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Pressure, Meet Play: A Guide to Picking the Right Game (Part I)

The first of a three-part series to help you pick the right game for your team

Have you ever wished that you had a crystal ball to magically understand why your team acts the way it does?

Even before the pandemic, leaders and employees were experiencing how different stresses affected their ability to work together. But the pandemic sharpened some of those stressors, accelerating calls for flexible work conditions. At the core of that request is a desire for a team that makes individuals feel, think, and act better.

We developed our Pressure Matrix to help people understand the connection between mental health and organizational development, and inform efforts to improve team culture and work environment in a way that allows individuals and the team as a whole to thrive.

Our Barometer Reading activates the Pressure Matrix and helps point people toward games that fit the moment. For example:

  • If you’re feeling tired and questioning whether you really mesh with your team at work, it’s probably not a good idea to play a thinking-heavy game that further separates people, like a puzzle. A discovery game like a scavenger hunt might be a better fit, because the result is a shared, co-created experience.

  • If your team already feels pressed for time and lacks a work-life balance, don’t force a 3-hour narrative game: opt for something quick and breezy, like Visionary, instead.

These decisions sound intuitive, but you would be surprised how often the games that people decide to play fail to match the energy in the room. Worse yet is how they reflect on the results.

Regardless of where and when teams play, we suggest reading the room for pressure points. If people are aligned – say, all feeling undervalued and overworked – then there’s a great opportunity to set up a game to target those sentiments and practice behaviors that are replicable day to day. But if people are not aligned – a much more common scenario – then it’s a great opportunity to explore differences through a safe space like a game.

In this article, we’re going to tackle 3 of the 9 pressure points in the Pressure Matrix – Identity and Belonging, Growth and Development, and Tools and Capacity – which we refer to as the Leadership Diagonal. In the Matrix, the upper-left, center, and bottom-right pressure points make up this diagonal, and we see it as critical to building an intuitive sense around playing appropriate games.

Let’s dig in.

Identity and Belonging

At the intersection of “Why” and “Feeling” is Identity and Belonging. When people feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves, engage fully in their jobs, and express interest in community building, leaders have likely fostered a healthy culture. From this foundation, it’s easier to get the best out of the team because everyone is leaning in and ready for action.

When workspaces experience Identity and Belonging as a pressure point, almost everything is harder than it should be. The dynamic could serve as the catalyst for several other issues too, such as poor communication or time management.

To address this pressure point, we would recommend a fast-paced communication game like Fishbowl that leads to a lot of laughing together. Fun shared experiences are fantastic elixirs, especially when the team plays often. Creating “you had to be there” moments have a long-lasting effect on the culture. Just be cognizant of people who weren’t there, and make sure to include them in your next game session.

Growth and Development

At the intersection of “What” and “Thinking” is Growth and Development. When people believe they have the appropriate skills, see ways to advance their career, and express interest in learning alongside colleagues, leaders have prioritized a sense of opportunity. With this mindset, the sky's the limit because people are willing to explore new ideas and reflect openly.

When workspaces experience Growth and Development as a pressure point, people start questioning their role and leaving the team. Turnover puts a heavy burden on others on the team, which can perpetuate a cycle of poor retention, as well as other consequences like miscommunication and lagging performance.

To address this pressure point, we would suggest lighter strategic games that showcase individual strengths in a collective format. Wits and Wagers is trivia with a twist. Being correct is not necessarily the goal. Knowing who will guess the closest earns you points. It really emphasizes how well you know your colleagues. Like Fishbowl, this game is all about sharing laughs and growing your archive of inside jokes.

Tools and Capacity

At the intersection of “How” and “Acting” is Tools and Capacity. When people can access the right resources, operate all the team platforms, and maintain a work-life balance, leaders have designed a well-supported and balanced system. Under a solid structure, work happens faster and more autonomously.

When workspaces are experiencing Tools and Capacity as a pressure point, people feel burnt out and find themselves struggling to do even the most straightforward things. There are several factors that contribute to someone’s inability to execute tasks, but not having enough time or support is fundamental.

To address this pressure point, we enjoy active construction games like PPT Karaoke to integrate work tools into the flow. Don’t worry, these aren’t as dry as they sound. This game challenges players to build a ridiculous business slide and submit it. People are then given 1 minute to present a slide at random and say one secret word without the audience guessing. There are several ways to support the process of making or presenting, ultimately aiming for laughs during and after the shared improv experience.

The Leadership Diagonal

Now that we’ve walked through the 3 pressure points that make up the diagonal, we hope you see how understanding each can unlock a leader’s intuition in picking a game.

In the next blog in this series, we’ll address 3 more pressure points with game types that fit the mold. You’ll recognize them as what you might see as the agenda for an offsite retreat: Mission Alignment, Strategic Planning, and Decision Making.


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