The agile community has readily adopted the idea of using games to help teach and develop teams almost since agile was conceived. While attending an induction evening for parents at my Son’s first school this week, the teachers discussed how learning was mainly through play, and that reminded me of the power that games can have, and the reasons why they work and should be supported in the workplace.
Trying new things
Like young children, teams often need to be encouraged to try new things. This could be because they’ve worked the same way for 15 years, because a new way of working is being adopted in the organisation, or just trying to improve existing methods of working. Trying new things is hard, as most people have a mental block about wanting to do things right; let’s be honest when you are new to something, and I know from personal experience, being perfect at it initially rarely happens. It is important therefore, to make sure there is a safe environment to try and fail without the risk of, “being told off”, as the teacher said.
In Agile we actively encourage teams to try new things, normally things they have thought would make an improvement. We try to build an organisation around them that won’t come down on them hard if after trying something for an iteration they have to throw some of it away because the idea wasn’t the best.
Don’t consider it a failure, consider it a new piece of feedback to allow you to improve next time. Open your mind to new possibilities.
Working as a team
While school children need to learn to share and cooperate together, for work teams to truly flourish, they need to be taken on a journey from a corporate “team”, i.e. ten people sat in a room working on the same project, to a team in the true sense of the word.
Part of this, is being relaxed about, “not always getting their own way”, and not having a tantrum when they don’t. Often people have been conditioned to not collaborate and put barriers between them and other siloed parts of the business through process documentation.
Games allow the team to work out ways for letting ideas build in a collaborative way. The detachment from reality allows better ways of interacting with each other when there isn’t so much to lose.
Using creative thinking and intuition
Like a lot of industries, software is no exception of building an army of workers who use reasoned thinking for pretty much all of their work. However, current research shows that reasoned thinking can be far from the best Return On Investment, compared to making quick decisions using intuition or creative thinking.
That aside, being able to train ourselves to firstly exercise and then use creative thinking and intuition, your reasoned work can be better. This could be using the Lateral Thinking method during brainstorming, or coming up with ideas on apparent random things to valid or identify risks.
These different ways of thinking are promoted by not being told what to do, by being given an open brief and then working out ways to achieve the goal. Games can provide this safe, simplified version of the world with scope for people to really explore something.
I struggle somewhat with calling the work agile teams do as Software Engineering. Engineering to me gives images of stayed, controlled, predictable work. I personally believe that while there are clearly elements that are true, and in the sense of designing and building something it is. I believe though there is a great deal of creativity needed to make it really special and produce truly excellent work.
Doing exercises and games to push your levels of creative thinking and use of intuition allow you to take this back to your desk and apply it to the day-to-day work.
At what stage did we stop learning from playing? What is it that makes us believe that only children can learn from play? When you have seen first hand, as I have, how simple games, like the Ball Point Challenge, used during Scrum introduction training allow sceptics see the benefits so quickly and form ideas that last, you are strongly motivated to get more use of games.
I agree it can be hard when people think it’s only for kids or you’re being all a bit “East Coast American”, or “fluffy stuff” doesn’t make any difference. Like my Son’s new school teacher, coaches need to encourage the team to play, to learn, and release their potential.
“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not”.
What benefits have you seen by playing at work? Post a comment and let me know.