Understanding Chain

Object of Play

Communicating clearly and effectively is a challenge when there is a lot to say to a lot of people.  It can be tempting to try to explain “everything all at once” to an audience and fail in the process.  In the Understanding Chain game, a group shifts from a content focus to an audience focus, and draws out a meaningful, linear structure for communication.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 2 hours

How to Play

To set up the game, the group needs to develop two things: an audience breakdown and a set of questions.

The audience(s):  If there are a large number of audiences, break them down into meaningful groups.  The groups could be as broad as “Corporate leaders” or as specific as “The guys in IT who fix the laptops.”  As a rule of thumb, the more specific the audience, the more tailored and effective the understanding chain will be.  Each audience group will need its own understanding chain. This list of audiences could be created as a result of a Who Do exercise (see Chapter 4).

The questions: Once the group has a clear picture of their audience, it’s time to brainstorm questions. The questions frame what people really want to know and care about. Questions are best captured in the voice or thoughts of the audience, as they would ask them. They may sound like:

  • “What’s cool about this? Why should I care?”
  • “How is this related to x, y, or z?”
  • “What makes this a priority?”

Or, they may be more specific:

  • “When does your technology road map converge with ours?”
  • “How will it impact our product portfolio?”

The questions will become the links in the understanding chain.  To generate them, the group puts itself in the mindset of the audience and captures the questions on individual sticky notes (see the Post-Up game in Chapter 4 for more information).

Play begins by sorting the questions in a horizontal line on a wall or whiteboard.  This is the timeline of a communication, from beginning to end. The group may choose to:

Arrange the questions in a simple story format.  In this understanding chain, the group clusters questions under three headings, from left to right:

  • Situation, which sets the stage, introduces a topic and a conflict
  • Complication, in which further conflict is endured and decisions are made
  • Resolution, in which a course of action is chosen which leads to a result.

By constructing the understanding chain as a story, the group may find the “climax”—the most critical question that leads to the resolution.

Arrange the questions in an educate-differentiate-stimulate format.  In this chain, the group arranges the questions from left to right, moving from:

  • Educate, in which a topic or idea and its parts are introduced
  • Differentiate, in which parts of the topic are contrasted to create a basis of understanding
  • Stimulate, in which actions are asked for or proposed.

Arrange the questions as a conversation. In this chain, the group thinks through or role-plays a conversation with the audience and arranges the questions in an order that flows naturally. Although all conversations are different, one framework to consider is:

  • Connecting:  “What’s up?”  “What do we have in common?”
  • Focusing:  “What’s important right now?” “What do you know about it?”
  • Acting:  “What should we do?”

Strategy

An understanding chain, like any chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. By examining the questions as a whole, the group may uncover an area that needs work or find the “tough questions” that are not easy to answer.  A group that tackles the weak questions, and has the courage to answer the tough ones directly and honestly, will win.

The Understanding Chain game was developed by Dave Gray as part of XPLANE’s consulting approach.

1 comment for “Understanding Chain

  1. May 22, 2011 at 3:04 am

    I have been following your blog for awhile. I actually just bought the book.

    Putting the visuals in the posts is a huge help. I’d love to see more visuals in the posts, possibly even downloadable PDF worksheets. I am sure the PDFs would do wonders for engaging people.

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