I just returned from Play4Agile North America and I wanted to share some of my insights from this unconference.
Using Open Space to Run an (Un)Conference
First, a bit about the unconference itself. If you’ve never attended an unconference, I highly recommend you try one. People at this unconference organized themselves using Open Space Technology (OST). Regardless of whether OST is used or not, two common features of unconferences are that they allow the participants to set the agenda and there are no ‘speakers’, just participants. OST’s structure allows for even more power through its principles. These two features ensure that people generate the topics of interest to them AND get to explore things with other people through conversation rather than being “talked at.”
The Play4Agile NA ‘17 Marketplace
Using Games to Learn
Before the unconference began, Thiagi ran a workshop about games, and how he designs and facilitates games. Some games are logic puzzles, some are quick exercises that introduce a concept, and some are there to help get people connected. Thiagi researches the psychological aspects of using games and designing games for learning. I came away with a few tidbits from this, particularly some great ways to debrief people while also increasing the energy in the room during the debrief.
What Some Games Taught Me
One of the more intriguing sessions I attended dealt with understanding the five coping stances in the Satir model. The ‘game’ part of Glenn Waters’ session was assuming body postures as the stances. The stances are explained through the portion of the model focused on congruence in communications and actions. After a short explanation of a coping stance, we would assume the body posture for that stance and then debrief on the negative and positive aspects about that stance.
I also really enjoyed a session that discussed how to use Group Works cards with different game-like mechanics. These cards have a way of organizing values into various categories. This can help people connect for initial team chartering sessions or retrospectives when there are problems with communications or other team dynamics.
How I Used Games to Teach Others
I facilitated a session using the cooperative board game Pandemic because it’s a useful way to learn how to model system dynamics using causal loop diagrams. During the session, one individual said they had a corporate offsite coming up and they were struggling with how to help people understand causal loop diagrams, so the timing of this was perfect! It felt great to help a fellow coach.
I also hosted a session on building a game to demonstrate ‘Conway’s Law.’ The initial design idea is to have people build an illustrated story, or perhaps a comic, within a time box. People will have different roles and, by organizing them differently within a hierarchy, we can see how the story gets reflected. The first version of this game is in the works and this is one reason why I love unconferences (you get to collaborate and create stuff)! Incidentally, this is exactly how Agile Brambles came to fruition after US Agile Coach Camp 2016.
The unconference closed with a retrospective to improve next year’s event; this was done using ‘Lego for Serious Play.’ The power of this activity for visioning, team chartering, retrospectives, and strategizing can’t be emphasized enough. I’ve been using this myself for these kind of activities and it really helps get people working better together.