I’m often asked where to find facilitation games and formats for agile teams. Fortunately there’s an increasing amount of information on the web, a number excellent books on the topic and some great training courses available – and since it’s an ever-expanding world, the more you look the more you’ll find.

Over time I’ve assembled a list of favourite collaboration games covering a wide variety of applications, which I’d like to share over the next few blogs. To make sense of them, it helps to understand a little bit about the activities we call Games.

What is a Facilitation Game?

The idea of games being inappropriate or irrelevant in a business context is fast losing ground as we begin to understand the value of collaborative and innovative approaches to problem solving.

Games are designed, interactive experiences in a variety of formats, generally following an ‘Opening – Exploring – Closing’ structure. I distinguish between ‘empirical experience’ games and ‘collaborative’ games, as follows:

  • Empirical experience games are safe-to-fail learning activities that simulate real-world scenarios from which we gain deep experiential knowledge quickly, as opposed to theoretical knowledge. They have a powerful learning value which helps us act more consciously when we’re in similar situations in the real world – but many organizations still distrust their un-businesslike characteristics.
  • Collaborative activities are called ‘games’ because they follow the game format of open – explore – close; the activities are interactive, with ‘set moves’ directed towards an overall goal, and an outcome which is determined as a result of the collaboration.

Collaborative games tend to be easier to adopt in meeting agenda as they readily support business objectives, and while the level of collaboration may feel unusual at first, the quality of the interaction compared with traditional meetings quickly establishes their value.

This is where the focus of the next few posts will be.

What’s in an agenda?

We can apply the gaming ‘open – explore – close’ structure to designing the facilitation agenda as well. There are different kinds of activities for each part of the meeting, and following this format creates a balanced pace through the session to keep participants focused and engaged.

For retrospectives I generally combine this structure with activities focusing on past, present and future, as described by Esther Derby and Diana Larson in Agile Retrospectives, and a small addition of ‘disruption’ I encountered in Loop Organisational Consulting’s Team Leadership Skills course. This gives us:

Check In > Turn The Head > Gather Data > Insights > Goals & Actions > Close
which is roughly:
Open > Refocus > Past > Present > Future > Close

‘Turn The Head’ highlights the value of the disruptive element to adjust our viewpoint so that we can see our world through different lenses.

I also use this overall structure for other sessions, with a greater emphasis on the specific area of focus, as well as icebreakers or empirical experience games as appropriate.

Sharing the Agenda

I’ve learnt to start meetings with a discussion of the agenda and how long we’ll spend on each section, and keep this visible for the duration of the meeting. Initially I resisted the idea, with worries like “what if it goes wrong; what if people don’t like it, and I want to change direction?” but I’ve been amazed at how much collaboration improves when participants can see the overall context of each activity … and I’ve also learnt that changing direction with the full awareness of the group is far more effective than rigidly holding onto the plan or appearing unprepared when circumstances change.

Developing a wide and deep toolkit gives us the flexibility we need as facilitators to respond to our changing circumstances. Each of us builds up a unique set that works for our environment, and which also evolves with time.

In the next few blogs I’ll be sharing some of the tools I’ve enjoyed using for each of the major sections of a facilitation:

* Links will become active as the posts are published.