NAME OF PLAY: Show Me Your Values
Object of Play: To understand employee perception of the values that underly an organization, an initiative, a system-wide change, or any other topic.
# of Players: 5 – 10
Duration of Play: 30-45 minutes
How to Play:
- Before the meeting, decide the topic around which you want players to share stories. Set-up a flat surface area in which you can write and they can post their images. Write the name of the topic in this area.
- Provide the players with tape and several magazines of all genres—enough magazines for each player to rifle through three or four.
- Tell the players that the goal of the exercise is twofold: First, they’ll describe in pictures what they perceive to be the values underlying the topic. Second, they’ll share a work-related story that’s indicative of those values. (Example: an image of a turtle may represent patience and longevity, so the player may share an anecdote in which an attractive but high-risk project was not pursued.)
- Give everyone 10 minutes to cutout one or more images that represent their perception of the underlying values.
- Ask them to tape their image(s) in the designated area and then quietly reflect on a story associated with the value(s) they represented.
- Ask for volunteers to take turns sharing both their images and their associated story.
- Pay attention as the players describe the values they perceive and write them in the space beside the appropriate image.
- Go over the values you captured and ask the players to look for overlaps and gaps in their perception. Ask follow-up questions about the content and stories to generate further conversation. Let the group absorb and discuss the perceptions they share as well as those they don’t.
A notable benefit of using pictures to elicit values statements and stories is that imagery is simultaneously one step removed from a straight, verbal declaration yet one step deeper than what you may get when you ask players to share their “intellectual” thoughts. And using pictures gives the players a sort of comfort zone to express themselves, since they can choose pictures that represent the whole spectrum of comedy and tragedy around a topic. So if someone prefers truth through humor, they can find images that allow them to use it. And if someone else prefers truth through hyperbole, well, they have that option too.
As the group lead, realize that some players will think immediately of a value representing a topic and go hunting through the magazines until they find a suitable representation. Others will surf the images, looking for something that resonates with a vague notion they have in their minds. Either approach is suitable and you can discuss these approaches when you set up the play.
Most importantly when you introduce the game, encourage people to share the values they perceive as honestly as they can. Tell them that it’s okay to believe that an underlying organizational value is territoriality and to represent that with an image of a lion. Not only is this behavior appropriate, but it’s also desirable—since beliefs that drive behavior often go unstated in public but are repeated and spread through huddles within the organization. And as people share stories, if someone is having trouble thinking of a story to match their image, give them more time (or let them bow out completely) and let someone else offer a story. Often people will have stories triggered based on anecdotes that others share.
Finally, let people be creative with the storytelling section of the play. If two or more participants want to share a story together, encourage them to do so. They can even go so far as to role play an event that unfolded. Your job is to create a space in which people can say something that may be taboo but that everyone is thinking.
Fun, optional activity: Ask the players to cutout images that represent what the values are NOT. So if a player believes expediency is NOT one of the values around a project, she may choose the aforementioned turtle as a representative image.