- Games are now a commodity in the business context – but more than play is required to create business effectiveness
- Agile Games are just another tool – only their appropriate application creates useful instruments (of change)
- Games serve several purposes – upfront goal determination is key to efficiency
- Reflection fosters learning effectively – this closes the loop to your sponsor and creates business impact
- Agile games facilitation is not an art – it is a capability that can be learned
Why Would You Want to Use Agile Games at All?
Until some time ago, playing games was not considered a relevant business activity. Regardless of the fact that games in ancient times played a major role, they were not considered a part of modern business routines.
With the rise of agility, new work and the need for faster adaptation to even faster changes, this has changed: games have started to become more and more relevant.
First, starting with “icebreakers” within a workshop setup or as “something interactive to disrupt a boring meeting,” then growing into further areas up until now where gamification is no longer an optional gimmick, but has become a must-have – at least within business training.
The success of playing games in business depends on multiple criteria though. In the case of icebreakers, this is simply put into words such as “create an interesting and interactive experience to loosen up the participants”. This is just one of many possible contexts in which games are useful.
However, up until today, the need to loosen up within workshop setups is still being neglected by some, and so is playing games in business setups in general.
This article puts the usage of Agile Games into a broader business context and introduces the steps needed to make any game a verifiable contribution to a given business objective.
As “business” is a wide area of topics to be addressed, I focus on accessing Agile Games as a tool used within transformation and change. Thus, I provide an example that was taken from this area.
Let us set the scene by looking into what an Agile Game is:
Agile Game – An Agile Game is a game within an agile-oriented business setup.
In addition, this definition clearly distinguishes from play, as play is the unintended playful experience one has in doing things without an intention. With an Agile Game, I play with the intention of achieving something such as a goal. As such, a game better suits our business environment, because doing business is set up to achieve the business purpose that’s been set.
Let’s focus on the business setup. In a business setup, games are an instrument to enable fast learning and experience exchange.
The “Playing a Game Is Just Play” Perception
With my introduction, I made it clear that playing a game and making a game an efficient learning experience are not automatically the same thing. You can play a game and have a playful experience, but lack a learning and experience exchange. However, the latter is creating the business impact of a game. Creating a learning experience requires upfront clarification of goal setting, intention and maybe even a step-by-step preparation. Simply asking yourself which game you want to play with your audience does not create business value. It requires goal setting, target group clarification, and the focus to be set.
This is by the way the reason why sometimes business management still considers Agile Games a leisure time activity and nothing you truly create business value with. Only a thorough tie-in makes an Agile Game a valuable and efficient contribution from a business perspective. So, how do you tie it in? Simply put: by making it a contribution to business value, which involves proper target clarification with the sponsor and then ensuring that the game is being debriefed towards this topic.
Here is the tricky part of it – as an ambassador for Agile Games (or just someone who would like to use an Agile Game in his business context), you need to make sure that your business management, sponsor, and even participants of the workshop understand what it is all about. Or simply put: as an ambassador for Agile Games, you need to steer the expectation of your stakeholders, as well as do scoping just like in any other workshop.
Moreover, you might be faced with scepticism. Why? Because as an ambassador for Agile Games, you might already be so fascinated and convinced that you have the right tool, that you overlook that there have been hundreds of people before you who have also thought they had the right tools.
Thus, you need to do your homework first, then come up with clear communication about desired outcomes, because no one needs another tool just because you are fascinated with one.
In the eyes of your management, your homework boils down to:
Integrate Agile Games into the expectation of effectiveness and efficiency so it is recognized as an adequate and fully-fledged business tool.
The remainder of this article introduces a step-by-step approach for successful Agile Games implementation. – And as such, it answers your question “What do I need to do to make an Agile Game an efficient and effective business tool?”
Four Steps to Creating Business Impact with Agile Games
What is your personal intention in using an Agile Game in your given context?
By now, it is clear that answering this question is only the starting point of determining your inner motivation for using a game. This is however nothing (or not much) to do with your sponsor’s interests. What are these interests? Just as in normal consulting / workshop preparation setup, you need to determine workshop goals and their sub-targets. You might even ask your sponsor “Imagine at the end of the workshop day- how would you know the time was well-spent?”
Let’s assume you properly scoped your sponsor’s goal and you have a clear understanding of how he or she assesses success in the end.
Moreover, let’s assume you want to use an Agile Game, being an ambassador.
In workshop preparation, your task can now simply be put as “Find the right workshop target which can (fully or partially) be achieved using an Agile Game”. Even though this sounds easy, in reality this is a complex task that requires experience in a number of fields, such as stakeholder management, workshop preparation and facilitation, and empathy.
I developed a four-step model to ease access to the steps required to strongly tie a game into a workshop.
- Context – What is the overall context? Which goals have been agreed upon, e.g. with the sponsor? What further context exists, e.g. within the workshop flow? How will it contribute to the overall workshop execution?
- Target Group – Who is there? What do participants expect, want, need?
- Focus – What focus do you want to set with the game? What will the experience be? Which (workshop) target will be learnt?
- Facilitation – What is required by you, as a facilitator of this game, to create the experience as decided in question 3? Which questions do you need to ask while debriefing the game to unveil this?
These four areas support your preparation in creating business impact.
The questions provided are just exemplified and need to be – again – adapted to your sponsor’s needs and the scope given.
And of course, this needs to fit your audience – it requires different setups depending on your target group. Some games for example utilise storytelling within their setup. You need to tailor your game to your specific audience. You might want to make sure that the story fits your audience’s business tasks, values and beliefs. Thus, you might need to prepare differently if your audience are software architects or an international business manager group – even if the overall target to be achieved remains the same!
Thus, the four steps are creating a flow for preparation – depending on the questions asked, you might need to move back and forth to unveil the full potential of a game under consideration.
Special Focus: Facilitation
Facilitation is often considered to be “the execution of the game after preparation”.
This however, does not automatically create business impact. More is needed here.
You need a debriefing of the game towards the goals set – otherwise it would be left to coincidence whether the right things are noticed by your audience or not. This means that during facilitation (step 4), you need to close the loop to step 1 (context) within the four-step model.
During your preparation, you need to prepare questions for debriefing that tie the workshop targets set with the experience created during the game. For this you need to have a profound understanding of your participants, and the focus you set for the debriefing. In general, debriefing is an individual inner process of your participants. Far too often, debriefing is only addressed on the generalised group level. This however is falling short, as it is well-known that learning happens on an individual level and can only happen from inside a person. You as a facilitator can only provide an optimal stage to foster learning, but you cannot enforce learning. Thus, your task as a facilitator is to use the context (step 1), frame the focus (step 2) for each participant (step 3) and guide them through the inner reflection process (step 4). By doing so, you support individual learning.
Guiding inner reflection processes is done by using questions. In our setup, these questions need to connect the game experience with the real world (context!) of your audience. Thus, you need to look back at step 1 and determine proper questions along these lines:
- Why did you use the game in the first place?
- Which business targets do you want to achieve using it?
- And how do you ensure your target audience is in fact learning / experiencing this?
During preparation, you still need to keep your audience and their individual level of experiencing learning in mind.
Let’s imagine it is a game about improving communication and creating a common understanding of why communication fails and what each and everyone can contribute. So, for the software architects, you could decide to go deeper by adding a peer-to-peer debriefing part, where you divide your participants into groups of two and ask them to debrief together. Also, add the role of an observer. An observer is a participant who does not participate in the game itself, but contributes to the overall learning experience with their observation of the game and adds reflection points. Peer-to-peer debriefing and using an observer both create more observation points and more feedback.
For an international manager group, this depth of debriefing might not be appropriate. As in any other group setup, cultural differences as well as hierarchies within the group need to be considered. If you are a very experienced facilitator, you might create psychological safety within the group and thus open up an in-depth debriefing as well. But in the case you are rather inexperienced, you need to maintain the safety net properly by adapting the setup, e.g leaving debriefing for a higher level, meaning not digging too deep at the individual level, but rather remaining on group level learning. Remaining on this higher level means it is left up to the people how much they want to share. This can be achieved by the following activities:
- Use debriefing questions that focus on group learning
- Do not oblige each participant to answer
- Let participants write down their learnings individually, but make it voluntary to share these at all
In organisations with a strong hierarchical distance, it is sometimes helpful to create sub-groups during the debriefing that are homogenous with regards to their organisational hierarchy.
These subgroups are hierarchy-free and thus they might talk more freely (fearlessly).
The preparation of debriefing questions is key. As you might have noticed, so far we have not yet talked about any specific game to be played. This is because the four-step approach is generic and can be used for any game. Moreover, hopefully you have realised that the selection of an Agile Game is driven by the business impact that you want to create with it.
Playing Agile Games is a fun activity, and when properly applied, it contributes to overall business value. In this article, I outlined the four-step model as a tool for beginners in Agile Games facilitation, and went over a selection of stumbling blocks and relevant questions that can help to overcome them.
I showed the importance of preparation and the required focus for debriefing Agile Games in order to make a contribution to business impact.
The more the focus on the creation of business impact moves into Agile Games, the more it will become recognized as an “adequate and fully-fledged business tool”.