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

So Much to Cover
You must focus on uncovering rather than covering.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Samuel van den Bergh
A militant anti-game reactionary becomes an enthusiastic user of experiential activities.

Simulation Game
Transcultural Emails by Samuel van den Bergh
Can you send an effective email note to someone from a different culture?

Six Phases of Debriefing
This is where real learning takes place.

Double Talk
Have you been talking to yourself lately?

NASAGA Online! v1.0
Attend a high-impact conference right from your computer.

Thiagi's Interactive Session Archived
Enjoy the appetizer before the main course.





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 Editors: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Julie England

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

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 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 © 2004 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!


So Much to Cover

The trainer's lament goes like this:

“Sure, training games are interesting. In theory, I understand their effectiveness. But in practice, I don't have time to use them. I have too much to cover.”

A linguist friend of mine made an interesting comment:

“Listen to the language used by trainers: They have so much to ‘cover’. If you check the etymology of ‘cover’, it suggests ‘to hide’. Perhaps this is an unconscious slip. Most trainers are so focused on hiding their content and making a big mystique about it. If only we can focus on uncovering the instructional content or helping the learners discover it.”

Any acceptable definition of training should go beyond covering the content. We know that telling is not training. If we define training in terms of learning outcomes, we cannot stop at making presentations that merely cover our curriculum. And if we define learning as a change in the participants' behavior, we cannot equate dumping data, applying the spray-and-pray technique, or hosing participants down with information, with training.

My review of the literature on learning, from ancient philosophers to today's brain-chemistry researchers, suggests that there are four stages in successful learning. From the learner's point of view, they are:

It does not matter whether you are learning to shake a baby's rattle or to adjudicate between two hostile disputants—you need the same four stages to ensure learning. Therefore, effective training involves facilitating the learner's passage through these four stages.

The tragedy of training is that so many trainers think that the first necessary stage (presenting new information) is sufficient. Just hearing information about how a magician saws a woman in half or how a millionaire accumulates wealth or how a juggler handles three balls in the air does not guarantee that you can accomplish those feats. Except in a few rare instances and with a few rare learners, you need practice and feedback.

This is where games play such an important role: They help us structure the practice and feedback stages. All games require the participants to respond to new and different situations. Games provide immediate feedback in terms of points and penalties. Obviously, there is more to providing effective practice and feedback, but games and other training activities perform these functions much better than any passive training technique. Thus, games are powerful training tools.

Playing games takes time, but all forms of practice and feedback take time. You can use a game (or some other form of structured training activity) to manage the practice session in an efficient and enjoyable fashion, or you can send participants home to practice on their own. In the latter case, you have no quality control. As a designer or facilitator of training games, always remember the importance of practice. When your participants are enjoying a game, remind yourself that they are working hard to practice new response patterns.

Shouldn't this be the major focus of your training efforts?

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Samuel “Sam” van den Bergh, is professor of Intercultural Management, Transcultural Teambuilding, Crosscultural Project Management and English at Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur, Switzerland. He is director of the Center for Crosscultural Competence ( and co-director of the ICPT (Intercultural Competence for Practitioners and Trainers) conference held regularly in November in Switzerland ( He has been transformed from a militant anti-game reactionary to a fond user of interactive experiential learning activities.

An Interview with Samuel van den Bergh

Thiagi: When did your interest in training games begin?

Sam: Well, it was in the mid-nineties. I had been interested in intercultural communication for a while and so I went to the SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) congress in Munich. Experiential learning was quite new in Europe at the time and a simulation game called Albatross attracted so many people that there were verbal fights between the organizers and participants of the conference. The crowd to get into the room was worse than a queue for a Swiss ski-lift. I was lucky in two ways: First, I got in, and second, I didn't have to participate but was assigned the role of an observer. I was amazed how involved the participants were and how powerful the debriefing worked. Being an introvert who had so far believed only in deadly boring lectures, I decided to play the role of a facilitator instead of that of a scared player.

Thiagi: Have you facilitated Albatross yourself?

Sam: Ja, selbstverständlich. It took me a while to facilitate Albatross myself, but I have done it for several years now. When I meet a former student or ex-participant they smile, go “mmmmmh”, and start rubbing their bellies. This Albatrossian behavior signifies full enjoyment. This happened recently last December when I met hotel managers of an MBA course in Tourism and Management for their graduation ceremony. They confessed they didn't remember much about my lectures but still talked a lot about Albatross.

Thiagi: Albatross sounds like a powerful simulation. Where can our readers get hold of it?

Sam: Theodore Gochenour is the designer of the game. It is included in a collection of experiential activities in a book called Beyond Experience: An Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education. Your readers can get more information by visiting the publisher's website, .

Thiagi: What do you want to teach through Albatross?

Sam: With Albatross, I tease participants in many directions so they become aware of how they react to different concepts of time and space and how they handle uncertainty. Most participants come up with the question “How far do I go?” or “When and how do I say no?”. The game is completely non-verbal; it puts the participants into a position where they cannot communicate in any common language. In the debriefing discussion, I take them through three steps: perception, interpretation, and feelings. I repeatedly reinforce this guideline for intercultural encounters: “You might be right, but you are probably wrong.” Furthermore, I help participants realize that they have to know their own core values so they can recognize when they are pushed too far. I still remember a very kind and eager Muslim participant from Malaysia who told me after the class that I couldn't conduct Albatross with Muslims because they are only allowed to bow to Allah. I was glad he mentioned it to me so that the next time I met with the class I could bring the topic up again and emphasize that we cannot expect others to know all our taboos. We have to take the responsibility to say “No” to things that we don't want to do.

Thiagi: Why do you bother to teach a conceptual framework when participants only remember the experience?

Sam: I believe in a mix of methods. First of all, in a university context students expect formal theory-based teaching. Secondly, Thiagi has taught me to go beyond deadly boring lectures by encouraging the students to do what they can do for themselves. In my training sessions with professionals, I often encounter people who have had years and years of crosscultural exposure, and now they are dying to get a cognitive framework that helps them make sense out of their experiences.

Thiagi: You have been involved in a research project on managing multicultural teams with corporate and university partners. What are your findings, especially with respect to the use of interactive experiential activities in a highly diverse team?

Sam: According to earlier research, multicultural teams perform either highly ineffectively or highly effectively. They rarely perform at a medium level of effectiveness. In our research project we explored strategies and activities to help new or dysfunctional multicultural teams to become more effective. Like any other team, multicultural teams go through a life cycle. One of the biggest errors in dysfunctional multicultural teams is that the team members don't focus enough on getting to know each other. They go right ahead into the performing phase and find themselves in a deadlock situation. Participants don't understand each other and they form themselves into subgroups with classical “us-versus-them” thinking. Our research suggests that multicultural team members should learn to live with each other—and use their diversity as an asset. Here the right games at the right time can significantly improve the team-building and trust-building process. In a corporate setting, what works best are task-oriented activities that involve all participants right from the beginning. These activities eventually focus the team members' attention on different expectations and needs of the participants. By involving all participants, we make them aware of their differences, and help them to come up with a shared common ground.

Thiagi: Can you give us an example of an activity that is the “right game at the right time”?

Sam: An excellent example is Give And Take, which appeared in the January 2002 issue of Play for Performance. I use this activity just before the team gets into the performing phase. In this activity, participants clarify roles and responsibilities of each team member in a joint effort to achieve a common goal. All members interact with all others, clarify assumptions, and plan to achieve a perfect score.

Thiagi: How do highly diverse teams react to gaming? Have you encountered resistance from some specific cultural group?

Sam: The higher the diversity, the more fun a group can get out of interactive experiential activities. Of course, the facilitator has to be aware of such crosscultural concepts as losing face and direct and indirect styles of communication. I fully agree with Thiagi that real learning comes not from the activity but from reflecting upon the activity.

Unfortunately, there are many Ammenmärchen (a German word that refers to a fairytale told by nannies) about resistance to gaming among some specific cultures. For example, the Japanese are supposed to be ever-so-formal in a business context and would never dare to play games. I still remember the tears of joy in the participants' eyes when together with Goh Abe, a Japanese professor, I conducted a team-building workshop for the managers from a merged organization of a Swiss and a Japanese insurance company. In the simulation, participants played the role of the Swiss (who bought the Japanese company) who invited two Japanese families to their homes. One of the families was very traditional and the other was rather modern. In the simulation, we had a Japanese manager crawling in on all fours, barking and running around, playing the role of the family dog. Another manager repeatedly interrupted the conversation by playing the role of a crying baby. We couldn't have had a noisier and more involved first encounter.

Simulation Game

Transcultural Emails
by Samuel van den Bergh

The initial idea for this activity comes from Nigel Ewington, course director of Cambridge Diploma in Inter-cultural Management (

Three recurring frustrations among virtual multicultural teams are deadlines, division of work, and email communication. This simulation explores these topics.


To improve transcultural communication.


30 minutes to 1 hour.


Any number.


Brief participants. Present the following scenario:

Writing an email note. Ask the participants to write an initial email note to the irresponsible team member profiled in the scenario.

Monocultural group discussions. Organize participants up into different groups consisting of people from the same culture. Randomly select one email note from each group and give it to another group. Ask group members to discuss whether the email note would work, offend, or surprise within their culture. Ask each group to select a representative to summarize the highlights of their discussion.

Multicultural discussion. Ask the representatives from each group to present reactions from participants of their culture.

Revising the email notes. Ask participants to repeat the email note writing activity, this time focusing on making it more acceptable to a team member from some other specific culture. Alternatively, you can ask participants to focus on producing an email note that would be acceptable across different cultures.

Follow-up. Conduct a debriefing discussion to explore best email writing practices that would work across different cultures. Also discuss how to select and optimize different means of communication. Some groups might claim, for example, that it would be rude to use email in this situation. They would prefer a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting.


Six Phases of Debriefing

People don't learn from experience; they learn from reflecting on their experience.

I firmly believe this principle and keep preaching it to everyone. To me, all experiential learning activities (simulations games, roleplays, outdoor adventures, and other such things) merely provide an excuse for debriefing sessions.

You must conduct a debriefing discussion to help your participants reflect on their experiences, relate them to the real world, discover useful insights, and share them with each other. Debriefing also helps you to wind down the learning activity, reduce negative reactions among the participants, and increase insights.

A major dilemma in debriefing is maintaining a balance between structure and free flow. I suggest that you prepare several questions before the debriefing session. During actual debriefing, encourage and exploit spontaneous comments from the participants. If the conversation degenerates into a stream-of-consciousness meandering, fall back on your prepared list of questions.

I use a six-phase model to structure debriefing questions. Here are some guidelines for each phase of this model.

Phase 1: How Do You Feel?

This phase gives the participants an opportunity to get strong feelings and emotion off their chest. It makes it easier for them to be more objective during the later phases.

Begin this phase with a broad question that invites the participants to get in touch with their feelings about the activity and its outcomes. Encourage them to share these feelings, listening actively to one another in a nonjudgmental fashion.

Phase 2: What Happened?

In this phase, collect data about what happened during the activity. Encourage the participants to compare and contrast their recollections and to draw general conclusions during the next phase.

Begin this phase with a broad question that asks the participants to recall important events from the training activity. Create and post a chronological list of events. Ask questions about specific events.

Phase 3: What Did You Learn?

In this phase, encourage the participants to generate and test different hypotheses. Ask the participants to come up with principles based on the activity and discuss them.

Begin this phase by presenting a principle and asking the participants for data that supports or rejects it. Then invite the participants to offer other principles based on their experiences.

Phase 4: How Does This Relate To The Real World?

In this phase, discuss the relevance of the activity to the participants' real-world experiences.

Begin with a broad question about the relationship between the experiential learning activity and events in the workplace. Suggest that the activity is a metaphor and ask participants to offer real-world analogies.

Phase 5: What If?

In this phase, encourage the participants to apply their insights to new contexts. Use alternative scenarios to speculate on how people's behaviors would change.

Begin this phase with a change scenario and ask the participants to speculate on how it would have affected the process and the outcomes of the activity. Then invite the participants to offer their own scenarios and discuss them.

Phase 6: What Next?

In this phase, ask the participants to undertake action planning. Ask them to apply their insights from the experiential activity to the real world.

Begin this phase by asking the participants to suggest strategies for use in future rounds of the activity. Then ask the participants how they will change their real-world behavior as a result of the insights gained from the activity.


Double Talk

Participants at a training session are often preoccupied with other important things in their life. Here's a simple jolt to wake them up.

Ask participants to pair themselves up. In each pair, ask the taller participant to assume the role of a listener and the other participant to become the IV.

Explain that the IV is to sit close to the listener and to whisper a string of disconnected distractions that the person is likely to be thinking about.

Recommend that the IV use topics that are highly interesting (Should I buy a lottery ticket?) or disturbing (What if they decide to rightsize again?) or bothersome (Did I turn the stove off this morning?) or intriguing (What exactly does Sheila see in him?) or guilt-provoking (I forgot Doug's birthday again. I am an idiot!). Also suggest that the IV should use first-person singular and run-on sentences in a stream-of-consciousness mode.

Begin a short, fact-filled presentation on some dry topic. Simultaneously ask the IVs to begin whispering. Continue with this combined activity for 2 to 3 minutes.

Stop your presentation. Thank the IVs for their imaginative contributions and ask them to stop whispering. Ask the listeners the jot down some of the words, ideas, and topics mentioned by the IV. Pause for a minute.

Ask a series of short-answer questions based on the content of your presentation. Ask all participants (both listeners and IVs) to decide whether or not they know the answer.

Point out that everyone's listening was less than perfect. Both listeners and whisperers missed some important points in your presentation.

Explain that IV stands for Inner Voice and the whispers simulate preoccupied self-talk. Conduct a quick debrief to elicit the point that talking to yourself and listening to yourself reduce learning effectiveness.

If time permits, repeat the activity with the other player as the IV. Encourage the listeners to tune out the whispers and to focus on your presentation.

If you want to be more dramatic, you can assign two IVs (one for each ear) to each listener.


NASAGA Online! v1.0

Real Performance through Simulations and Games

You've heard the buzz about simulations and learning. You know that active learners commit more to their training and retain more of what they've learned. You'd like to incorporate more interactive strategies into your eLearning program—but where to start?

Start at NASAGA Online! v. 1.0. You'll connect with Clark Aldrich, Marc Prensky, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan and other thought leaders in a true online learning community, Discover how to harness the value of simulations and interactive strategies for your eLearning program.

It will happen—right from your computer! And you'll do it on your own time, at your own pace, and without spending a lot of money.

Key Benefits

It's all happening in at NASAGA Online! v1.0, a three-day worldwide online conference, March 10-12, 2004.

For more information, visit

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) and technology partner iCohere Inc. and sponsor Learning Times, are creating this highly interactive unique learning opportunity. This will be a decidedly engaging multiplayer environment that embodies the very subject that it addresses—simulations, games and learning.

Are you a player? Won't you join us?

Early Bird Registration 149.00 USD. Act now! Register online at


Thiagi's Interactive Session Archived

On the 5th of February, I facilitated an interactive online session offering practical, creative, and effective strategies that maximize engagement and learning in the live online environment.

Thanks to members of the NASAGA group who joined others from around the globe for this online session conducted with our friends at LearningTimes.

In case you were not able to attend the session, I just wanted to let you know that a recording of the event is available within the free community. I have provided access instructions below.

To Access The Recording

If you are not a LearningTimes member, join for free at . Simply click “Become a Member”, and then choose “Join”.

Once inside the community area (or if you are already a LearningTimes member), you can follow this link to access the recording directly:

The session was conducted using vClass by Elluminate, a LearningTimes sponsor. Technical details are shown at the above link for the recording.

Note that the session was a prelude, or an “appetizer” to the main “course”, which is a workshop series entitled, “Thiagi's Virtual Classroom Six-Pak”, offered jointly by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. and LearningTimes.

For PFP Readers, a special “Friends of Thiagi” discount link appears inside the community when you login to this event. You can use this discount for registering to the subsequent six sessions.

I hope you enjoy the recording.