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

In the first part of this series, we covered the Leadership Diagonal of our Pressure Matrix – 3 pressure points commonly found in teams that can be especially useful for leaders to manage. We have found framing workplace pressures in sets can help tell a story or create comparisons, making it easier to understand and implement the lessons learned.

When onboarding a new client through the Barometer Reading assessment, our facilitators balance the results by picking games that celebrate team strengths as well as ones that underscore opportunities for growth. Playing games that are too easy or too frustrating won’t encourage people to fully reflect on the experience. Juxtaposing one experience where you thrived with another where you struggled opens up a level of awareness that’s critical for team building and development.

One of the simplest ways to create this balance is to pick 3 pressure points that represent every column (feel, think, act) and row (why, what, how). The Leadership Diagonal is one example. Let’s dig into another.

Alignment ad Focus

At the intersection of “How” and “Feeling” is Alignment and Focus. When people are in sync with their colleagues and believe their work contributes to the team objectives, there’s a sense of energy around succeeding together. Well-aligned teams benefit from organized and productive meetings, as well as an internalized process of dealing with difficult conversations.

When a team experiences Alignment and Focus as a pressure point, it means people are struggling to find common ground and momentum as a group. While team members don’t need to see eye-to-eye on every detail, they should share fundamental values in order to reach a collective vision.

To address this pressure point, we suggest lighter games that uncover social similarities and differences. Chameleon is similar to popular word communication games like Heads Up or Codenames, but there are a few mechanics – such as role randomization and bluffing – that increase its complexity as you play.

In every round, a list of words is revealed, with one designated as the secret word, which is known by all players except one (the chameleon). All players (including the chameleon) must give a clue about the secret word to indicate they know what it is. At the end of the round, players discuss and vote for who they believe is not in the know. The game creates a lot of laughs, as well as insight on how to listen better to your teammates.

Strategy & Mindset

At the intersection of “Why” and “Thinking” is Strategy and Mindset. When people are thoughtful about creating goals and consider how decisions impact those goals, it can be easier to understand the purpose of tasks and get group buy-in. Solid plans also grow from balancing perspectives and ideas from all levels of the team.

When workspaces are experiencing Strategy and Mindset as a pressure point, people may be lost in team goals or thinking reactively. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by or behind on work when you don’t have any intuition for what to do next.

To address this pressure point, we love collective problem-solving exercises like escape rooms, in which players must solve a series of puzzles to get out of a (physical or virtual) locked room in a limited amount of time. Even though the game’s goal is time-driven, success requires a sound strategy and understanding before entering the room. When a team accesses individual strengths, divides labor, and establishes communication norms, people can focus on the task at hand.

Taken one step further, teams that master escape room fundamentals can use the challenge to position players where they can practice weaker skills. It’s also an excellent opportunity for leaders to flex their ability to empower people under pressure.

Decisions & Execution

At the intersection of “What” and “Acting” is Decisions and Execution. When people have a sense of autonomy and ownership, engagement skyrockets. Many people are looking for moments that they can proudly point to and say, “look what I did.”

When workspaces are experiencing Decisions and Execution as a pressure point, people may be weighing the costs of accountability, change, or failure over the potential accomplishment. They may also have limited power in the workplace or feel frustrated at the lack of recent progress. Simply put, things aren’t happening. A team may have the world’s greatest plan, but if roles aren’t delivered and expectations aren’t clear, then tensions can bubble over.

To address this pressure point, we suggest games that allow people to fail fast and experience frequent moments of success. Minute to Win It is a growing collection of challenges that has been popularized into several reality shows. Players must complete a task – usually made up of a few common household objects – in under 60 seconds.

In the game shows, these tasks are often individual and increase in difficulty to earn prize money. But in team settings, the challenges can be fused together to make activities like obstacle courses and multi-person relays. The magic of any kinetic challenge is that there isn’t one right way to complete the task. As a result, you can observe in real time how people use their instincts, then adjust to improve in later rounds. There are moments for people to play different roles, such as the challenger, coach, or learner. Just ensure that the chosen tasks allow everyone to shine at some point. Being in awe of a colleague is a powerful thing to cultivate.

The Traditional Retreat

You may associate Alignment, Strategy, and Execution as high-level objectives for a board meeting or team retreat. But whether resolving these goals happens in one sitting or over a series of gatherings, it’s critical that everyone in the organization is on the same page.

We hope you enjoyed some brief examples of how to tackle these three pressure points with play. In the final blog in this series, we’ll build on The Leadership Diagonal and The Traditional Retreat with games to validate your people, priorities, and process.


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