So Many Games

After a presentation at the ISPI conference, a participant stayed behind to tell me that he uses 213 different training games. He wanted to know how many games I used. I thought about it for a few moments and said, “Six”.

I have a room full of boxed training games and 12 large shelves with books on training games. The number of games that I have reviewed y runs into several thousands while the number of games that I have designed runs into several hundreds. However, I was not entirely kidding when I said I only use half-a-dozen training games. These games probably account for 80 percent of my training-game usage.

Old games, new ways. I use the same games repeatedly, but never in the same way. I tweak the games to speed up or slow down the pace, to increase or decrease the intensity of competition, or to accommodate more participants or make do with fewer.

Try this: Instead of always conducting new games, perhaps you should also try conducting old ones in new ways. This approach will improve your skills in designing and conducting games. After you experiment with different variations, you may settle down with the best approach. But keep experimenting to discover more about the games, more about the participants, and more about yourself.

Old frames, new content. I frequently load new content into the frames of my collection of six games. For example, I keep recycling a framegame called GROUP GROPE. In this game, participants write opinions, suggestions, facts, or whatever on individual index cards. Then they swap cards several times and eventually form teams to select the cards that appears to have the most important statements. The game encourages participants to generate their own content, organize this content, and identify the critical elements. I have probably used this flexible framegame in hundreds of different contexts. So have several others. My friend Roger Addison recently told me that with this framegame and a packet of index cards he is ready to face any audience and create an instant game to suit any situation.

Group Grope is so flexible that I recently used it five times in a row during a two-day strategic planning retreat! During the first round, participants identified the major needs of their customers. During the second round, they identified major trends in their industry. During the third round, they identified what their competition is doing. During the fourth round, they worked out the elements of the corporate strategy for the next 10 years. During the last round, they identified the factors that would affect the new strategy. The efficiency of the group improved from one round to another as they became more fluent with playing the game.

Try this: Instead of looking for new games, perhaps you should look for ways to load new content into your old framegames. Master a structured sharing activity (described on page 00 of the May issue) or a game (described on page 00 of this issue) and use it repeatedly to explore different training content.

Old simulations, new learning points. Most people are reluctant to fool around with simulation games. But I don’t hesitate to modify even the most complex simulation game. Neither does Pat Green, a trainer at Sandy Spring National Bank of Maryland. In a simulation game called Freelance, participants identify desirable characteristics of facilitators by writing personal ads offering their services as facilitators. The workshop leader collects the ads from each table, mixes and redistributes them. Participants at different tables review the ads and select one candidate. These newly-hired facilitators coordinate the discussion among the members of the team who hired them.

Pat recently faxed me a simulation game which uses the Freelance plot to explore the desirable characteristics of team leaders at the bank. Not content with that, Pat created another version of the same simulation game for identifying the characteristics of effective video feedback coaches.

Try this: Instead of buying a new simulation game, take another look at Freelance. Vary the players’ task and the debriefing questions to suit your needs and constraints.

Who is tired? Trainers rush to buy new games because they think that participants get tired of playing the same old game. I don’t think this is a legitimate fear because the more you play a well-designed game, the more you want to play it. Think of your friends who play Scrabble™ or Trivial Pursuit. Think of your own experience with different games. If you are worried about participants getting tired of old games, ask yourself whether or not you are projecting your own feelings. Then think of the benefits of playing the same game—with minor variations and different content. For starters, repeatedly using the same game format gives you increased efficiency. Participants spend less time learning the game and more time learning from the game. They master the mechanics of the game the first time they play and focus on the content of the game during the subsequent play sessions.

Try this: If you have a tendency to go a mile wide and an inch deep with training games, try the opposite approach. Don’t just count your games. Make your games count.