It’s a proven fact that good company culture increases not just employee engagement, but productivity and sales as well. More and more leaders recognize this and want to know how they can improve their culture. How do you break down silos, increase understanding, build psychological safety? What if the answer wasn’t a complicated plan but something we all did as children? What if play could help not just children, but organizations?
I was lucky to be part of a small cohort of six who came together over Zoom for two days to answer these questions and learn more about how to choose, incorporate, and frame games in their work with clients. Led by the co-founders of Barometer XP, Alex Suchman and Peter Williamson, this group included coaches, play facilitators, OD experts, and communication professionals.
As you might imagine, a large part of each day was spent playing games. But we didn’t just play games, we talked about the theories behind play, why we were playing the games, and what we learned from them. For me, there were four key lessons.
1. The game you choose matters
Not every game works in every situation. Even leaving aside the issues of size and virtual vs in-person, different games are more appropriate for different cultural issues. If your organization is highly competitive and you’re hoping to build more teamwork, you want to choose a game that helps people understand each other and stresses cooperation. Barometer XP has a proprietary product they call “The Pressure Matrix.” The Pressure Matrix allows you to survey a group or organization ahead of time and discover some of the key issues they’re facing. Using the results of the survey, you can browse through their extensive and searchable database of games to discover which games might fit the situation best.
2. Change happens faster than you think (but also not)
On the first day, we were all strangers. By the end of the second day, we had inside jokes, a shared sense of purpose, and knew much more about how each other thought. Of course, the chance to make a few new friends is great, but it won’t happen based just on these two days. The shared experience has made a relationship possible, but creating a true connection will take outreach and effort. Barometer XP has set up a cohort-specific Slack channel to help participants continue their conversations and communication. Effort is also required in a work environment. Playing can begin to break down silos and create connections between coworkers, but it's a start, not the end. It was helpful to learn ways to frame this for potential clients from other practitioners.
3. There are multiple ways to play
On the first day, we played one game two ways with two different sets of rules. On the second day, we had a chance to facilitate a game of our choosing. Two people chose the same game and their framing and discussion around the game were very different. Some of the games we played were already familiar to some people. Discussing the various rules people had used in the past, and the rules we could use now, led to more insight into the individuals and how they think. It also became apparent how one game could be modified to serve a variety of purposes.
4. Expect the unexpected
On the second day, I had the opportunity to facilitate a game. Part of the game involves letting the group choose the rules. It’s a game I’ve facilitated before but I didn’t anticipate that this specific group of people would choose rules that would make the game take as long as it did. Had I thought about that ahead of time, I might have prepared alternate versions of the game that I could have easily switched out. Although any activity can take shorter or longer than you expect, it’s especially difficult to interpret how long a game will take. People have different processing speeds and a turn can take one person seconds and another minutes.
Although we all started the training with different levels of familiarity with games and play, by the end I believe we all felt more comfortable with and informed about using games in our work. The Barometer XP Play Facilitator Certification is a great way for professionals at any level to learn more about how to bring play and games to their work.
Marta Segal Block is an expert in strategic communications and content creation. She completed the Play Facilitator Certification in November 2023.