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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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