This interview was originally published in April 2013.
Fifteen years after my first meeting, I met Alastair again during my visit to Australia in 2013. Dr. Alastair Rylatt is one of Australia's leading facilitators. Over the last 30 years, Alastair has built a reputation as someone who surprises individuals and groups with great content and processes including a range of experiential activities and games. His work has taken him to many corners of the world including the Asia-Pacific, Europe, USA, and Middle East. He is the author of a number of books including the award-winning Creating Training Miracles (coauthored with Kevin Lohan). In late 2012, Alastair completed his Ph. D. at the University of Technology, Sydney. His client list includes over 400 businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. You can visit Alastair at his website ( http://www.alastairrylatt.com/ ) and connect with him on Linkedin (http://www.linkedin.com/in/alastairrylatt).
TGL: Alastair, what is your specialty area?
Alastair: In the last decade, my major focus has been in leadership development, change management, building better teams, strategic thinking, and executive coaching.
TGL: How did you get into designing and using games?
Alastair: After leaving high school, I developed a love for the theater and in the following years did many short courses in mime, narrative therapy, theatresports, improvisation, and comedy. In venturing into these worlds, I learned that many of the techniques and skills were highly relevant to a facilitator. To be outstanding, you need to experiment and play with ideas and processes. I have always had a love for designing and using activities for learning. I may not use the word game so to speak but my list of choices of experiential exercises are in the hundreds. My inspirations and ideas come from the arts, training and development, psychology, psychodrama, and business education. As a training and development professional in the 1980s, it became apparent that just delivering training content was not sufficient. I needed to integrate engaging and meaningful activities into my facilitation. This discovery has stayed with me to the current day.
TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?
Alastair: I started using “games” in the 1980s in many management, leadership, and career development programs. I am a firm believer that learning is embodied: You need to get people to use all their senses to make progress. Everyone has a story to tell and I encourage them to share how they have formed a view of themselves and how they make sense of their world. I use minimal Powerpoint slides and tend to work with what arises in the room. A circle of chairs in the room gives me the maximum flexibility to change the conversations and connections in a moment's notice.
TGL: Where do you use games?
Alastair: During my facilitation you would see me using a range of activities, both indoors and outdoors. My work takes me to both business organizations as a consultant and to academia where I work as an adjunct lecturer.
TGL: How do your clients respond?
Alastair: Their feelings can range from joy, surprise, embarrassment, anger, sadness, or ambivalence. What is more important is that I create an experience that places people in the learning zone. I am not attached to whether people like me. I want people to discover new insights about themselves and others. What is important is that people feel safe within the exercise and there is a clear learning objective.
TGL: What is the most embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?
Alastair: One night I was conducting an evening activity in a golf course. To my horror, two of my participants fell into a bunker. Luckily, they found it amusing, dusted off the sand, and continued the exercise. Ever since that time, I carefully check out the terrain well in advance in daylight.
TGL: What advice do you have for newcomers about interactive training?
Alastair: Games should not be treated lightly. Be always aware of your purpose and reason for conducting a game. The goal is not about entertainment but is about purposeful learning. Briefing, conducting the game, and debriefing must be enacted in sequence and with integrity. My major frustration is the lack of debriefing by trainers and facilitators. They either miss great opportunities to extract meaningful learning or they are more interested in moving onto the next activity. Here’s another piece of advice: Adequate warm up is also essential. Moving from low stretch activities to higher over time is a good plan. As trust builds you can expand your choices and options.
TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?
Alastair: I have a great love for story and physical movement, so many of my games have that flavor. I have around 20 games that I use frequently. I have a simple Word file that contains many games from many sources and inspirations. They are arranged under various topics like leadership, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. If I get stuck on what to do, I refer to the file and pull something out and use it. Many of these games need little or no props. I am a great lover of appreciative inquiry and helping people to build on and develop their strengths.
TGL: Who are your favorite game designers?
Alastair: Elyssebeth Leigh, Kevin Lohan, Glenn Capelli, and Thiagi.
TGL: Do you have any book recommendations?
Alastair: Here are three:
Pierse, L. 1993, Theatresports downunder, Improcorp Australia, Sydney.
Rohnke, K. 1994, The bottomless bag again, Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque.
Rohnke, K. 1984, Silver bullets, Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque.
TGL: Which of your books would you recommend?
Alastair: Creating Training Miracles, which I coauthored with Kevin Lohan.
TGL: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Alastair: Games will appear more and more in computers, webinars, and social media. For an example of this trend, refer to The Power of Role-Based e-Learning by Sandra Wills, Elyssebeth Leigh, and Albert Ip.
There will always be a place for face-to-face facilitation. There is nothing more special than human beings learning and engaging with each other. It is there where the magic happens.
An Improv Game from Alastair Rylatt
Near and Far
Near and Far is a wonderful warm up game that provides excellent avenues to build connections and to discuss issues pertaining to corporate culture, organizational dynamics, and the building of networks. I have used it in conferences and it is suitable for small, medium, and large groups. I discovered Near and Far while I was learning the craft of theatersports.
Invite people to stand in a large circle where they can make eye contact with each other. If the group is too large you can break the circle into smaller clusters. I frequently conduct this activity outdoors since we need plenty of open space.
Ask the participants to look around their circle and make eye contact with other people and smile.
Then ask each participant to select a near person to stay close to. Keep the identity of this near person a secret.
To demonstrate, randomly select a person and announce your choice. Invite the selected person to wander around in the middle of the circle and follow him or her trying to get close. Thank the selected person with a round of applause.
Continue your instructions by asking each participant to select a far person to stay away from. Again in doing so, ask participants to keep their choices secret.
Continue the demonstration by choosing someone else in the circle and announce your choice. Invite this person to wander around in the middle of the circle and keep a good distance away from him or her. Thank the selected person with a round of applause.
Check in with the group and make sure everyone has two choices. Ask people to raise their hands to signify they have chosen one person to stand close to (near) and another person to stay away from (far).
Explain safety requirements to ensure nobody gets hurt: no running, hugging, or touching is allowed.
Instruct everyone to take a few steps forward to form a tight huddle. At the count of three, ask the participants to wander around, implementing both the near and far rules at the same time without talking. As soon as the group moves into action, weird and interesting dynamics will unfold. Let the system dynamics run its course for 30 to 45 seconds. This is sufficient time for patterns to emerge and not too long that it becomes boring.
Invite people back into a large circle and discuss what happened and what relevance the event has to the real world. Themes for discussion may include factions, team dynamics, and assumptions about others.