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Status Center

What if Status Meetings were like Sports News?

Object of Play
Sitting through status meetings is boring, right? Well, then why do many of us go home and watch status reports for an hour or more every night?We watch news shows, ‘fake’ news shows, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, ESPN’s SportsCenter, and many more. Something about those status reports must be working better than the ones we sleep through at work.StatusCenter is a ‘macro’ game structure that aims to apply the ‘rules’ of the TV status report game to the business status report game. The StatusCenter macro-game is populated with stand-alone games that can be linked throughout the meeting, following Gamestorming’s ‘opening, exploring, closing’ model.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
30 to 60 minutes for a weekly meeting; up to 4 hours for a quarterly or annual review

How to Play
Like TV, StatusCenter will link short game segments, in a manner that is interesting and time-efficient. While the segments are modeled after sports, news, or other television formats, they are equally effective for people who aren’t familiar with those metaphors.

Opening Games

  1. Question Balloons: Simulating the controlled question-asking mechanisms of status shows like Larry King’s ‘email questions’, this game lets attendees literally float a question. As questions are answered, balloons are popped, and any questions still remaining at the end of the meeting are visible at a glance.
  2. Top Scores: Simulating the ‘Headlines’ or ‘Scoreboard’, this game delivers business metrics quickly and succinctly, acting as a teaser for the rest of the meeting.

Exploring Games

  1. 60-Second Update: Mimicking a ‘Highlights’ segment, this game delivers short updates by each member, aligning everyone. More questions can be ‘floated’ here.
  2. Project Jeopardy: Allows one or two in-depth updates on key subjects, while creating audience involvement for those who may already know the answers. Rotating the ‘host’ from meeting to meeting gives everyone a chance to say a little more about their own projects or progress.
  3. Crossfire: This segment provides drama, while giving a ‘safe’ environment for those that like to argue. Meeting attendees select a topic of interest during the previous week, and two people prepare to discuss it from two different viewpoints. This segment is a great way to explore potentially controversial ideas, learn about new products or technologies, or assess the competition’s latest move.
  4. In-depth Analysis <link here>: This longer segment provides space for an investigative report, formal presentation, or guest commentary. Consider inviting speakers who are of interest to the group but don’t typically come to the meetings.
  5. Trade Rumors: What are the hot rumors? Clearly delineated from the facts that are delivered in the status updates, these rumors generate interest and energy. Again, keep it short – 15 seconds each. Remember that a juicy rumor could become next weeks’ Crossfire or In-depth Analysis topic.

Closing Games

  1. Coming Attractions: What hot projects or decisions are coming up in the next week? What meetings should I attend? Give each participant 15 – 30 seconds to provide these ‘teasers’ that are quick and to the point.
  2. Question Balloons <link here>: Close out any questions that have not been addressed during the meeting.
  3. Cliffhanger: Use a suggestion box to choose the Crossfire and In-depth Analysis topics and participants for the next (or future) meeting. This builds drama and anticipation for the next meeting.

Strategy

  1. We cannot recommend strongly enough that most status information should be pushed outside of the StatusCenter game. Dashboards, email updates, and the like should be used to distribute information that does not need to be reiterated with a captive audience.
  2. Alternate short ‘highlight’ games with longer ‘analysis’ games to satisfy audience members who want depth, while keeping the pace engaging.
  3. Stick to status subjects. Decisions, brainstorming, and other topics – no matter how legitimate – should taken off-line. Even Crossfire, which can be used to present two different opinions, should be seen as a way of exploring ideas, not as a way to come to a decision.
  4. Add, delete, or replace these games based on time and need.
  5. There are many proponents of standing status meetings (often called ‘huddles’). Try this method.
  6. Try ‘co-hosts,’ like many news shows.

Key Points
StatusCenter will be most successful if roles are clear and attendees have prepared in advance. Consider creating a template for 60-Second Update and Project Jeopardy to help attendees understand what kind of information to include. By moving basic status information to pre-meeting communications and then breaking the meeting itself into fast-paced chunks, you can transform a meeting that people tend to tune out of into one they will definitely want to watch.

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Elevator Pitch

Sky

Note: This approach is meant to be pretty flexible- other idea generating and prioritizing techniques may be substituted within the flow to suit the circumstances. Would like to hear how others approach this challenge. -James

Object of Play: What has been a time-proven exercise in product development applies equally well in developing any  concept: writing the elevator pitch. Whether developing a service, a company-wide initiative, or just a good idea that merits spreading, a group will benefit from collaborating on what is- and isn’t– in the pitch.

Often this is the hardest thing to do in developing a new idea.  An elevator pitch should be short and compelling description of the problem you’re solving, who you solve it for, and one key benefit that distinguishes it from its competitors. It must be unique, believable and important. The better and bigger the idea, the harder the pitch is to write.

Number of Players: Works as well individually as with a small working group

Duration of Play: Long- save at least 90 minutes for the entire exercise, and consider a short break after the initial idea generation is complete, before prioritizing and shaping the pitch itself. Small working groups will have an easier time coming to a final pitch; in some cases it may be necessary to assign one person follow-up accountability for the final wording after the large decisions have been made in the exercise.

How to Play:

Going through the exercise involves both a generating and forming phase. To setup the generating phase, write these questions in sequence on flipcharts:

  1. Who is the target customer?
  2. What is the customer need?
  3. What is the product name?
  4. What is its market category?
  5. What is its key benefit?
  6. Who or what is the competition?
  7. What is the product’s unique differentiator?

These will become the elements of the pitch. They are in a sequence that follows the formula: For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product (unique differentiator).

To finish the setup, explain the elements and their connection to each other.

The target customer and customer need are deceptively simple- any relatively good idea or product will likely have many potential customers and address a greater number of needs. In the generative phase, all of these are welcome ideas.

It is helpful to fix the product name in advance—this will help contain the scope of the conversation and focus the participants on “what” the pitch is about. It is not outside the realm of possibility, however, that there will be useful ideas generated in the course of exercise that relate to the product name, so it may be left open to interpretation.

The market category should be an easily understood description of the type of idea or product. It may sound like “employee portal” or “training program” or “peer-to-peer community.” The category gives an important frame of reference for the target customer, from which they will base comparisons and perceive value.

The key benefit will be one of the hardest areas for the group to shape in the final pitch. This is the single most compelling reason a target customer would buy into the idea. In an elevator pitch, there is no time to confuse the matter with multiple benefits- there can only be one memorable reason “why to buy.” However, in the generative phase, all ideas are welcome.

The competition and unique differentiator put the final punctuation on the pitch. Who or what will the target customer compare this idea to, and what’s unique to this idea? In some cases, the competition may literally be another firm or product. In other cases, it may be “the existing training program” or “the last time we tried a big change initiative.” The unique differentiator should be just that- unique to this idea or approach, in a way that distinguishes it in comparisons to the competition.

Step One: The Generating Phase

Once the elements are understood, participants brainstorm ideas on sticky notes that fit under each of the headers. At first, they should generate freely, without discussion or analysis, any ideas that fit into any of the categories. Using the Post-up technique, participants put their notes onto the flipcharts and share their ideas.

Next, the group may discuss areas where they have the most trouble on their current pitch. Do we know enough about the competition to claim a unique differentiator? Do we agree on a target customer? Is our market category defined, or are we trying to define something new? Where do we need to focus?

Before stepping into the formative phase, the group may use dot voting, affinity mapping or other method to prioritize and cull their ideas in each category.

Step Two: The Forming Phase

Following a discussion and reflection on the possible elements of a pitch, the group then has the task of “trying out” some possibilities.

This may be done by breaking into small groups, pairs, or as individuals, depending on the size of the larger group. Each given the task of writing out an elevator pitch, based on the ideas on the flipcharts.

After a set amount of time (15 minutes may be sufficient) the groups then reconvene and present their draft versions of the pitch. The group may choose to role play as a target customer while listening to the pitch, and comment or ask questions of the presenters.

The exercise is complete when there is a strong direction among the group on what the pitch should and should not contain. One potential outcome is the crafting of distinct pitches for different target customers; you may direct the groups to focus in this manner during the formative stage.

Strategy:

Don’t aim for final wording with a large group. It’s an achievement if you can get to that level of finish, but it’s not critical and can be shaped after the exercise. What is important is that the group decides on what is and is not a part of the pitch.

Role play is the fastest way to test a pitch. Assuming the role of a customer (or getting some real ones to participate in the exercise) will help filter out the jargon and empty terms that may interfere with a clear pitch. If the pitch is truly believable and compelling, participants should have no problem making it real with customers.

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Show and Tell

Geneva workshop

While it’s enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss the ideas behind Gamestorming, it’s more useful to experience them. The image below represents output from a visual-thinking game that you can “play” with your employees.

Caution: Adults have a tendency to link Show and Tell to child’s play. This is a learning faux pas. It’s right up there with underestimating the value of doodling. And now we know what’s wrong with that: Take Note: Doodling can Help Memory.

OBJECT of the GAME: To get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic, etc.

HOW TO PLAY:

  1. A few days in advance of a meeting, ask employees to bring an artifact for Show and Tell. The instructions are to bring something that, from their perspective, is representative of the topic at hand. If possible, tell them to keep the item hidden until it’s their turn to show it at the meeting.
  2. In a white space visible to everyone, write the name of the game and the topic. If you wish, draw a picture of either.
  3. When everyone is assembled with their show piece, ask for volunteers to stand up and show first.
  4. Pay close attention to each employee’s story of why she thought an item represented or reminded her of the topic. Listen for similarities, dif­ferences, and emotional descriptions of the item. Write each of these contributions in the white space and draw a simple visual of the item the person brought next to her comments.
  5. Summarize what you’ve captured in the white space and let the group absorb any shared themes of excitement, doubt or concern. Ask follow-up questions about the content to generate further conversation.

WINNING STRATEGY: Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic. If you hear a string of items that are described in concerned or fearful terms, that’s likely a signal that the employees’ needs aren’t being met in some way. As the team lead, encourage and applaud honesty during the stories and write down every point an employee makes that seems important to him or her. Keep the rest of the group quiet while someone is showing and telling.

As the group facilitator, if you feel intimidated by drawing a representation of a show item in the white space, get through it: attempt to draw it anyway and let the group tease you about your efforts. Show and Tell can be a vulnerable activity for employees—particularly the introverted type—so show some team spirit by being vulnerable in your leadership role.

Show-and-Tell