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Red:Green Cards

Object of Play

Feedback is difficult to manage in large group settings. For the presenter and the audience to track with each other, they need a means to communicate their approval, disagreement, or confusion as the event progresses. Red:Green Cards provide a simple means for channeling this feedback.

Number of Players

Works well in any size group, but especially useful in large groups of 20 or more

Duration of Play

A simple Red/Green exchange takes only a moment to play—the length of time it takes to ask a question. If there is disagreement or confusion about a question, time for discussion may be required.

How to Play

Each participant needs two cards: one red and one green. During the event, they may hold up the green card to indicate their approval or the red card to indicate their disapproval.  In their simplest form, the green card means “yes” and the red card means “no.”

Participants may hold up the cards to answer a specific question or they may use them simply to show how they feel about a topic at any time. For example, a presenter may ask the audience directly, “Have we covered this topic sufficiently to move on?” to get a quick understanding check. Likewise, participants may hold up their cards unprompted, nodding heads and holding up green cards in response to a topic—or holding up red cards to register an objection.

Strategy

Using Red/Green Cards helps solve two sticky problems in large groups: it eliminates the need for “we all agree” commentary, while surfacing participants who would otherwise fume over unheard objections. In short, it’s a simple way to open a feedback loop with a large group.

Red:Green Cards was developed by Jerry Michalski. In his design, yellow and gray cards may be incorporated to represent “neutral” and “confusion.”

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Button

Object of Play

A common element of brainstorming or group work is the “let’s go around and hear from everyone” routine. The rule governing this is a valuable one—that everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice.

There are two problems with this, however. First, moving from one person to the next in a round-robin fashion can be an energy drain, even with a small number of people. It’s predictable, and the participants at the end of the line are often short-changed. Second, and potentially more damaging to the activity, is that often a participant’s attention wanes when she is “on deck” and preparing her own thoughts as opposed to listening to others.

The Button is a simple technique that keeps true to the original rule while avoiding the traps of a round robin.

How to Play

When the group is asked to report on a question, a small token—it may be a poker chip or something similar—is given to the first volunteer to respond. After his response, he chooses a person who has yet to speak to take the button. This continues until everyone has spoken once.

  • This can be done easily with index cards instead of a button. Participants think about their answers to a question first and write a word on the card along with their name. The cards are passed to the left in a quick manner for a few moments so that in the process of passing the order becomes scrambled. The participants then call on each other by way of reading the words aloud and asking the writers to explain.

Strategy

Randomization keeps the participants’ attention.  When you don’t know if you will be called on next, you will be more present and focused. The Button game also passes control onto the participants, by giving them the power to nominate the next speaker.

The Button is inspired by the Native American “Talking Stick” tradition, where a ceremonial object such as a stick or feather, representing the right to speak, was passed from one person to another to respect speakers and avoid interruptions.

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Five-Fingered Consensus

Object of Play

Like Red/Green Cards (discussed later in this chapter), this is a technique for managing the feedback loop between a facilitator and a large group. When working in breakouts or as a large group, it may be necessary to periodically gauge the level of perceived consensus, without spending an unnecessary amount of time talking about it.  A facilitator may ask for this quickly by using the “five-fingers check.”

How to Play

The facilitator asks the group to rate their level of consensus on a topic from 0 to 5, with five fingers meaning “absolute, total agreement” and a fist meaning “completely different points of view.” This is particularly useful in managing breakout groups, where different topics may be discussed simultaneously.  A group that holds up a variety of ones, twos, and threes may have more work to do.

Strategy

The “trick” in this technique is in gauging how far apart the individuals feel they are from consensus. A group that is wide apart in the view of its members—with some holding up five fingers and others holding up two—may need outside support and mediation of their discussion.

Hand signals are a commonly found element of consensus-based decision making and dispute resolution. Related is the thumbs-up, thumbs-down, and thumbs-sideways technique.

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World Café

Object of Play

What’s the difference between a business meeting and a conversation at a café? The World Café is a method for improving large-group discussion by borrowing concepts from the informal “café” conversations that we have all the time: round tables, cross pollinating ideas, and pursuing questions that matter.

As a conversational process, the World Café may take on many forms. Here is a “quick start” flow to consider, which focuses on the basics.

Number of Players

24–30 participants in groups of 4–5 at round tables

Duration of Play

1.5 hours

Setup

As the leader, you will need to find the “questions that matter” which will guide the rounds of discussion. A powerful question will be evocative and simple; it should be immediately tangible and relevant to a challenge the group faces. The group may focus on one question or move through a group of subsequent questions. For example, “How might we start having more real conversations with our customers?” may be enough to sustain three rounds of discussion.

Develop your questions that matter, and then focus on creating an inviting and hospitable environment for the event. This may not be an easy task in typical conference spaces.  Some things to keep in mind include the fact that round tables are better for conversation than square tables, and each table should be equipped with drawing supplies such as markers, flip charts, and/or paper tablecloths.

How to Play

The event consists of three 20-minute rounds of group discussion at tables, followed by a group synthesis. After each round, one person stays behind to serve as a “host” of the next round, while the rest travel to other tables as “ambassadors.” In this sense, participants have a chance to go “around the world” and bring their ideas with them from table to table.

During the rounds of discussion, encourage participants to link ideas from one round to the next.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Spend the first few minutes talking about the last conversation. The “host” can present ideas left at the table, and the “ambassadors” should talk about what they’ve brought from their respective places.
  • Leave evidence. Draw key ideas out on the table. For the next group to appreciate the previous conversation, they will need some artifacts to respond to and build on.
  • Connect diverse viewpoints and respect contributions. If needed, use a “talking stick” or button to manage each other’s input.
  • Look for patterns. By the second and third rounds, themes and larger patterns will emerge in the discussion. Encourage participants to look for these and make them evident by drawing or writing them toward the middle of the tables.

After the last round, it’s time for a town hall discussion to synthesize what the groups have discovered. Referring back to the questions that matter, ask what the answers were at the different tables, and how they are connected.

A community of practitioners maintains the evolving methodology, process, history, and design principles at www.theworldcafe.com.

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Visual Glossary

Object of Play

The object of this game is to clearly define a set of terms so that a group has a common vocabulary.

It’s not in our nature to admit ignorance. When greeted with an unknown or abstract term, many people find it easier to pretend they understand than to ask for clarification.  This is dangerous in knowledge work, where a common understanding is necessary to work together.

Groups that make time to define their terms visually will work faster and more effectively by starting on the same page.

Number of Players

2–10

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

  1. Introduce the exercise as a means to create a common language. The first step is to brainstorm the tough phrases and terms that make up the group’s shared language.  Have the group brainstorm these individually on sticky notes.  Examples might be jargon, slang, technical terms, or acronyms that they use in the course of their everyday work.
  2. Have participants post their notes in one large pool and examine them. Discuss which terms were the most common and which are of the highest priority for visual definition.
  3. At this point, you are ready to make the glossary. From the pool, assign the most important terms a space on the wall. Pick a term to start with, and ask the group to describe it first with words. The group may uncover points that are foggy, conflicting, or inadequate in their verbiage.
  4. Then try to clarify the term with a picture.  Ask: what does this look like? If the term is abstract, try a diagrammatic approach.  Start with the people or things involved and connect them in a way that visually captures the definition. For example, the word social has many definitions and contexts, but by asking the group to describe a picture of what they mean, you will get a clearer definition.

Strategy

Don’t try to define everything up front. Find the most important terms, where there is the most opportunity to clarify, and do those first.

A good visual glossary will have utility beyond one meeting. Use the visuals in follow-on activities; make them available online, or in training materials, if appropriate. Encourage participants to use the visual elements as shorthand when communicating and working with these terms.

The Visual Glossary game is credited to James Macanufo.

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Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Object of Play

The goal of this game is to channel Aristotle’s assessment of your argument.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Aristotle laid the groundwork for persuasive communication in the 4th century. Although the times have changed, effective communication hasn’t. Evaluate a communication, such as a value proposition, by using the three elements of rhetoric.  Role playing as your audience, score your message from 1 to 10 on these categories:

  • Ethos/Credibility:  Who are you, and what authority do you have on the topic?
  • Logos/Logic:  How clear and consistent is your reasoning? How do your facts measure up against my facts?
  • Pathos/Emotion: How vivid, memorable, and motivating is your message?

Look for areas of improvement or imbalance.

The Ethos, Logos, Pathos game is credited to James Macanufo.

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NUF Test

Object of Play

As a group is developing ideas in a brainstorming session, it may be useful to do a quick “reality check” on proposed ideas. In the NUF Test, participants rate an idea on three criteria: to what degree is it New, Useful, and Feasible?

Number of Players

Small group

Duration of Play

Short; 15–30 minutes, depending on the size of the group and the level of discussion

How to Play

Set up the game by quickly creating a matrix of ideas against the criteria:

  • New: Has the idea been tried before? An idea will score higher here if it is significantly different from approaches that have come before it. A new idea captures attention and possibility.
  • Useful: Does the idea actually solve the problem? An idea that solves the problem completely, without creating any new problems, will score better here.
  • Feasible: Can it be done? A new and useful idea still has to be weighed against its cost to implement. Ideas that require fewer resources and effort to be realized will score better here.

To play, the group rates each idea from 1 to 10 for each criterion and tallies the results.  A group may choose to write down scores individually at first and then call out their results on each item and criterion to create the tally. Scoring should be done quickly, as in a “gut” check.

A discussion after the scores have been tallied may uncover uncertainties about an idea or previously under rated ideas. The group may then choose to make an idea stronger, as in “How do we make this idea more feasible with fewer resources?”

Strategy

The goal of this game is to check big ideas against the realities they will face after the meeting is over. It is not intended to “kill” good ideas, but to identify possible weak points so that they can be shaped and improved before seeing the light of day.

The NUF Test is an adaptation of a testing process used for patents.

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Help Me Understand

Object of Play

Help Me Understand is based on the underlying (and accurate) assumption is that employees come to meetings with widely different questions around a topic or a change.It assumes leadership can anticipate some questions and concerns but can’t possibly anticipate them all. No one knows the questions employees have better than the employees themselves, so this game gives them a chance to externalize what’s on their minds and have leadership be responsive in a setting outside the once-a-year leadership retreat. It also allows the players to discover overlaps with other players’ questions and to notice the frequency with which those questions occur—something they may not have known prior to the meeting. It lets some sunshine in around a project, initiative, or change so that employees—who have to implement that change—have fewer lingering questions.

Number of Players

5–25

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

  1. In a large white space visible to all the players, write the topic of the meeting and the following words as headers across the top: “WHO?”, “WHAT?”, “WHEN?”,“WHERE?”, and “HOW?”. Give all players access to sticky notes and markers.
  2. Tell the players that the goal of the game is to help leadership understand and be responsive to any and all questions around the topic.
  3. Start with the question “WHO?” and give the players five minutes to silently write down as many questions as they can that begin with the word WHO.
  4. Ask the players to post all of their questions in the white space under WHO? and then ask for a couple of volunteers to cluster the questions according to topical similarity.
  5. Bring the largest clusters to the group’s attention—circle them if you prefer—and ask leadership to offer a response to the most common questions in the clusters and to any outlier questions that look interesting.
  6. Repeat this process for the remaining four header questions, each time asking leadership to respond to the questions that seem the most salient to the group.
  7. When the meeting closes, gather all of the questions so that leadership has the opportunity to review them later and respond to important questions that weren’t covered during the meeting.

Strategy

As the group leader, you can conduct this game in different ways. One way is to ask the five questions back to back, with the players creating sticky notes for all five questions—WHO?, WHAT?, WHEN?, WHERE?, and HOW?—and then posting and clustering them during the first half of the meeting. After they’ve completed that part of the game, the players ask leadership to address the major clusters during the second half of the meeting. Another approach is to let leadership intersperse responses while the players tackle the header questions one at a time. There are benefits to both approaches.

The first approach allows the players to write questions uninterrupted by content from and reactions to leadership. It also allows leadership to save some time since they only technically need to attend the second half of the session. The second approach breaks up the flow a bit but will inevitably affect the types of questions the players ask since they’re getting information from leadership as they go. Choose what’s appropriate based on your knowledge of the group.

During the clustering part of the game, you may want to write emergent themes near each cluster to give leadership summaries of where their employees’ attention is. This is also helpful for the players to reinforce that they have shared concerns. The themes should be one- to three-word phrases summarizing the general content of the clusters. And as the meeting leader, encourage employees to make the most of this game since it presents an unusual opportunity for them to pose real, substantive questions directly to their company leaders.

This game is an adaptation of WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE and HOW from The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner. In his book, Kamen notes that his use of this tool was inspired by an exercise called “Five W’s and H” in Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, Second Edition, by A. B. Van Gundy, Jr., p. 46.

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Pie Chart Agenda

Object of Play

Many meetings happen in an ad hoc or moment-to-moment fashion. They happen without a formal plan, agenda, or prep work—but despite this they can be some of the most productive meetings we have. One characteristic that sets these meetings apart is a focused awareness of time constraints—for example, “We have 30 minutes; how should we spend the time?”

Sketching a pie chart agenda answers this question with speed and clarity. In some cases it takes less than a minute, and in the process, it brings into focus both the order and the significance of topics, where a simple list would fall short. What a pie chart agenda lacks in formality it makes up for in speed and flexibility.

Number of Players

Small group

Duration of Play

60–90 seconds

How to Play

1. Draw a circle representing your “pie” of time. This may be on a whiteboard, a flip chart, or even a pad of paper. This circle represents the total amount of time the group has to spend on the objective.

2. Write the objective in the middle of the circle. For instance, it could be “Brainstorm approaches for dealing with Problem X.”

3. The group then thinks about how they want to spend the time and adds these items to the clock in a sequence that makes sense for the task at hand, just as they would for a circle-formatted agenda. These are added around the outside.

4. To finish the chart, the group decides how much time they want to reserve 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.”

5. Once the group has roughed in the plan and is in agreement, the clock starts ticking and the meeting begins.

Strategy
How is this different from a list agenda? The focal point of a clock does two things. As a metaphor, it emphasizes the notion of time and expediency, which is vital in making ad hoc meetings productive. It also represents the agenda items as parts of the whole, weighted by importance and time to be spent on them. Items on a list have a bad habit of falling off the list or being skipped entirely. When produced quickly and managed through the course of a meeting, a clock agenda helps ensure that the time is spent wisely.

The Pie Chart Agenda is credited to Sunni Brown.

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Visual Agenda

Object of Play

In a typical meeting, people walk in and are handed a typed sheet of paper that shows them the meeting agenda. It usually includes the date, the meeting topics, and the time allotted for each topic. Sometimes it acknowledges who is presenting or leading the topic. Most participants give this piece of paper about two seconds of their time. The standard approach for making agendas is perfectly fine for quick meetings among people who work together regularly. But for meetings that matter, for meetings that take a good amount of people’s time and attention, and for meetings that bring together people from across disciplines or departments, visual agendas work much better.

When you create a visual agenda, people look it over and linger on it longer. They actually read the desired outcomes and review the steps they’ll take to get there. The energy level rises when participants walk into a room and see a large, colorful, hand-drawn display. People start to talk about it with each other. A visual agenda implies that the day might be interesting; it sends a signal to the group that the meeting matters. Visuals also help participants recall later what the meeting was about.

How to Play

1. Establish a desired outcome(s) for the meeting and craft an agenda that will get the group there. Choose a visual framework that represents the tone or theme of the meeting.

2. Draw the agenda in a nontraditional and creative way on a large sheet of paper or display it using presentation software.

Strategy

A visual agenda is a gesture to the group that you spent time before you took up theirs. So, take the time to build a good road map to your outcomes. And when drawing or creating the visual agenda, think of metaphors that represent a theme of the meeting. Draw pictures that symbolize the company’s mission or work. If you’re working at a vacation rental company, draw a beach scene with each footstep as a stage of the agenda. Draw a forest scene if you’re working at an environmental organization; a circuit board if you’re with a tech firm.

Brand the agenda in creative ways. If you’ve got copywriting chops, think of interesting phrases to describe each stage of the meeting. And if you have neither copywriter nor artistic instincts, ask someone who plans to attend the meeting to help you. Creating a visual agenda is a small investment in a meeting, but it offers a good ROI.

The Visual Agenda game was inspired by The Grove’s practice of creating visual agendas before meetings.