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Build The Checklist

Object of Play

In all work of reasonable complexity, there is a moment-to-moment risk that equally important tasks will overwhelm the human mind. In knowledge work this may be doubly true, due to the intangible “fuzziness” of any particular task. For groups that are charting out how they will work one of the most practical and useful things they can do is build a checklist.

Although creating a checklist may seem like an open-and-shut exercise, often it uncovers a manifest of issues. Because a checklist is a focusing object, it demands that the team discuss the order and importance of certain tasks. Team members are likely to have different perspectives on these things, and the checklist is a means to bring these issues to the surface and work with them.

Number of Players

A small team that has deep experience with the task at hand

Duration of Play

1 hour or more, depending on the task to be analyzed

How to Play

It’s most useful to create the checklist in order of operation, from first to last, but in some cases a ranked or prioritized list is more appropriate. Consider which the group would benefit more from creating.

  1. To begin, introduce to the group the topic at hand: “You will be creating a checklist for doing [fill in the blank].” It may be useful to prime the group into thinking about a particular situation or duration of time, as in “Getting from A to B” or “Dealing with an Angry Customer.”
  2. Have the group brainstorm tasks to put on the checklist using sticky notes. Guide the group to create items that are concrete and measurable, like a switch that is turned on or off. For example, “assess arrival readiness” is not as useful as “deploy landing gear.”
  3. Once the group has generated a pool of ideas, they may use Post-Up and affinity mapping to remove duplicate tasks. In discussing what has been added to the list, two things may be done:


  • Have the group order the tasks into a procedure. Use sticky notes so that the individual tasks can be moved. Given a space with a beginning and an end, the group can discuss and debate the ordering while creating the list in real time.
  • Have the group force-rank the tasks. In this case, the group must decide the order of importance of the tasks. By doing this, the group may be able to agree to cut items from the bottom of the list, making their checklist shorter and more direct.

In all cases, the discussion and reflection that come out of the initial brainstorming will be where the most progress is made. It is likely that new ideas will surface and be added to the checklist in the discussion. Coming out of the discussion the group’s next step is to capture the checklist as an artifact and share it with others who can test it and improve it.

The Build the Checklist game is credited to James Macanufo.


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Object of Play

Simple information-splicing games come in handy because, in an intentional way, they disrupt the standard ways we break down topics. The 4Cs game is a quick way to gather and organize information about any subject using four common key concepts.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Before the meeting, decide on a topic you want the players to explore and draw a 2×2 matrix in a large white space in the meeting room.

2. Write the following categories in each box of the matrix: “Components”, “Characteristics”, “Characters”, and “Challenges”. Then, draw something that represents each category.

3. Tell the players that this game is about exploring and sharing what they know about the topic based on the 4Cs. Define the terms of each “C”:

• Components are parts of the topic. For example, a component of a social commerce strategy might be responsive tweets. Components of a distribution channel might be 18-wheelers.

• Characteristics are features of the topic. For example, speed of response is a characteristic of a social commerce strategy. A characteristic of an 18 wheeler might be an inefficient use of fuel.

• Challenges are obstacles associated with the topic.

• Characters are people associated with the topic.

You don’t have to use four “Cs” to conduct this game. You can be creative with other letters that are company or team-specific. Use four “Ds” to create your matrix and name them “Discover”, “Design”, “Damage”, and “Deliver”. Just make sure the categories you create will give you a meaningful way to look at a topic of interest.

4. Divide the group into four teams of roughly equal size. (A group of 5–7 people can work as one team.) Give them access to sticky notes and markers.

5. Assign a different “C” to each team and tell them their goal is to collect information about that “C”, specific to the topic. Tell them they’ll have three minutes to plan an information-gathering strategy, five minutes to collect the information, and three minutes to analyze and organize it. Also explain that they should collect information from as many people in the room as possible.

6. Announce the start of the planning period, and let the teams converse with one another. At the end of three minutes, call time.

7. Tell the players they can use their sticky notes and markers, then kick off the fiveminute information-gathering stage and stay out of the way. This stage of the game involves a lot of interviewing and moving around the room. Tell the players when the five minutes are up.

8. Start the three-minute information-analysis stage. In this stage, the players should analyze their data, organize it in a meaningful way, and post the contents in the matrix on the wall.

9. Close the game by asking for volunteers to present their group’s findings. After each group presents, ask clarifying questions (Is there anything missing? Do these items mean the same thing?), and encourage the others to reflect on and add more information. You can also ask players if they want to share thoughts on their team’s information-gathering process—to discuss what worked and what could have worked better.


The 4Cs is deliberately quick (and slightly chaotic) to avoid a situation in which people simply list information about what they know related to the topic. In this game, the players gathering information may already have a lot of detail about the topic, but they’ll inevitably learn something new through the process of interviewing others. Interviewing allows people who may not interact much the opportunity to do so. Because the time is short, they won’t dive into a substantive conversation; nevertheless, the chances are higher that someone will take away new content or a new perspective based on an interview.

Avoid shortchanging the closing activity, even though it may be tempting to give the group more time to gather and analyze their content (and some of them will request it). The last stage of the game is important to spend time on because it allows the group to reflect on the content together, as a sort of group mind. If the meeting is based on a familiar topic, there will likely be many players who think they have a corner on information around it, so it’s important to discuss the 4Cs as a whole group. It exposes more ground to more people and invites a discussion that can bring new life to old content.

The 4Cs is based on the same-named activity written by Matthew Richter in the March 2004 publication of the Thiagi GameLetter.


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TEDx Austin – Lo Tech Social Network (p. 105 of Gamestorming)

As many of you know, TEDx events have sprung up all over the world. Planning the bigger events takes a lot of time and effort from volunteers who are serious about “ideas worth spreading.” I’m one of those volunteers, having been on the production team for TEDx Austin since its inception. The team was very supportive of our book, Gamestorming, when it was released and we used the next group meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the visual-thinking activities within. What you see above is an artifact from a recent meeting with some of the best design, marketing and UX firms in Austin. It was a creative brainstorm designed to put the “hive mind” together to see how we can make the 2011 event better and bolder than last year’s (which was very well done, in large part to Nancy Giordano‘s solid mind and infectious enthusiasm). I’d love to be able to show the other visual artifacts from the meeting, alas, that content is intended to be a surprise for the audience.

Some tips for running the Lo Tech Social Network game (on p. 105 of the book): This game is an opener and it really contributes to warming up groups that otherwise may be slow to wake up or timid about contributing, particularly if they’re in a group of their professional peers. (Note: If the people are strangers who have never heard of each other, this game won’t work. At least 1/2 of the participants need to have some knowledge of the others.) Position your white space by a food-and-drink area so the participants can loiter and make connections while they (sometimes awkwardly) stand around before the meeting begins. You can have written instructions on a flip chart next to the space they’re playing in, but it’s also good to have a visual example already in the white space (at least two sticky notes connected by a line that says how the people are connected) and you’ll find that people deduce what to do. And of course you can have a facilitator placed near the area to give people the rules of the game and supply them with markers and sticky notes. Lo Tech Social Network gets fun fast and it alleviates the desire to run the old “My-name-is _______ and-one-thing-people-don’t-know-about-me-is _______” snoozer. This is a faster way to accomplish the same goal and to actually show how small the world can be. And if you want to make the game less formal, start off the visual example by writing a comment like, “we have the same taste in women” or “we went to the same nudist colony.” If you’ve got a tight-knit group already, let them be goofy. It makes it a funnier experience.

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Low-Tech Social Network

Meshforum 2006

Object of Play

The object of this game is to introduce event participants to each other by co-creating a mural-sized, visual network of their connections.

Number of Players

Large groups in an event setting

Duration of Play

25 minutes to create the first version of the network; the network remains up for the duration of the event, and may be added to, changed, or studied throughout.

How to Play

To set up the game, all participants will need a 5×8 index card and access to markers or something similar to draw their avatar. They will also need a substantial wall covered in butcher paper to create the actual network.

1. An emcee or leader for the event gives the participants clear instructions: “As a group, we are going to build the social network that is in the room right now. We’re going to use this wall to do it. But first, we need to create the most fundamental elements of the network: who you are. Start by taking your card and drawing your avatar (profile picture) that you’ll be uploading to the network. Save room on the bottom of the card for your name.”

2. Create the avatars. After a short period of time (and probably some laughter and apologies for drawing ability), the participants should have their avatars and names created. At this point, the emcee may add a variation, which is to ask the group to also write two words on the card that “tag” who they are or what they’re interested in at the event.

3. Make the connections. Next, the emcee directs participants to stand up and bring their cards and a marker to the butcher paper wall, then “upload” themselves by sticking their card to the wall.

4. The next task is simple: find the people you know and draw lines to make the connections.  Label the lines if you can: “friends with” or “went to school with” or “went mountain climbing with.” This continues for a time and is likely to result in previously undiscovered links and new friends.


The initial network creation will be somewhat chaotic and messy, resulting in a mural that has a lot of spaghetti lines. Over the course of the event, participants may browse the network. Encourage this, and see what new connections are made.

The source of Low-Tech Social Network is unknown.

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History Map


Object of Play

Organizations naturally look ahead to anticipate progress. But the past can be as informative as the future. When an organization undergoes systemic or cultural change, documenting its history becomes an important process. By collecting and visualizing the components of history, we necessarily discover, recognize, and appreciate what got us where we are today. We can see the past as a guiding light or a course correction for our future. The History Map game shows you how to map moments and metrics that shaped your organization. It’s also a great way to familiarize new people with an organization’s history and culture during periods of rapid growth.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

1. Using flip-chart paper and markers, draw a continuous timeline along the bottom of several pages. Hang the paper end to end along a wall. Write the years under the timeline and include an appropriate starting point—don’t go back 75 years if you don’t need to. Choose a longer time increment, 5- or 10-year windows, if your organization has a long history, and be sure to leave enough space in between years for writing, drawing, and posting content. Leave extra space for years that you know people have more knowledge of or that were years of significant growth or change in the organization.

2. Ask each player to write his name and draw a self-portrait on a sticky note and post it on the wall above the year he joined the organization. As the participants approach the wall for post-ups, ask questions and encourage storytelling about first impressions of the company or why they joined. Note when you see “old-timers” approaching the wall. The richness of their experience can educate the group, so be sure to request that they share a story. Old-timers: never map a history without them.

Optional activity: Before they post the sticky notes, ask the group tostand up and form a line based on when they joined the organization.  Let them discover who came on board when and let the line self organize based on these discovery conversations. Ask for their thoughts and observations once the line is sorted.

3. Ask questions to the group about the following, and build the history map by plotting their answers using text and images:

• Company successes

• Lessons learned

• Changes in leadership and vision

• Culture shifts

• Trends in the marketplace

• Structural reorganizations

• The ebb and flow of regulations

• Shifts in revenue and number of employees

• Major projects, etc.

4. If you’re not comfortable drawing improvisationally, establish icons before the meeting to categorize events for easy visual recognition. (For example, you can use stars for successes, arrows for increases or decreases in revenue or employees, a toolbox for projects, etc.) As you add content, refer to items you’re adding and ask open ended questions about them to keep the conversation going.

5. Summarize the findings and ask the players what they learned and why they believe the history of an organization is important. Look for emergent patterns in the life of the organization and verbally relate the history to the future. Request the thoughts, feelings, and observations of the players.


Mapping a history should be an enjoyable experience for the meeting leader and the participants. It’s a time for storytelling, reflection, and appreciation of the life and experience of the organization. While you’re helping the group document the history, set a supportive tone and encourage camaraderie, storytelling, and honesty—even about the hard times. And if the meeting runs relatively long, leave the history map posted so that the players can review it during a break and continue to breathe life into it. Let the story build even when you’re not conducting the story session. To make the creation of the map logistically easier for you as the meeting leader, follow these tips:

• Always be aware of the level of institutional memory in the meeting. If you’re running a game that would work better with experienced employees, include them.

If you’re running a game that would work better with new eyes and fresh ideas, include newer employees. Pay attention to the knowledge and experience level of the players as it relates to your desired outcome. Brand the history map with the company’s logo and write a phrase beforehand that sums up the current vision and culture.

• Draw major events on the map beforehand to use as conversation starters.

• Use sticky notes for events where people are unsure of the dates or metrics so that you can log more accurate information later.

The History Map game is based on The Grove Consultants International’s Leader’s Guide to Accompany the Graphic History Graphic Guide® ©1996–2010 The Grove.

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Forced Analogy


Object of Play

We understand things by grouping them with other things of similar type and function.  An airplane is similar to a helicopter; they’re both flying things. Both are more similar to a bird, which is also a flying thing, than any of those things are to an earthworm, which is a crawling and tunneling thing. The Forced Analogy game breaks these hard-wired categories and allows us to see things from a different angle, opening new possibilities in problem solving and idea generation.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

15 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Participants set up the exercise by generating a random list of things—animals, objects, or people. Write these items on individual index cards. For each item, write some of its qualities or attributes—for example, “An airplane flies through the air, moves along predefined routes, and has an autopilot feature.” Likewise, an oak tree would be noted for its branching structure, its deep roots, and its ability to grow from a very small seed.  Participants shuffle the cards and distribute them randomly. They then use the cards to develop analogies to the problem or issue at hand, asking:

• How is this problem similar to [random object]?

• How would I solve this problem with [random object]?

Participants may also work through one analogy as a group, as in “How would we use a paper clip to solve our data integration problem?”


A truly random list of objects will push the boundaries of the group’s mindset and create new perspectives. If needed, this list can be created in advance of the game itself by an unbiased nonparticipant.

The source of the Forced Analogy game is unknown.

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Object of Play

Often during meetings we bring together stakeholders who aren’t familiar with each other’s perspectives or aren’t accustomed to listening to each other without offering an immediate response. In some cases, stakeholders may even be meeting for the first time.  In scenarios like these, it’s not surprising that it can be difficult for people to engage in a rich and meaningful conversation. The Fishbowl game is an effective way to activate attention—to prime our natural listening and observing skills so that a more substantive conversation can take place.

Number of Players

Medium to large groups

Duration of Play

40–45 minutes

How to Play

1. Before the meeting, think of a topic that could be served by a group discussion and write down questions associated with it.

2. Find a room with a good amount of open space and clear out anything other than chairs.

3. Create a handout similar to the following:

4. Arrange the chairs in two concentric circles in the room, as shown in the following figure. The inner circle seats the players engaged in conversation; the outer circle seats the players acting as observers.

5. Introduce the game and assign “observer” or “player” status to each person. Give everyone a pen and a handout (but mention that the handout is used only in the observer role). Ask the participants to sit in the circle relative to their assigned role.

6. Announce the topic of the game and ask the players to take 15 minutes to have a discussion around it. Use the questions you generated before the meeting to start the conversation and keep it moving. Make sure the players know that their responsibility is simply to converse in the circle. Make sure the observers know that their role is to pay close attention and to write on the handouts all discussion points and evidence that come out of the conversation.

7. When 15 minutes are up, ask the group to switch seats and switch roles. Then start another 15-minute discussion on the same topic or a different one.

8. After both conversations have completed, ask for volunteers to share the information they gathered and ask them to describe their experiences on the inner versus outer circle.


People are well versed in having conversations; what most of us aren’t used to is listening, observing, and being accountable for our observations. The Fishbowl game, therefore, is about engaging skills that in many of us have become rusty. So, despite the fact that it may look as though the action happens in the players’ conversation, the action in this game happens in the outer circle, with the observers. As the group leader, be clear with the group that this is a listening and observing exercise. If there were a point system (and there is decidedly not), points would be awarded to those who most accurately logged the conversation that took place—not to those who made the most comments in the discussion. Talk to the group about their experience of being silent and paying attention. What was difficult about it? What was easy? How did it affect their perception of the topic and the other players? Use the Fishbowl exercise as a segue to a heightened give-and-take between stakeholders.

The Fishbowl game is based on ideas from the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, by Sam Kaner et al.

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Spectrum Mapping

Visual thinking school

Object of Play

Spectrum mapping is designed to reveal the diversity of perspectives and options around any given topic and to organize them into a meaningful spectrum. This game gives players an opportunity to express their views without having to assert them vocally or even take ownership of them in front of the group. It’s valuable because it unearths information that plays a role in attitudes and behaviors that otherwise may not be visible.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Before the game begins, brainstorm topics around which you want insight from the group. Write each topic on a sticky note.

2. Introduce Spectrum Mapping by stating that the purpose of the game is to illuminate the team’s range of perspectives and to organize those perspectives into a continuum so that everyone gets a view of it.

3. Post the topic sticky notes in a column in the approximate middle of a space on the wall visible to the players. Ask everyone to silently generate a point-of-view preference option around that topic and write it on a sticky note. They are welcome to offer more than one.

4. Ask the players to come to the wall and post their sticky notes in a horizontal line on either side of the topic. Reassure them that the relationships between the sticky notes aren’t yet of interest. The visual may look like the following figure.

5. Once the sticky notes are posted, work with the group to sort them into a horizontal range of ideas. Sticky notes that express similar perspectives or options should go next to each other. Sticky notes that seem to be outliers should stand alone; they may sometimes end up defining the limits of the range.

6. Continue sorting until the group agrees that the sticky notes are in their appropriate places on the horizontal line.

7. Repeat this process if you have more topics to evaluate.

Once the spectrum for each topic has been laid along the horizon, ask for observations and insights on the lay of the land. Discuss the findings with the group and ask if any perspective or option has been excluded. If so, add it and re-sort as necessary.


Not only does spectrum mapping reveal individual ideas around important topics, but it also tells you how many members of your group have certain types of views and where their endpoints lie. After spectrum mapping, the players are likely to discern a more holistic view of where they stand. In other words, spectrum mapping indicates whether the group tends to lean a certain way—perhaps it’s fiscally conservative, oriented toward growth, or reticent about change. Either way, as a team leader, it’s good to be aware of the group’s natural inclination and openly acknowledge it to enhance future team building, problem solving, and planning.

Assure the players that they’re free to write up honest perspectives and preferences around a topic even if those preferences may be considered outlandish by the other players. Tell them that outlier ideas still make it onto the continuum. This play is about mapping and displaying the spectrum, not evaluating ideas for validity, innovation, or popularity. This game has the effect of letting groups see if their behavior skews too far to one side or whether they’re taking a reasonable approach when a radical one may be better.

The source for the Spectrum Mapping game is unknown.

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Welcome To My World

Overlap Toronto

Object of Play

Many of us make the mistaken assumption that others see what we see and know what we know. No one in the world shares your internal system map of reality. The best way to compare notes, so to speak, is to actually draw an external representation of what you think is happening. Welcome to My World gives players an opportunity to better understand other players’ roles and responsibilities. It helps chip away at silos and introduces the novel idea that we may be seeing only one reality: ours. It helps immensely to show what we see to others so that we can start to share a reality and work on it together.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Give all players access to flip-chart paper, markers, and sticky notes. Ask them to take 30 seconds to write one of their job responsibilities (e.g., create the company newsletter or devise a marketing strategy for Product X) on a sticky note and stick it to their shirt.

2. Have the players wander around the room and pair up with someone whose job responsibility they’re the least familiar with or that they’re curious about. If you have an odd number of players, join them to even it out.

3. In pairs, ask the players to take turns drawing their best representation of how they envision the other person’s workflow around that job duty. They can use simple circles, boxes, and arrows to make flowcharts or they can get creative, but they cannot interview the other player or ask any clarifying questions while they’re drawing.  Give them 5–15 minutes to draw quietly.

4. When the time is up, give each player five minutes to share her drawing with the other person and describe what it means.

5. Then give the pairs 5–10 minutes each to clarify or agree on the realities of each other’s drawing. They should also take time to discuss where the areas of ease, friction, and interactions with others fall in the process. They can elaborate and draw on the other person’s visual at this point, or the original creator of the visual can add content as his partner shares.

6. Ask for volunteers to show their visuals to the larger group and to describe some of their insights and observations.


To be maximally effective, this game has one requirement: the players should represent a range of positions or job responsibilities within an organization. The game rapidly loses its value if all the participants have the same, predictable workflow, like processing an undisputed insurance claim. The idea is to educate each other on the realities of their work duties and to help break down silos across organizational areas. Once the insights start coming out, this game can significantly increase the understanding and appreciation of others’ work. And it can be even more effective when you have players who have to work together but historically have had little insight into—or even patience with—their colleagues’ processes.

Most people feel comfortable drawing basic shapes and workflow-related diagrams since these are common in company life. If, however, players balk at having to draw, tell them they’re welcome to rely only on words, but they’ll miss an opportunity to make a simple picture of someone else’s “world” at work.

The source for the Welcome to My World game is unknown.

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Open Space

Meshforum 2006

Object of Play
Open Space technology is a method for hosting large events, such as retreats and conferences, without a prepared agenda. Instead, participants are brought together under a guiding purpose and create the agenda for themselves in a bulletin-board fashion. These items become potential breakout sessions, and participants have the freedom to “vote with their feet” by moving between breakouts.

Open Space was founded by Harrison Owen in the 1980s out of a desire to “open the space” for people to self-organize around a purpose. Many meetings and examples have been recorded at Hosting a small Open Space meeting is fairly straightforward, but requires an amount of “letting go” on the part of the organizer, who must recognize that the participants will develop a richer approach and solution to the challenge at hand.

Number of Players: 5–2,000

Duration of Play: A day or longer

How to Play

Setup: An Open Invitation
Perhaps the most important work of the organizer is developing a compelling invitation. The ideal invitation will frame a challenge that is urgent, important, and complex enough to require a diverse set of perspectives to solve. It might sound as simple as “How can we revitalize our city’s schools?” or “What’s our strategic direction?”

Create the Marketplace
At the start of the process, participants sit in a circle, or in concentric circles, to get oriented and start to create their agenda. Given the challenge of the meeting, participants are invited to come to the center and write out an issue they’re passionate about, and then post it on a “marketplace” wall with a time and place at which they are willing to host the discussion. All are invited to create an item for the marketplace, but no one is required to. Creating the agenda in this fashion should take between 60 and 90 minutes.

The “Law of Two Feet”
The breakouts then begin, typically lasting 90 minutes per session. Participants may organize their breakouts however they see fit; the host records the discussion so that others may join the conversation at any time. Participants are asked to observe the one law of Open Space, the Law of Two Feet, which asks that if you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet to go somewhere else. In this sense, participants are given full responsibility over their learning and contributions.

Pulling It All Together
Breakouts may last for a day or more, depending on the scope of the event. Closing the event may take many forms, the least desirable of which is a formal report from the groups. Instead, return to the circle arrangement that started the event, and open the space again for participants who want to reflect on what they’ve discovered and their next steps.

Keep in mind the four principles of Open Space that will help set the tone of the event:

1. Whoever comes are the right people. Passion is more important than position on an org chart.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time. Spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.

3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Dwelling or complaining about past events and missed opportunities is a waste of time; move on.

4. When it’s over, it’s over. When a conversation is finished, move on. Do the work, not the time.

You can read more about Open Space at

Open Space game rules been popularized and incorporated into many self-organizing events which are known under different names, most prominently BarCamps and Unconferences. The concept of Open Space was put forth in Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, by Harrison Owen.