What is Gamestorming?

How do I explain Gamestorming? Well, it is not a particular something, but more of a collection of things that we can do; essentially a set of games we can play to squeeze out the BLAH that would otherwise be the result of your organization's latest all day workshop.

There are a couple of things to note here:

  1. Gamestroming is really not the same thing as that dreaded Team Building Off-site, where everybody has to physically or mentally hold each other up. Or at least it doesn't need to be this way.
  2. Also Gamestroming really does not have to feel like a Saturday Night Live Sketch (see LandShark). Yes it can be really fun, and yes it can be funny; and as full of crafts as your fondest kindergarten experiences; but it does not need to make you cringe or come to the realization that the whole exercise is a waste of time.

In Gamestorming (A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers) the authors (Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo) explain that there is a very real process involved in the world of games, and it is not just for the sake of fun and, well, games. In fact, the results can be seriously phenomenal.

The authors tells us about the basic process of using games and discuss "the importance of opening and closing." They consider this concept to be "so important for managing energy and flow that it belongs on the essentials list....Like breathing, it underlies every activity, giving it rhythm and life." In the initial chapter of Gamestorming ("What Is a Game?"), the authors also clarify that the common game stages are "Opening (Divergent)," "Exploring (Emergent)," and "Closing (Convergent)." I found this to be a very helpful explanation, since it illustrates you must warm-up or set the stage for the work of the game, then do the work, which often takes you to places you might not have expected, and finally you must synthesize the fruits of your labor.

The authors take this one step further by gathering dozens of games that people have used in workshops in many different industries, over many decades, and they organize these games into "Games for Opening," "Games for Exploring," and "Games for Closing."  They also provide a category of "Core Games" that include fundamental techniques that many of have already used. These "games" can potentially be used across categories, depending on your objectives.


Let me give you an example of an all day workshop that I used to drive to the definition of Key Technology Solutions for the mission critical function of an organization:

  1. We started with a brief review of the findings of an assessment that covered the technology areas being reviewed. This was really just for context. I then asked the workshop participants if they all had participated in a sport or something that required "warm-ups" at some point in their lives (if not a sport, then anything requiring preparation; even playing a musical instrument would suffice, since it included a warm-up step). Everyone had done something requiring a preparatory or warm-up phase. I explained that we would need to do a "warm-up" exercise to get in the right frame-of-mind so that the work (or play!) would yield the best possible results.
  2. The Workshop participants broke up into teams and each group was handed a stack of magazines, glue sticks, letter stickers. Their job was to give us a Current State of Technology depiction, to have fun doing it, and then to pick a leader to present it at the end of the session (This is called a "Poster Session" in Gamestorming"). Now everyone was "warmed-up," and they had context on what they would be trying to address in the following sessions.
  3. After a 7-10 minute break,  we used a hybrid of the "Make a World" game in the second session, where newly defined teams used Styrofoam, Pipe-Cleaners, glued headings, and letter stickers to develop a Model (see the Why Do we Model? GlobeBlog Post) of technology solutions of the future that would better serve their mission critical function.
  4. After a Lunch Break, the teams came back and participated in a quick primer on A Margarita Party (a game I learned from my friend, the Project Manager Extraordinaire, Drew Gordon) that gives a brilliant introduction of how to start with the basic requirements for something -- like say a Margarita Party -- and build out a Work-Breakdown Structure ((WBS).  Yes, I got the teams to build out basic project definitions that stemmed from their models!
  5. The team, now quite tired, took a final break, and came back for our "Closing" game: Show Me the Money (a hybrid of what Gamestorming calls "$100 Test").  Each workshop participant was given an equal stack of Monopoly Money and told that they needed to bid on each of the Project Candidates that each of the teams had defined, but they also needed to explain why they were making the bid they made. We went through each of the Project Candidates one by one, like in a cheesy auction. Suddenly everyone's energy came rushing back, and the workshop ended in a flourish! (also, the Project Candidates could now be sorted by Aggregate dollar amount and all the Bid comments -- e.g., "without this project, all the other projects are meaningless," etc. -- would also be included)

So what did we accomplish in this all day Workshop? A group of Subject Matter Experts from across an organization got together and defined and prioritized the key Projects needed to support a mission critical function in a matter of hours. One of the participants told me that in a matter of 6 or so hours we had accomplished more than was accomplished by a large consulting -- engaged to proivde similar results -- that worked with his company for three months!

You might want to try Gamestorming!


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