players from trying hard once they fall behind. An effective training game strikes a balance between chance and skill. That's exactly what Review Roulette does.
To review training content from a reading assignment.
Any number. Best game is for 20-30.
20 - 45 minutes
Distribute the handouts. Ask participants to study this handout independently, underlining key ideas and taking notes. Warn them that there will be quiz game based on the contents of the handout. Announce a suitable time limit.
Organize participants into teams. After the study time has elapsed, blow a whistle. Assign participants to different teams. Each team should have five to seven members. It does not matter if some teams have one more player than the others.
Ask teams to generate question cards. Distribute blank index cards to each team and ask participants to write 30 or more review questions, one question on each card.
Give specifications for the question cards. Explain that the questions should be written on one side of the card and the correct answer on the other side. Offer these guidelines:
Time the activity. Announce a 10-15 minute time limit for writing questions. At the end of this time, blow the whistle to stop the activity.
Add bonus instructions. Ask each team to select any six question cards and write “Take an extra turn!” on the answer side of the card, below the answer.
Add bad-luck cards. Ask the teams to write, “Lose your turn!” on both sides of six blank cards and add them to the set of question cards.
Prepare question-card sets. Ask each team to make sure that all the cards are arranged with the question side up (except for the bad-luck cards). Distribute an envelope to each team. Ask teams to shuffle the cards and place the packet inside the envelope with the question side facing the opening of the envelope.
Distribute the question-card sets. Take the envelope from each team and give it to the next team. Ask team members to place the envelope on the table with the opening facing up.
Get the game started. Announce that the game will last for 10 minutes. At the end of the time, the person with the most question cards won (by giving the correct answers) wins the game.
Answer the question. Select one player from each team to be the first player. Ask this player to take the top card from inside the envelope, without exposing any other card. This person places the card on the table (hiding the answer), reads the question, and immediately gives an answer.
Win the card. Players now turn the card over and check the “official” answer on the other side. If correct, the player wins the card and adds it to his or her collection. (If the player's answer is incorrect, the question card is placed on a discard pile.)
Continue the game. If the answer side of the card contains the instruction, “Take an extra turn!” the same player picks another question card. Otherwise, it is the next player's turn. The game proceeds as before.
Lose a turn. Whenever a player picks a card with the instruction, “Lose your turn!”, the turn passes to the next player.
Challenge answers. After a player reads a question and gives the answer, other players may yell, “Challenge!” if they think that the answer is not correct. The first player to do so becomes the official challenger and gives an alternative response. The question card is turned over to verify the answer. If the original answer is correct, the player wins the card and collects another card from the challenger's collection. If the challenger is correct, he or she wins the card and collects another card from the player's collection. (If the player or the challenger does not have a collection of cards from earlier rounds, no penalty card is collected.)
Conclude the game. The game ends when all the question cards have been picked up or when the allotted time of 10 minutes is used up. At this time, the player with the most cards wins the game.
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer is Chris Saeger who I consider to be one of most knowledgeable and experienced practitioners in the field of simulation and gaming. Chris is the current Chair of the North American and Simulation Association (NASAGA). He has been creating interactive learning experiences for a variety of organizations since 1985. His work has won awards from American Society for Training and Development and Lakewood Publications (Training Magazine). He is a regular presenter at the North American Simulation and Gaming Association and the International Society for Performance Improvement international conferences. His work has been published in the Team and Organizational Development Sourcebook (McGraw-Hill). He has consulted with manufacturing, information technology, professional associations, and healthcare companies.
Thiagi: What is your specialty area?
Chris: I have created activities in a variety of areas. My interest is in two forms of simulations: the usually shorter metaphorical simulation that provides an Aha! experience and larger business or organizational simulations based on systems models.
Thiagi: How did you get into designing and using games?
Chris: When I was a kid, my next-door neighbor's dad was an engineer with Link Flight Simulations. In the basement of my elementary school (for some unknown, probably cold war, reason) was an old aircraft instrument flight simulator. He let us fly and crash it. It was so cool that we went home and built simulators out of big furniture cartons in our basements. Much later, while working for the Red Cross, I started using a variety of group activities to simulate work in disaster locations.
Thiagi: How long have you been designing and using games?
Chris: I got into design of simulations in the middle 1980's when I participation in a simulation for disaster managers conducted by Barbara Steinwachs. This was a metaphorical simulation about setting up and playing a baseball game. Unfortunately, the participants were very concrete crowd and some valuable learning went astray. (I learned from this simulation that I was different because I was the only one going, “Cool! Let's do it again!”) Up until then, I had been designing more realistic simulations of the types of group decisions and activities needed on a disaster relief operation. Then I met this guy from Bloomington and learned about BARNGA. Interestingly, I never connected Barbara and Thiagi until much later. I used BARNGA in a course about working with other organizations and exploring organizational culture clashes. This was a breakthrough for me.
Thiagi: Where do you use games?
Chris: I use activities in all of the learning sessions that I design. I also use games as a part of other types of meeting facilitation that I have done, particularly planning meetings.
Thiagi: How do your clients respond?
Chris: I don't talk about games with my clients. I simply talk about interactive or engaging experiences that produce results and excitement about the process. They don't realize that they are playing a game.
Thiagi: How do your participants respond?
Chris: For the most part people respond well, occasionally I get the it's-only-a-game or this-is-not-like-the-real-world reaction. Actually, these are useful comments to explore with questions like, “How is it different?” and “Being only a game, how does your participation change?” Everything is grist for the debrief (and learning).
Thiagi: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?
Chris: The first time I tried to do the MIT Beer Distribution Game. It is a complicated simulation with too many instructions. It basically collapsed, so there we are with a room full of fifty people talking about “How is it to get instructions that are not clear? How does this remind you of work?” This was interesting cover-up but not related to the original learning objective. The Beer Distribution Game became my nemesis; I loved the learning point but hated the simulation. Finally I designed a smaller simulation I called the Systems Thinking Mini-Sim that served a similar purpose but was much easier to manage.
Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers?
Chris: About designing games and simulations:
Getting acceptance for the use of games:
Thiagi: What do you think is the most important characteristic?
Chris: For a facilitator? Willingness to learn and to work with whatever is happening in the room.
For an effective instructional game? It should be robust enough to produce useful results time after time, despite uneven facilitation.
For a receptive participant? As a designer and facilitator, I need to be ready for a participant, wherever they are.
Thiagi: What is one thing that you hate the most?
Chris: In a facilitator? Arrogance.
In an instructional game? Forced fun without a point.
In a participant? They are all worthwhile. Even the “bad ones” become good stories later.
Thiagi: What is your favorite game?
Chris: The most frequently used activity is somewhere between Group Grope and Memes (also known as Thirty-Five). On the simulation side, I have used Oh No! (The Planning Game) in a wide variety of ways.
Thiagi: Do you have any book recommendations?
Chris: Two books, very different:
Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Chris: Simulations and games grow in importance, not only for learning but in a variety of domains including customer retention, marketing, and strategic planning. Look at reality TV, add a debrief, and there you go. In fact you could have a simulated simulation by watching the show and then debriefing as if you were a character.
Simulations and Games on the internet will develop improved ways to provide increased interpersonal engagement. When this happens, I will get more excited about them.
Sometimes in training or a planning meeting we say these things:
Then we make a list, prioritize it somehow and move on. This approach results in what some systems thinkers call “laundry-list thinking”. The list has interdependent variables and a simple priority order won't do.
Connections and Tensions is a way to explore issues from a more holistic perspective and generate a deeper discussion about the topic.
Here is the description of the game in the form of what happened during a recent round of play:
Becky, the session facilitator says, “What are the top three conditions for success in this project? Please jot them down on a piece of paper.”
Becky asks each person for the top item on her list. If the top item has already been reported, she asks for the next item. She makes a list of the items on newsprint and comments on each.
Becky then asks each person to go the newsprint and select an idea they feel is important and to create a nametag with the idea.
Becky says, “Become the idea that you selected and go around the room and talk to the other ideas. See how you relate to one another. Does one idea form the foundation for the other?”
Becky stops the conversations after people have had the opportunity to interact with all or most of the participants. She says, “I heard a lot of interesting discussions. Give me a short headline about the idea you represent and how you related to other ideas.”
Becky says, “Let's build a web of all these relationships. Sounds to me like open communications might come first. Is that what I am hearing?” Everyone nods and Becky unwinds some ribbon from a spool and gives the end of the ribbon to “Open Communications”. She holds on to the spool and then she says, “From open communications, who should get the ribbon next, or how does it relate to others?”
Becky passes the spool to Management Support who takes hold of the ribbon. She continues to build the web by asking how ideas are related to one another. She continues moving the spool until all are connected. Some ideas are mentioned several times and that person ends up holding several loops of ribbon.
Becky points to ideas who are holding several loops of ribbon and asks for thoughts from the group.
Becky acknowledges Open Communications' comments and the comments from others. Then Becky asks “What are some possible tensions among the ideas?”
Becky asks for thoughts from the group about how to reconcile these ideas.
Then Becky says “What would happen if an idea were missing?” She asks one of the ideas with few wraps of ribbon to drop her ribbon, and then asks the group to step back to pick up the slack and tighten the web.
Becky does this once more with an idea with fewer loops, and then asks one of ideas with many loops to drop the ribbon. The web becomes too unstable to hold together and she invites everyone to drop the ribbon.
Then she debriefs the group with questions like these:
Becky thanks the group for their observations and being such great ideas. Throughout the rest of the meeting the team refers back to the leverage areas and looks for opportunities to reconcile potential tensions in the project.
I have designed and developed an online course on designing face-to-face training games called
How To Design An Effective Training Game In 10 Minutes
Judging from the reactions during our pilot test, participants enjoy working through the course and end up mastering a valuable set of principles and procedures.
This course is designed for trainers, facilitators, and instructional designers. It does not assume any prerequisite knowledge and skills. (If you are already familiar with the design of training games and the concept of framegames, this course will deepen your understanding and provide you with new insights.)
You can take the course for a small fee of $25. Considering the amazing amount of content, interesting interactivity and practical skills that you acquire, the return on this investment is very high.
The objective for the course is exactly what its title says: to design an effective training game in 10 minutes.
In the course, you will learn to:
This course is not about the design of online games. It is about the design of face-to-face games conducted in a classroom setting by a facilitator.
Yes, you can design an effective training game in 10 minutes. But if you want to write it up for use by others, it may take you 15 more minutes.
We assume that you know your training topic before you begin to design the training game. If you are working on an unfamiliar topic, it will take additional time for you to master the topic and then design the game.
Even though you can design a game in 10 minutes, it may take you up to 4 hours to work through the course and learn the relevant principles and procedures. (However, we do show you how to zoom through the course in 30 minutes if you are in a real hurry.)
Online courses come in a variety of formats. This course is different from typical online courses that you might have suffered through recently. This course treats you as a motivated, self-directed learner. While we recommend a sequence through the sections and activities of the course, you can jump around any way you want.
The game contains the following learning units:
The course will begin on the 15th of each month. You will have 2 weeks to complete the course.
The next course will begin on September 15, 2003.
Enrollment to the course will be limited to 12 participants (to help us provide personalized feedback to the assignments). Registration for each month will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Time requirements for the course depend on your personal learning style and your personal path through the course. On average, participants spend about 4 hours to complete the course. If you are an impatient Mensa member, we show you how to zoom through a lean-and-mean version of the course and absorb everything in 30 minutes (and use it for the rest of your life). If you participate in the discussion forums and work reflectively through all assignments, you can spend 12 hours or more on the course.
You can hop around the course resources and activities in any sequence you want. The Moodle structure makes it easy for you to do this. If you prefer external guidance you can work your way through the recommended sequence by clicking the “Next” button at the end of each resource or activity.
This course is not like the typical spoon-feeding e-learning courses that you might have suffered through. Instead, we treat you as a motivated and self-directed adult learner. You can read through valuable resource materials without being interrupted by pesky little questions. Any time you want some action, you play a variety of web games (all directly related to the course content), respond to OQ (open question) exercises, participate in discussion forums, and complete design assignments. Since the course is on game design, the assignments require you to design games in an authentic, real-world context.
The course contains lots of reading resources. Each resource comes with a suggested reading strategy: skim, read reflectively, or use it as a job aid during the design of your games.
The course consists of five sections. Each section includes reading resources and activities:
The introductory section helps you get acquainted with structure and the content of the course. It also gives you tips on how to learn best from the course.
The first section presents you with the learning goal and clearly specifies the limitations of the course. (For example, this is a course about designing “classroom” games and not about designing web-based games.)
The second section lets you vicariously experience a corporate training game. It then carefully explores the different elements of this game. To reinforce your learning, you play web games and respond to an OQ (open question) exercise.
The third section is the heart of the course. It presents the concept of the framegame approach that makes it possible to instantly load your content into the framework of a generic game template. This section presents you with 22 different games—all created from the same framegame—at varying levels of detail. This section contains an assignment that requires you to design your own training game.
The fourth section presents methods for adjusting your game to suit the constraints of your situation and the preferences of your participants. For example, it shows you how to handle too many participants or too little time. This section includes two more assignments, one to design another game for yourself and the other to design a game for a simulated client.
The fifth section expands your understanding of framegames by discussing 19 more strategies and organizing them into three convenient categories. You play more web games and help us create another web games.
You can register now for the course that begins September 15 by visiting our online store.
If at any time you don't feel that you are mastering useful skills and knowledge, you can drop out of the course. We will return your $25 without any questions.
(Click a cover to order that book from Amazon.com)
This is one of the earliest books on corporate storytelling. A vice president of a manufacturing company, David Armstrong suggests communicating corporate policies by collecting, telling, and retelling short, factual, truthful stories about heroic deeds performed by employees. The book contains about seventy stories, conveniently grouped under such headings as stories to inspire self-management, stories about core values, and stories to honor partnerships. Each story is followed by its moral (an important principle) and a series of “debriefing” questions. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Stick to one idea or theme in a story. Keep the story short: No longer than one single-spaced typed page.
Stephen Denning is one of the most profound thinkers in the field of storytelling. This book explains that a simple story can be more effective in capturing and communicating the complexity of concepts than a collection of charts and diagrams. A springboard story enables the audience to deeply understand how an organization (or community or complex system) may change. With examples from around the world (Denning works for the World Bank), the book clearly explains the what, why, and how of storytelling. A powerful set of job aids (presented as six appendixes) alone is worth the price of the book. Sample practical suggestion from the book: The story should deal with a specific individual because people or more likely to project onto single individuals than onto groups or organizations.
Gargiulo explains and illustrates the application of storytelling to human resources, training, process improvement, knowledge management, change management, and leadership. He presents the concept of the “story mind” that constantly reflects on past experiences, relates them to current perceptions, links new information to existing knowledge, and creates stories to explain the world. He suggests a process of creating indexing personal stories and processing business observations. One of the chapters provides step-by-step instructions for conducting 10 story-based activities that can be used in training sessions. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Use a three-column table to analyze business observations. In the first column record actual observations. In the second column, write a plausible story that presents your interpretation of the observations. In the third column, list implications for your behavior.
This book has nothing to do with storytelling (in the sense used by the other books in the list) but buy it anyhow. Johnstone's earlier classic text Impro launched the improvisation movement in theater and schools. This book extends the earlier work with hundreds of activities ("games") that permit individuals to shine within the context of group work. The activities (and the appendixes) are designed to train negative people to be positive, clever people to be obvious, and anxious people not to try their best. Johnstone's counterintuitive principles (such as "be more boring" and "don't concentrate") help self-obsessed beginners to enjoy the interaction and to fail gracefully. Sample practical suggestion from the book: When two people are truly interacting, what one person does should alter the other person. Both people should receive and react to the other person's action.
We all tell stories informally, but if we want to take storytelling to professional use, we need to move beyond the basics. In this book, Lipman presents principles and frameworks rather than mechanical procedures. There are three components in the storytelling triangle: the story, the storyteller, and the audience. The book is organized into sections that deal with your relationship to the story, to the audience, and to yourself. Each section has several chapters that use a variety of examples to explain the key concepts. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Practicing storytelling alone (in front of a mirror or a video camera) has potential problems: They tend to make you inflexible and less sensitive to your listener. So practice by telling the story many times to different listeners.
This book focuses on personal stories about your life and the lives of people you have known. The book begins with a discussion of the benefits of telling this type of stories in enhancing personal and professional relationship. Maguire explains how to recall your past to get story ideas. He also provides instructions for shaping and sharing your stories. These stories help you make meaning out of your life and develop creativity, courage, confidence, and humor. Each chapter is interspersed with intriguing quotations and ends with thought-experiment type activities. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Think of a turning point in your life that involved a choice between two alternatives. Think of the choice you did not take and create a story about what might your life have been like.
Annette Simmons points out that a story can do several things that facts cannot. She provides explanations, examples, and instructions for six types of stories useful in any organizational setting: Who I Am, Why I Am Here, The Vision, Teaching, Values-in-Action, and I Know What You Are Thinking. In addition to hundreds of examples and practical advice on storytelling, the book contains an intriguing chapter on storylistening as a tool of influence. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Don't scare people or make them feel guilty. Stories that use fear or shame to mobilize action may seem effective in the short term but can be counterproductive over the long term. Follow Abraham Lincoln's strategy of avoiding stories of shame and sin and using stories of humor that prompt creative shifts in perspective.
Wacker and Silverman have divided this book into two sections: The first section defines a story, explores seven primary purposes of storytelling, and identifies story sources. This section also provides step-by-step directions for creating your own story, incorporating them in your training session, and telling the story in a memorable fashion. The second section contains 55 stories with two tables that help you select the most appropriate story for your training needs. An audio CD accompanying this book contains recordings of most stories to provide a model for telling each story. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Open a story with no set-up or introduction. Make sure that the first few sentences of the story are powerful and gripping.
An OQ is an open question presented on a web page. Your task is to read the question and type an appropriate answer in a convenient form. Once you have contributed your answer, you can self-evaluate your answer with a scoring key. You can compare your answer with experts' answers. You can compare your answer with other participants' answers.
Here's the background scenario: While chauffeuring me around Atlanta recently, my friend Beverley talked about her experiences in assigning team projects to her students. Although these students learned a lot and applied the new principles and procedures to authentic tasks, they complained, “You made us do all the work. You did not teach us anything. Why didn't just tell us what we were supposed to learn?”
Here's the OQ: If you were Beverley, how would you respond to the students?
Type your response on this month's OQ page.
You are limited to only three occasions in a training session for the use of games: before, during, and after.
This humorous exaggeration identifies varied uses for training games.
Before the training session, you can use games to excite the participants, provide the big picture, encourage collaborative learning, and discover what they already know.
During the training session, you can use games to help participants recall the key learning points, apply newly-acquired skills, and enjoy a change from passive reception to active participation.
After the training session, you can use games to celebrate a successful event, review the content, test the participants, and plan for implementation.
Are you using training games during all three occasions?