SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
Take personal responsibility.
Keep your cool.
Individual and Team Grading
Socialism in the classroom?
Interview with Greg Koeser
Balloons and board games.
France and South Africa
Say It Quick
Writer's Block by Brian Remer
Be in the present.
CATS: The Nine Lives of Innovation by Stephen Lundin
Nine guidelines for creativity.
Preparation by Brian Remer
Learn more about what you already know.
Switch Off by Brian Remer
Break your routine.
Check It Out
Rapid instructional design.
Single Topic Survey
Collaborative Learning Projects by Tracy Tagliati
Sink or swim together.
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.
Author and Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editors: Jean Reese and Tracy Tagliati
Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Les Lauber
Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2009 by The Thiagi Group. 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 THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2009 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for permission.
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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 email@example.com . Thanks!
Stephanie Ruder, one of our readers who is a coach and a trainer living in Switzerland, recently sent me an email about the importance of people taking personal responsibility. Here's an adaptation of the Envelopes framegame that Stephanie may find useful in helping her participants explore this important concept.
To explore alternative reactions to everyday hassles.
Organize participants. Divide participants into 4 to 6 teams of 3 to 7 members. Teams should be approximately the same size.
Brief participants. Explain the concept of taking personal responsibility. Although we cannot control what is happening in the real world, we can change our reactions to the event. For example, when we are stuck in a traffic jam with cars crawling at a very slow speed because of a highway accident, we can use the slowed-down pace to make telephone calls to our friends. The secret is to stop feeling like a victim and change our beliefs and assumptions and find some meaningful opportunity in the situation that confronts us.
Create some examples. Ask participants to brainstorm alternative reactions to getting stuck in traffic. Follow up by asking participants to give other examples of everyday hassles. Take one of them and challenge participants to generate positive reactions to these negative events.
Distribute the supplies. Give one hassle envelope and four index cards to each team.
Conduct the first round. Ask team members to discuss the hassle on the envelope they received and to identify how they could respond to it in several different positive ways. Tell team members to write short sentences describing these reactions on an index card. Announce a time limit of 3 minutes and encourage the teams to work rapidly. Explain that the teams' reaction cards will eventually be evaluated in terms of both the number and the quality of the positive alternatives.
Conclude the first round. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle and announce the end of the first round. Ask each team to place its reaction card (the index card with its positive alternatives) inside the envelope and pass the envelope, unsealed, to the next team. Warn the teams not to open the envelope they receive.
Conduct the second round. Ask teams to read the hassle on the envelope they received, but not to look at the alternatives listed on the reaction card inside. Tell the teams to list positive alternatives related to the hassle on a new reaction card. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle and ask teams to place the response card inside the envelope and pass it to the next team.
Conduct more rounds. Conduct two more rounds of the game using the same procedure.
Conduct the evaluation round. Start the fifth round just as you did the previous rounds. However, tell teams that they do not have to write any more positive alternatives to the hassle specified on the front of the card. Instead, teams must evaluate and synthesize the four reaction cards inside the envelope. They do this by reviewing the different cards, selecting the top five positive alternatives, and writing them on a flip chart paper.
Debrief the participants. Assemble participants back in their seats. Invite them to briefly comment on the patterns among the positive alternatives. Also ask them to discuss the similarities that can be found among positive alternatives related to different hassles. Ask the participants to identify the hassle for which it was the most difficult to come up with suitable alternatives.
Carry out follow-up activities. Collect all the envelopes and cards for use as examples during future sessions.
Not enough time? Announce tight time limits. For example, allow only two minutes for each round. Play only two rounds of the game before conducting the evaluation round. Eliminate the evaluation round. After evaluation, proceed directly to debriefing.
Too few players? Conduct the game among individual players. All you need is a group of three participants. If necessary, play the game twice, using two different sets of hassle envelopes.
Too many players? Divide the large group of participants into three or more subgroups. Have each subgroup divide itself into teams and play the game in a parallel fashion.
Training Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to handle angry and abusive customers is a tough challenge. Effective communication with an angry customer requires a combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. As a part of our training session, we use this rapid roleplay activity.
Conduct an effective conversation with an angry customer.
Brief the participants. Explain that all participants will alternate between team discussions and one-on-one roleplays to increase their ability to conduct an effective conversation with an angry customer.
Form groups. Divide participants into two equal groups and identify them as Group A and Group B. If one group has an extra person, make her an observer or you join the other group so both groups have equal number of participants. Place different colored dots on the nametags (or foreheads) of members of each group to make it easy to identify the group to which each participant belongs.
Get ready. Ask members of the two groups to move to opposite sides of the room. Ask members of Group A to take on the role of a frustrated customer and brainstorm a set of provocative statements, questions, and demands. Give examples such as these:
This is the fifth time I am trying to get someone to fix my problem.
Your salesman cheated me. He did not tell me that I have to buy a monitor separately.
I don't like your attitude. Can I talk to your supervisor? I am not leaving until I talk to someone who cares.
At the same time, ask members of Group B to take on the role of CSRs and brainstorm effective statements for defusing an angry customer and empathic reactions to provocative statements.
It's clear that you are frustrated. Let's try to reduce your frustration by solving your problem.
You are right. It's our fault and let's get it straightened up.
Sir, I am sorry you feel that way. If you insist, I am can set up an appointment for you to talk to my supervisor tomorrow. We can save your time by fixing your problem right now.
Announce a 3-minute time limit.
Conduct the first rapid roleplay. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle. Explain that you are going to conduct a series of one-on-one conversations between an angry customer and a CSR. Ask each participant to pair up with a member of the other group. Explain that the person from Group A will initiate an angry conversation by asking a question, making a provocative comment, or demanding an outrageous concession. The person from Group B will respond to it in a calm and empathic fashion to defuse the hostility. The two people will continue their conversation.
Also explain that once every minute you will blow the whistle. Participants must stop the conversation immediately (even if it is in the middle of something) and pair up with a different member of the other group. Instruct them to begin another angry conversation with this new person.
Blow the whistle to start the first conversation. Blow the whistle once every minute or so. Conclude the activity at the end of about 5 minutes.
Getting ready for role changes. Explain that participants are going to switch their roles and conduct more rapid roleplays. Before doing that, invite everyone to get ready for their changed roles by reflecting on what they experienced during the first round.
Ask members of Group A to think back on what happened during the earlier one-on-one conversations. What did the CSR do to listen empathically, focus on solving the problem, and reduce the level of hostility? What best practices can you borrow from your interactions when you are playing the role of the CSR?
Ask members of Group B to think back on the provocative statements and sarcastic questions used by the angry customers. When you play the role of an angry customer during the next round, what kinds of hostile statements and questions can you come up with?
Invite participants to work with members of their group to get ready for the next round of rapid roleplay. Announce a 3-minute time limit for this preparation activity.
Conduct the second rapid roleplay. Explain that you are going to conduct another series of rapid roleplays as before with the same rules but with different roles: Members of the Group B will pair up with members of Group A. Group B members will initiate the angry conversation. Group A members will respond to it in a calm, reassuring, and business-like fashion. Whenever you blow the whistle, participants will stop the conversation and pair up with a different member of the other team.
Blow the whistle to start the first conversation. Blow the whistle once every minute or so to change partners. Conclude the activity at the end of 5 minutes.
Conduct a debriefing discussion. Thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation. Invite the participants to discuss what they learned from the two rapid roleplay sessions. Ask them to forget all about making provocative, angry, and sarcastic comments. Instead, focus on the techniques for disarming angry customers.
Get the discussion rolling with these types of open-ended questions:
What are some of the techniques and statements that worked effectively for defusing and calming down an angry customer?
Let's focus on different types of statements used with angry customers. Empathic statements demonstrate your understanding and sympathy. Can you give some examples of empathic statements?
How do empathic statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
Apologetic statements involve regretting personal inconvenience—without accepting unrealistic responsibility for the situation. Can you give some examples of apologetic statements?
How do apologetic statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
Reassuring statements promise specific action on your part. Can you give some examples of reassuring statements?
How do reassuring statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
Limit-setting statements prevent the angry customer from abusing you and making unreasonable demands. Can you give some examples of limit-setting statements?
How do limit-setting statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
What are some common elements among different types of statements?
When you listened to angry statements from the customer, how did you react to them? How would you have reacted if this were a real-world situation?
Did you observe the behaviors of the angry customer—or did you absorb them? Did you take the customer's rude behavior personally? How would you have felt about these types of customer behaviors in a real-world situation?
What one piece of advice would you give to an inexperienced CSR who is worried about her ability to handle an angry customer?
A friend of mine recently sent me one of those chain emails with a sarcastic dig on economic socialism. The email featured a funny story with this plot line:
A professor tells his class that he would redistribute the test grades so that everyone will receive the class average. After the first test, everybody receives a B.
Lazy students who skimmed through the assignment and performed poorly on the test are delighted with this arrangement. Hard-working students who studied diligently and performed conscientiously feel that this redistribution of grades is unfair. During the second test, the hardworking students decide not to work as hard as before. Result: Everyone receives the average grade, which slides down to a D!
Dire warning from the fable: Socialism pulls everyone down because it makes people lazy.
This complaint about some members of a team enjoying a free ride is not new. From my psych classes, I remember the concept of social loafing. In spite of this possibility, I have used team scores to determine individual scores in my college teaching and in corporate training sessions. With a couple of minor adjustments, I have connected team-and-individual grading without encouraging laziness among participants.
Just like in the emailed story, in some of my training workshops, I tell participants that their individual scores will depend on the team score. In a workshop on writing business plans, for example, participants work as a team on the final performance test that requires them to—of course!—write a business plan. I evaluate the business plans from different teams and award a score value between 300 and 500 points. This is the team score.
After presenting the score points, I ask each team member to secretly recommend how I should distribute the team's points among the other members in such a way as to reflect their contribution to the joint product. Each team member makes independent recommendations, leaving herself out, specifying how the score points should be divided among the remaining people. For example, if there are five team members, each person recommends the split of the team score among the other four. I average the four recommendations for each of the five team members and use this information to proportionately divide the team's score among its members.
I use a spreadsheet to automatically take care of the computations. Assuming that I awarded 437 points to a team, here's how the computations work out:
When I use this redistribution strategy repeatedly with the same group of participants, I ask each team member to include herself in the recommended distribution. Nobody gets greedy and wants to grab all of the points. If anything, people tend to be stricter about estimating the value of their own contributions than the other team members. My associates who use this approach report the same type of non-greedy distribution.
Here's another change I make over time: Instead of asking for secret recommendations, I invite team members to make public recommendations and, if they want to, explain why they chose to distribute the team points the way they did. This open recommendations appear to build greater trust among team members.
In some of my training sessions, I repeatedly administer individual tests. When grading and discussing the first test, I focus on individual scores. At the end of the discussion, I tell participants that future tests will involve individual scores being redistributed according to different formulas.
Here are some of the redistribution formulas that I use, along with their effects:
Why do I use such elaborate schemes for redistributing individual scores to team members? Primarily because I feel like a hypocrite when I extol the virtues of teamwork on the job and punish teamwork among participants during the training sessions. I hope that cockpit crews and surgical teams will both learn and perform as an efficient team. I also hope that most participants will treat learning as a collaborative effort.
Greg has worked as a trainer and training developer for RWD Technologies for the past 11 years, mostly doing SAP training and change management projects. RWD Technologies optimizes human performance in different ways. Greg's off-time jobs include a balloon artist, clown, juggler, and a board game designer. Greg merges his jobs as much as possible and incorporates games, fun, and balloons in his training sessions. Greg is currently a member of the Executive Board of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA).
TGL: Greg, how do you incorporate games and balloons in your training?
Greg: It is all about flexibility to read the crowd and have enough games and tricks at hand to pull out as needed. I want to turn off the projector and PowerPoint as much as possible, but we haven't changed everyone's attitude yet that training can be more interactive, and it is especially difficult with software training. Thanks to NASAGA, Thiagi, and Tracy Tagliati, I have many more activities to keep everyone energized.
One unique activity that I pull out during a break is balloons. I give everyone an inflated twisting balloon, and walk him or her through the steps for making a balloon dog (or something more challenging if they are not beginners). While teaching a Creating a Job Aid class, I had the class document the steps for creating the balloon sculpture, including pictures where you might see a screen shot, and variations of the animal. If I have more time, after teaching them some basic twists and rules for balloon twisting (Examples: “Don't fully inflate your balloon, start at the nozzle end, don't let go of your twists until you have locked them back into the balloon”), I break them up in groups and have them combine their balloons in a group sculpture. I'm always amazed at the creativity of the finished designs.
I also enjoy giving balloons out for participation prizes or as rewards to subject matter experts as I develop the curriculum. I think that balloons bring a natural smile to faces, lessen any tension, and act as unique rewards. I have gotten pretty good over the last 15 years of balloon twisting and I like to make balloonicatures of people (balloons of their faces and hair with their particular features exaggerated as in a caricature).
TGL: What ideas do you have for the training industry?
Greg: I think the concept for most traditional training assumes that the end user needs lots of help. But the most interaction that I see is the instructor asking the group to describe themselves and what they want out of the class. What if at the beginning of the class, you give a summary assignment right away—before the training? You could set a 30 minute timer and tell the class to do the final objective of the class (perhaps create a rush order delivery and ship it to a vendor that isn't currently set-up in the system). They can go online, talk to each other, and use the help embedded in the software itself. At the end of the 30 minutes, you'll know as an instructor exactly how knowledgeable and self-sufficient your participants are. If they fail, then they will be all the more interested in seeing the correct way of doing things. If they succeed, you have given them confidence in their abilities. You have made them realize that the change in the system is not going to be too bad and you can teach the class at a different pace and at the level of the participants.
TGL: What do you see for the future of learning games?
Greg: I've been a gamer all my life—video games, card games, board games, acting games, and other such activities. And while everyone knows that video games are getting more and more sophisticated, most people are unaware of the emergence of the modern board game designs. People think of board games such as Risk, Scrabble or Monopoly—all of which are games that have stood the test of time. But the modern board game (sometimes called a Eurogame) rejects several of the principles in the classic games. A modern board game is completed in under an hour, involves group participation, and is engaging enough so that anyone's turn could involve everyone and you can't just walk to the kitchen while you are waiting on die rolls by the other players.
Another trend that is emerging is a new class of cooperative games such as Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot. In these games, each player does a productive action and then a random negative action for the board. They have a natural debrief session that happens after every game. If you lose, you discuss what you could have done better, and if you win, you talk about what you did well. I find it actually best if you lose the game the first time because there is usually an immediate desire to play again and try a different strategy and communicate more the next time. It is a learning “sweet spot” that has motivated people to improve on their own.
I envision a future where games of these sorts have a learning element and are accepted and played in a workplace environment for performance improvement. These games also find a home in someone's game closet that they want to pull out because it is also fun. I have been described as a “game evangelist” and I try to share the power of games for all sorts of applications for the improvement of human performance.
Early in June, Thiagi ran two workshops (for a total of 5 days) in Switzerland. His workshops are becoming increasingly popular in different parts of the world. Later this year, you can attend these workshops in France and in South Africa.
There will always be Paris, and Thiagi and Tracy will be there in September. These two workshops are organized by Bruno Hourst, the best-selling author of several training books, including Les Jeux-cadres de Thiagi : techniques d'animation à l'usage du formateur. The workshops will be conducted in English.
September 8-10, 2009
Interactive Training Strategies
3-day workshop on the design and delivery of training activities and simulations
September 11, 2009
Boost your Happiness with Thiagi's Teaching and Training Activities
1-day workshop with evidence-based positive psychology activities
Read more about these workshops (148K PDF).
This country has undergone many positive political changes in recent years. Last year, Gateways Business Consultants brought about some positive changes by organizing Thiagi and Tracy's training workshops. The workshops were so positively received that they are repeating the program this year.
November 11-13, 2009
Interactive Training Strategies for Improving Performance
November 16-18, 2009
Interactive Training Strategies for Improving Performance
In this story of just 99 words, read an example of how one person got her creativity moving again. Then learn more about how to stay in a creative flow in Discoveries below.
Kate was stuck in her writing and stuck in the snow. Her words fell like slush and the wet, heavy snow outside made her back ache. But the walk had to be shoveled. Grumbling under her breath, she dug into the snow again.
Then she noticed the gently drifting snowflakes and crisp, silent air. She took a deep breath of winter, chose to be present in the moment, and felt her body relax.
With the rhythm of physical work, she entered a state of flow and finished quickly—gaining new ideas for her writing in the process!
The saying goes that curiosity killed it. But in his book, CATS, Stephen Lundin turns that old adage upside down by using cat-like characteristics as an analogy for the essence of innovation.
Lundin's slim, readable book describes the nine lives (essential ingredients) of innovation. These lives are embodied in CATS, people who seek consciously to become better at innovating. Lundin asserts that it doesn't make sense to try to figure out how innovative organizations work when it's actually the individuals within an enterprise that bring about creative change.
To that end, his book focuses on the nine essential factors that foster innovation:
In CATS, a chapter is devoted to each of the nine lives. Concepts are illustrated with straight forward examples, some of which span several of the nine lives so readers quickly appreciate the holistic nature of the innovative process. Lundin also takes some time to identify and demystify the challenges to innovation that tend to block our creativity.
Not content with theory, Lundin seems bent on provoking readers to boost their own innovative abilities. Chapters at the end of the book offer creativity tools, concepts, practice activities, and the opportunity to earn an innovation CAT Belt. And you can find more CAT culture on the web.
Rather than fearing curiosity, CATS embrace it and innovate—as I urge you to do through Lundin's book! Learn more at his web site: http://www.catsinnovation.com .
Imagine listening to a jazz band at a nightclub. During a long number the saxophonist, drummer, bass player, and piano player all take a turn improvising. Each gets a limited number of measures to play whatever they want. Each gets their moment in the spotlight. Imagine, too, what it must take to perform solo, before a live audience, doing something you're creating on the spot which also must somehow fit with what the group has already been doing.
To do that you need knowledge about music history and theory. You need a certain skill level and confidence. You need a finely tuned sense of aesthetics. You need to have had both successes and failures. To be succinct, you need to be prepared.
Preparation is one of the Lundin's conditions for innovation. In CATS he argues that continually refining one's knowledge, skills, and expertise builds a storehouse filled with experiential knowhow. Then, when the need or desire for creation arises, you've got all the materials right at hand.
Innovation doesn't come from nowhere. It's the synergy that occurs when experience, knowledge, skill, and ideas encounter each other in new ways. If you want to become more creative, learn more about what you already know. Review your knowledge base from time to time. Refine skills so you can achieve fluency. Then, when it's your turn for the spotlight, you'll be ready to improvise!
One of Lundin's observations in CATS is that innovators learn to become wary of what's normal. Routines keep us from becoming paralyzed by the need to constantly make decisions. They make daily living easier—but that's the problem! When we're on autopilot we are more likely to coast past opportunities for creative expression. Innovators, on the other hand, are willing to shake up their routine. They know that to be creative is to break familiar paradigms.
So here is this month's activity: break a routine and see what new possibilities and perspectives it opens for you. Here's some inspiration.
Find a fun way to switch your autopilot off. Then, when you discover something new, please let me know (email Brian). It just might be what I need to switch off my autopilot and innovate!
More than 6,500 people have watched Thiagi's video presentation on faster, cheaper, and better training design at the UMBC Training Forum. You have probably seen it already. If you have not, check out this YouTube version:
Thiagi did another session on the same topic (using a different approach) as a keynote at the 2009 annual conference of the International Alliance for Training. Watch Thiagi in action as he entices an unsuspecting audience member to collaborate with him in demonstrating rapid instructional design right in front of your eyes.
There is a lot written about the benefits of collaborative learning. However, one of the disadvantages is the risk that some participants may loaf around and piggyback on the work of the other more motivated team members.
What do you think?
Do the advantages of sink-or-swim-together learning activities outweigh the disadvantages?
Send us your challenges and strategies at this survey page (opens in a new window). You may choose to include your name along with your question, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.
Here are some responses that we recently received on this topic:
Tom wrote: When our classroom training changed to virtual training, I found it difficult to continue using collaborative learning techniques. I use virtual breakout rooms, but I would love some additional ideas.
Michelle wrote: My challenge was deciding if random groups work better than prearranged groups? I concluded that it depends on the situation. Sometimes, prearranged groups are better because they ensure there is a variety of expertise.
Tanya wrote: I was expecting 127 participants in my workshop, and I wasn't sure if collaborative learning would be suitable with a group that large. I tried it, and found it to be challenging but workable. I think it helped to keep the group size limited to three people and assign brief (3 minute) teamwork activities.
Last time we asked you, “What strengths, skills, and abilities are important requirements for a trainer in these tough economic times?”
You responded with some brilliant ideas. The most common suggestions were:
For more on this topic: