Using Gamestorming to make your workshops fun, engaging and effective!

As a user experience designer, I facilitate many types of meetings of all shapes and sizes: some last an hour and some are lengthy workshops that can run for a day or two. And, like most people, I’ve been through far too many deaths by powerpoint meetings or agenda-less gatherings that engulf hours out of busy schedules. As a result, I’m always looking for ways to make my facilitated gatherings more engaging, goal driven and purposeful.

One of the resources that I keep going back to is the Gamestorming website and book. For those who have yet to discover this serviceable, cornucopia for facilitators, let me introduce you to Gamestorming.

What is Gamestorming?

Gamestorming is a set of co-creation workshop tools used by innovators, rulebreakers and change-makers all over the world. The tools and strategies are great for examining things deeply, for exploring new ideas, for performing experiments and testing hypotheses.

The term Gamestorming was coined by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo, who joined forces to create a convenient compilation of tools and activities that designers and facilitators have been using for over a decade. The website contains over 100 activities that you can incorporate into your meetings and workshops in order to make them more engaging, more effective and ultimately more memorable.

The website is cleverly organised into categories that cover pretty much every kind of meeting or workshop that you might have to facilitate, for example there are games for:

  • problem solving
  • generating new ideas
  • running meetings
  • defining vision and strategy
  • connecting with a user base
  • identifying stakeholder values
  • seeing things from another perspective
  • managing meetings
  • team bonding
  • assessing company structure/leadership
  • thinking through business models
  • understanding the feasibility of change
  • team building and alignment
  • Icebreaker and closing

So many games, which ones do you choose?

Selecting the right activity for your gathering can be a little overwhelming, especially when there are so many to choose from. One of the very useful tips that I learnt from Dave Gray at a recent Gamestorming workshop was to ensure that every meeting has an opening, an exploration phase and a closing. Putting some thought into the structure of a meeting ensures that you’re not wasting people’s time and, most importantly, that you achieve the goals of the meeting.

The diagram below illustrates some activities that suit each meeting phase.

There are hundreds of gamestorming activities listed in the Gamestorming website which I encourage you to take a look at. In the meantime, to get you inspired to utilise some of these techniques at your next meeting or workshop, I’ve selected a handful of methods that you can try out…

First things first… setting the meeting time

Selecting the time for a meeting is actually an important consideration that most of us don’t even factor in. However, the actual time of day that you set for your meeting can impact on the results:

Mornings are best for brainstorming & ideation. People are more creative in the morning and also more aggressive. Afternoons are best for convincing people, they tend to be more agreeable in the afternoons.

Gamestorming activities you can use for opening a meeting

The types of activities you choose to use to open a meeting will depend greatly on the type of gathering; is it a big group? Do they know each other? Is the purpose to inform attendees or to pick their brains?

There are squillions of ideas to get a meeting started. The traditional approach is to go through the agenda and perhaps some introductions. So let me introduce you to a traditional approach that is blended with a visual approach.

Setting the agenda with a pie

No meeting should ever be run without an agenda. Agendas don’t have to be super formalised, they can be a simple guideline of what will be covered in the session so that you can ensure that the objectives of the session are met.  The agenda pie can be drawn up on a whiteboard at the beginning of a meeting, setting a fluid structure that time boxes the activities that need to be covered.

Time: A couple of minutes

How to play:
1. Draw a circle representing your “pie” of time on the whiteboard.
2. Write the objective of the meeting  in the middle of the circle.
3. Write down what will be discussed in each segment. Add these around the outside.
4. Decide how much time is reserved for each item. This is captured on the pie chart, as though it were rough sections of a clock face. For instance: “We’re going to spend a third of our time on this item, but we need to save the bulk of it for this, and the last five minutes talking about this.”

Why this is great: As a metaphor it emphasises the notion of time and expediency. It also represents the agenda as parts of a whole, weighted by importance and time to be spent on them.

Warm up the room with an icebreaker

The right icebreaker has the power to set the mood of the meeting. There are a wide variety of activities that can be used; I always try to select one that suits the type of meeting or workshop. For example;  I consider whether the people attending know each other well or are they meeting for the first time? Are we aiming to build trust and empathy within the team? Are we aiming to inspire creativeness in this session?

The icebreaker described below is an effective way to get people to introduce themselves and also learn something about each other. It can be used with a group of people that might already know each other as well as  a group that don’t know each other at all.

Time: Depends on how many people attend workshop. 10 people approx 5 mins.

How to apply: Pass a jar filled with colourful M&M’s or smarties and ask each person to take one. Once everyone has one ask them to introduce themselves and say something about themselves that corresponds with the coloured candy they selected.

Why this is great:You get to eat chocolate! And you also get to know your colleagues on a personal level which is beneficial for working more effectively as a team, building trust and empathy with one another.

Gamestorming activities to use during the discovery phase of your project

The types of activities that you incorporate during the discovery phase of a project will depend greatly on the type of problem you’re aiming to solve. An activity that I find myself using for most projects is the speedboat and anchors activity.

Speed boat and anchor activity

The speedboat and anchors activity is a simple way to bring to attention the types of things which may slow a project down and help the project move faster.

Time: Depends on how many people attend workshop. 10 people approx 30 mins.

How to play: Draw a boat on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard and ask each participant to spend a few minutes writing things that will help the project flow more efficiently and quickly. Encourage participants to write one item per post it note.

Once everyone has finished, ask each participant to talk through their item and place it on the sheet of paper. The facilitator can encourage people to discuss each item in more depth if required and if similar items are emerging, theses should be grouped into categories.

Once all the ‘speedboat’ items are up on the wall, repeat the same process focusing on anchors.  The anchors are items that might slow the project down.

At the end of the exercise you will have a wall full of items that can be actioned to help you predict things that can increase the success of your project before it even begins.

Why this is great:This activity engages every participant in the room to really think about what might slow or speed a project before it gets started. It’s a collaborative activity that encourages everyone to speak up and voice their perspectives.

Stimulating the creative bits of the brain by combining systems thinking and drawing

Anyone who has been a part of one of my workshops knows that I’ll always try to weave in a little drawing. Not just because it’s fun, but most importantly because it’s an effective way to tap into your creative neural networks.

The Drawing Toast activity developed by Tom Wuject, is a wonderful activity that helps you to visually identify the steps that activities actually take. It’s particularly effective when used to unpack a problem and helps identifies areas that can be streamlined in a particular process that users experience. I use this as a warm up exercise before I ask people to actually draw a problem or scenario.

Time: Approx 10 minutes for warm up and add another 10 minutes to draw a problem/scenario.

How to play:On a piece of A4 paper or index cards ask people to draw ‘how to make toast’. Some people might feel a little apprehensive about exhibiting their drawing skills so make them feel comfortable by emphasising that this is not about showcasing their drawing skills. It’s about communicating visually in whatever way they feel comfortable; using stick figures, shapes and arrows etc.

After a couple of minutes ask people to share what they drew with the group. Discuss insights, similarities and disparities. It’s astounding how diverse peoples interpretations of making toast can be.

Now that the team has warmed up, you can now ask them to draw the scenario of the problem or challenge that users are experiencing or the solution of the problem that the team is trying to resolve.  After a few minutes, encourage everyone to share their interpretation with everyone.

Other activities that you might want to try out during the discovery phase of your project include:

Some activities for closing a meeting

The conclusion of a meeting is often the most neglected aspect of a meeting’s framework. Just as an agenda is important in outlining what will happen during a meeting, the closing is equally as important because it recaps that what you set out to achieve was, in fact, achieved, and it can also define the next steps.

Measure the temperature of the room

If you’re uncertain about how the participants feel about the session, you can gauge the temperature of the room by asking each person to write one word on a post it note, that captures how they felt the session went. Pop them on a wall and read them out so that everyone gets an idea of how everyone else felt about the session.

Define next steps and assign actions

It’s always a good idea to identify what happens next, so that there is a defined action or process which follows up on the objective of the meeting. Each action should be assigned to an individual along with a due-date for that specific task.

A simple and effective way to do this is to draw up the following three columns on a white board and fill in the who, what and when. It ensures that everyone leaves the room with a clearly defined ‘next step’ so actions are achieved.

Let the games begin!

Now that I’ve taken you through some of the gamestorming activities that we often use in our client engagements, I hope that you’ll be inspired to make your meetings and workshops more playful and fun.

If you’d like to know more about incorporating a little gamestorming into your meetings and workshops, talk to us. Not only is this style of workshop more engaging and interesting for all involved, we find that it’s also far more effective in gathering insights from all the key stakeholders to get the entire project team on the same page and in defining metrics that will ensure that you’re on track to building the right thing – a product that truly delivers value to your users.

Want to know more about how DiUS can help you?



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