This week, Dan Neumann is joined by co-collaborator, Sam Falco! Sam is an agile coach and Certified Scrum Professional with an extensive background in leading agile development teams.
Today, they’re going to be talking all about games and why they are an important part of agile. Sam illustrates why games are not just time-wasters, but are actually powerful learning tools that help teams come together and solve problems.
Sam and Dan discuss what constitutes a game, why they’re important to agile, the difference between games and simulations, and the importance of doing a debrief with simulations to ensure the learning objective is achieved. Sam also gives some examples of different games, how to use them in training, and some sources of resistance to games that may show up in the workplace and how to solve them.
- Why are games important to Agile?
- They help build relationships
- They have goals, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation (very similar to Scrum — which is why it can be so powerful to leverage)
- Cooperative games build team rapport
- They allow time for a break on difficult work-related problems while still building problem-solving skills
- Games that Sam recommends:
- Hanabi, the card game
- The Penny Game
- The Ball Point Game
- The Rope Game
- Escape: The Curse of the Temple, the board game
- Rory Story Cubes, the dice game
- Apples to Apples, the card game
- How games can be used in training:
- Hold retrospectives to discuss how to get better within these games
- Tie these games back to how to work better together as a team over time
- Use them as a learning tool to learn about individual team players and how they function within a team
- Bring games into the retrospectives to shake things up
- Debrief after the game to reflect on key lessons
- Sources of resistance to games that may show up in an organization and how to solve them:
- Someone senior in the organization may not understand and consider it a waste of money (Solution: explain the value that both the company and the teams will gain)
- An internal barrier within the group where someone may perceive an activity or game as weird or uncomfortable (Solution: you can adjust the game or allow people to opt out)
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Sam Falco (LinkedIn)
- Global Game Jam
- Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal
- The Grasshopper — Games, Life and Utopia, by Bernard Suits and Frank Newfeld
- Hanabi (Card Game)
- Penny Game
- Ball Point Game
- The Rope Game
- Escape: The Curse of the Temple (Board Game)
- Rory Story Cubes
- Apples to Apples (Card Game)
- Lead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community, by Jeff Thompson
- Agile Coaches’ Corner, Ep. 20: “Dr. Jeff Thompson on Values-Based Leadership”
Sam Falco’s Book Pick:
Like what you heard? Check out our podcast page for more episodes full of interesting discussions, agile insights, and helpful resources.
Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann,
Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m your host Dan Neumann. We aim to bring you agile topics in an approachable way. If you have a topic you’d like us to discuss, email it to us at podcast@AgileThought.com or tweet it to us with the #AgileThoughtPodcast. And as always, the views that you’re going to hear on this podcast are those of myself and the guests and the co-contributors. They don’t necessarily represent those of AgileThought, other organizations or other individuals. And so with that you’re going to hear the opinions of myself and co-collaborator, Sam Falco.
Sam Falco: [00:52] Hello Dan. Nice to be on the show again.
Dan Neumann: [00:54] Fantastic to have you here.
Sam Falco: [00:56] So I thought we’d talk about games today. Um, games are an important part of agile. We see games all over the place. We use them. And, uh, it’s important to know why we use games and use them not just as time, uh, ways to pass the time, but ways to actually learn and come together as a team. Um, and games have always been really important in my life. And one of the reasons that I easily understand the value of them is that my family was always a game players. We had an enormous game closet and there was no game night at our family because pretty much any night ending in why could become a game night at any point in time. And we play games so much that my sister and I would occasionally just grab parts from various games and make up our own game. I remember specifically one time when we came across a cribbage board and we didn’t know what it was, but it kind of looked like a race track. So we made a horse race game with dice and cards. And over the course of the morning we, it became more and more elaborate. And when our parents came in, what are you doing? Oh, we tried to explain this game to them and they couldn’t figure out what we were talking about, but we were having a great time. So games have always been something that I, I will fall back on as a way to enjoy life.
Dan Neumann: [02:16] That’s fantastic. Yeah, games are really universal. Just recently I participated in something called Global Game Jam, which is a weekend long event where people around the world get together and you know, uh, hundreds of locations for the sole purpose of creating games. It’s kind of a truly universal human thing. Yeah. So, um, helps bring it into like, I get playing games with the, the family ideally it builds relationships. You know, I do fondly remember, uh, after beating my grandfather at cribbage a as a very young child, him chucking the cards on the table and saying, that’s enough of this stuff. Yeah.
Sam Falco: [02:57] I would flip the board, uh, if I lost the games when I was, you know, like three, four.
Dan Neumann: [03:02] That never happens in business.
Sam Falco: [03:03] Right. Um, so yeah. Um, I really started getting traction on the idea of games as important to agile, Uh, back in 2011. It was soon after I had gotten my certification as a Scrum Master. I’ve been serving in that role for a number of years already, but I stumbled onto a book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is Broken, Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World. And Jane McGonigal is a game designer and she wrote, her thesis was that people spend an awful lot of time and energy and resources playing games when they could be out doing things. And what is it that makes games so compelling? What is, what is gaming offering people that real life is not and how can we use those principles to make life better? And her definition of a game is that all games share four defining traits. They have a goal, they have rules, they have a feedback system and they have voluntary participation. And when I read that definition, I thought, hey, that’s, that’s Scrum. Scrum is a game. This is why Scrum is so powerful for one reason because Scrum is a game where everybody can play together and win. You have a goal to deliver a done working increment of software at the end of the sprint you have the rules, uh, the framework, a feedback system. At the time we were using the classic burndown chart and voluntary participation. You have to interpret that a little broadly because a lot of times we are, we have Scrum sort of dropped upon us, but it’s still, you are voluntarily committing yourself to the team. I mean you could go someplace else. So Scrum is a game and I thought this, this really works well as an explanation for how how Scrum works.
Dan Neumann: [05:03] Yeah, that’s pretty powerful. Yeah. You mentioned the burndown is a feedback loop. You’ve got the daily Scrum as a feedback loop. You’ve got the sprint review as a feedback loop, so all kinds of different feedbacks and and different things you can measure within that as well. You’re not just confined to those. Yeah, that’s an interesting, I’d never really thought of it as a game. Of course we refer to it as a framework most often. But it is interesting to think of Scrum as a game, right?
Sam Falco: [05:27] I mean, think of the, the classic Scrum board to where you have your tasks and you’re moving them across the board. It looks, it looks like a game board. And Jane McGonigal was building on earlier work, uh, a philosopher named Bernard Suits who wrote a book in the 70s called the grasshopper games life and Utopia. And his definition, uh, was it playing a game as the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. You could just open up the monopoly board and grab all the money you’d win. There’s, there’s no, uh, there’s no voluntary attempt to overcome the unnecessary obstacle of going through the, the game process. So we introduced some obstacle to ourselves, uh, and then, and then we voluntarily together try to overcome it or earn competition.
Dan Neumann: [06:16] That one’s a little more problematic trying to relate it to Scrum. They don’t necessarily see unnecessary obstacles in Scrum. There’s a lot of obstacles.
Sam Falco: [06:24] Have you seen certain backlogs?
Dan Neumann: [06:26] Well that’s true, but that’s self inflicted. Yeah, that one doesn’t, you can remove that obstacle. Yeah. Well it is interesting you then we have the, how do I remove obstacles? You know, the, some of them are there and I, you really could say they’re unnecessary. As we look at manual activities and deployment manual activities for testing, how do we overcome those oftentimes unnecessary obstacles and make them more automated, faster, get the faster feedback loops. Maybe there is a, a connection there between Mr Suits’, definition in Scrum that it wasn’t obvious at first. Yeah. And then you know, that that sounds like a very cooperative type of game. Hopefully Scrum done well is cooperative.
Sam Falco: [07:11] Yeah. And, uh, games of course can be competitive. Most of the Games we play as children are competitive sports or are generally competitive. There’s, but there’s a cooperative element too, especially team games. Obviously you’re, you’re competing with, you’re competing as a team. Uh, but there are a large body of a game’s coming out and now. I play a lot of board games still, um, that are cooperative. They’re purely cooperative. Uh, I was, I played role playing games for years starting when I was a teenager and actually wrote a few books for Steve Jackson Games or I wrote one book and edited a few. Uh, those games tend to be cooperative. You’re, you’re all working together as a team. So games don’t have to just be competitive, but even when they are, they can build camaraderie, they can build teamwork. So if you are playing a game and it’s a friendly rivalry, well you come out of that game, uh, with, with a lot of joy, even if you, even if you weren’t, the winner, uh, and shared stories that sometimes you’ll tell long after. Do you remember that time when I was down to just kamchatka and I got lucky and I came back, you know, uh…
Dan Neumann: [08:24] Is that how you pronounce that? The one in Risk. And so that’s that one little thing in risk, right?
Sam Falco: [08:28] The gateway to Asia. Yes.
Dan Neumann: [08:33] Never start a land war in Asia. Yeah. So they, they are, you’d mentioned competitive games. It’s still build camaraderie for me that’s running. I rather enjoy running. Some people think I’m crazy, but I can go out there and be satisfied with my performance, appreciate where I ranked relative to all the other folks and appreciate their performance too, you know, if I’m faster or slower than somebody, everybody’s kind of out there with their own private challenge that they’re dealing with or public challenge in some cases. But everybody’s out there to compete yet do it in a healthy spirit. And so hopefully that’s also what we’re bringing into the workplace is making sure that the camaraderie’s there and the support for each other.
Sam Falco: [09:14] Right, right. And cooperative games of course are great for team building. Um, so one of the things, a company I worked at every Wednesday at lunch, someone would bring in a board game and we would get together in the kitchen and take sometimes an extended lunch break if it was a longer game, but we would play these games. And not only did we have that camaraderie, some of them were competitive some of the more cooperative, but we also started to build a sense of how the other person was going to react to various situations. And it really helped us in our daily work. Uh, one of the Games we played was, um, called Hanabi, which I’m told is Japanese for fireworks. And the idea, it’s a tile laying game. You have tiles with different fireworks on them and different numbers of fireworks and you have to lay them out on the table in a certain order. You can see everybody else’s tiles, but you can’t see yours and you determine what to play. By giving each other clues, you really develop a sense of, well, if, if this person told that person that he had a white firework and I know that that’s a three then that means I need to play. The thing that somebody else told me was a two, cause that’s probably a two white and you get to some really next level almost telepathic communication as a result of playing this type of game.
Dan Neumann: [10:36] That’s interesting too, to learn those dynamics and kind of the ways people will communicate in a competitive situation for me that there wasn’t so much the way people played. Foosball was the game that was played at a place I was at. Um, and yes, it looks like a grand waste of time when you see a bunch of very talented, well compensated developers marching off to go play foosball. But the discussion sometimes on the way there and even during the game and on the way back was often about the problems or the problem would get set aside for a few minutes. And I was like, Oh, here’s what we need to do. So letting that, that background mental process work. So just getting a little bit of a break from beating your head against a technical challenge. It was also marvelous.
Sam Falco: [11:19] Yeah. But also watch people play foosball, watch how, if they’re partnered up, watch how the communicate, uh, Hey, do you want to swap? Um, watch out for, you know, he does this attack. And so, and I’ve seen the same thing in a couple of places where we had intense foosball, rivalries, but people learned how each other, how they worked well together and that, that some really good pairings came out of that.
Dan Neumann: [11:44] Cool. So you’ve got the, the relationship building facet to it. You’ve got the opportunity to learn more about the communication styles.
Sam Falco: [11:51] Yeah, absolutely.
Dan Neumann: [11:54] And we use games a lot in training. Uh, would you consider game and simulation synonymous with each other or reduce, see some nuance to that?
Sam Falco: [12:04] I think it’s safe enough to say that they’re, um, they overlap. Certainly there, there’d be an intersection on that Venn diagram. Um, there’s a goal, there’s roles, there’s a feedback system for those simulations and voluntary participation. Um, sometimes overtly voluntary. If you don’t want to participate in this simulation, you can sit out and observe. Okay. So yeah, I think many simulations that we use in training are considered games.
Dan Neumann: [12:32] Yeah. I guess the difference maybe or the, the nuance of the simulation hopefully have some learning objective that’s tied back to the actual game. So you know, the, the penny flipping game, trying to emulate flow and small parts working through. And then you had some that you like to use as part of simulation as well.
Sam Falco: [12:51] Yeah. I love the, um, all of the penny game. Um, I was privileged to be part of a Tampa Bay Scrum Masters Guild meetup where Dan Veconte was speaking and he ran the penny game and it actually put me off running it for all cause I thought, man, I’m never going to be able to run it that well. It was so, so well executed and so well explained. But uh, other games I like. Um, there’s one a ball toss game and the idea is that you’re, you have your uh, participants form teams. They have to get a number of balls through the system in two minutes and then the system is handing it off, not handing it off, throwing it to one another. Um, they have to repeat the sequence and there has to be air time so they can’t hand it off and they, and then after each round they basically do a very short retrospective and how can they get better, how can they get faster? And you track that and then as you said, you can tie that back to how teams learn to work together better over time. Some teams, I have seen this, where team said we’re not going to make an improvement. We just think we’re going to get faster. And they do because now after a couple rounds, they know that, you know, Kayla always gives it a little loft whereas Ralph just sort of wants to drop it. Um, and, and so again, you, you learn to work together, but ideally you’re learning also from that how to, how to identify improvements and cooperate together to improve. So that’s a really powerful one.
Dan Neumann: [14:19] I enjoy that one. I’ve seen some teams that are pretty okay with how they’ve been doing that. I’ve seen other teams that really get after the, the improvement part of that. Yeah. And for me the simulations need a structured debrief on them because what you don’t want people doing is leaving that room going like, okay, we threw the ball around and I don’t get it. Like what was the point of that?
Sam Falco: [14:44] Yeah. Um, the first time I ever did the penny game, I was a member of the American Society for Quality. Back when I was a QA person and someone came in and we had these monthly meetings and guy came in and he did the penny game, except first of all, he didn’t quite understand it all that well. So he didn’t explain the rules very well. And then we finished it and he said, okay, so that’s the penny game and we all kind of look to each other and well, oh at least I get some continuing education credit for that towards maintaining my certification. Awesome. But there was, there was very little value gotten out of it. And several years later I was in, uh, my Scrum certification course and the trainer said, okay, we’re going to this penny thing. And I thought, oh Geez, why? And so we went through it and first of all, he was better at running it and wow, he really explained how it tied back. Actually, he didn’t explain it. He had us identify how this tied back to what we would do on a Scrum team. And so I think that’s the, that’s the key there is not telling people what the value is, is giving them the time to debrief and discover that value on their own.
Dan Neumann: [16:05] Yup. The framework, um, that I, that I like and I learned it from Derek Wade who has done a number of presentations on it and really gets into simulation and debrief and trying to make that work. So I’ll cover it at a very high level. But first do you want to give people the opportunity to get the feelings out of the way? Otherwise it’s all going to, so like how did that feel? It was, it was weird. It was awkward. It was fun. It was whatever. And, and allowing that to process and then asking people about what did you notice? Oh, well I noticed that, um, you know, so and so you have this behavior or said this or um, took this action or appeared to be thinking that. And then eventually getting to the point where it’s like, okay, now how do you relate this back to your real life improvements or how to your real life job and exploring it that way as opposed to the first anti pattern like you said was no debrief and the second one, which is just about as weak, which is here’s what you should have learned or here’s what you learned in the penny game because people will often come up with a really insightful things that may not be on that three or five bullet list of items that you want them to take away. They may have a completely different takeaway and that’s, yeah, that’s what makes those exercises super powerful. Yeah. Do you have a favorite game that falls into this category of, of simulation?
Sam Falco: [17:31] I think the one that gets the ball toss is, is amazing. Um, and watching people play that and they just love it. It’s great for, uh, the, towards the end of a two day training and people are starting to sag even if you’ve got high energy and keeping it going. And that really gets them pumped up. I also really like the rope game and uh, this is a great way to have people experience the difference between top down command and, uh, teams solving problems on their own, on self organizing. And the, uh, the premise is everybody gets a length of rope. And the way I usually start, I say, okay, grab the length of rope in your left hand get in a circle. Now reach over and take the rope, the other end of the rope for the person on the other side on your, on your right. So now everybody is holding the ropes. I said, okay, now I want you to pass these around and get the middle knotted up really good. So everybody ends up holding two ends of the same rope, but it’s just tangled mess. Okay? Okay. One person is your project manager. You are employees and you need to be told what to do. So your project manager will tell you how to untangle. Don’t do anything unless you’re project manager tells you how. And then we time how long it takes them to get it back to the, uh, to the initial state. Second round. Okay. Tangle it up again. And sometimes I’ve seen groups go here, we’re gonna, we’re gonna make it even worse. And really just knot it and then say, okay, project managers, all you’re going to do now is time the exercise, you have hired very smart people who know how to do their jobs and you’re trusting them to get the job done. So all you’re going to do is time them and see how long it takes them to work together for a solution. And I have seen people, uh, just solve it inside of like eight seconds because they don’t have to wait for somebody to tell them what to do. So that’s really powerful, and again, you don’t have to tell them, oh, see how much better it was. They get it, trust me, they get it and they get really excited about it.
Dan Neumann: [19:30] That’s pretty cool. So we’ve got games for simulation and debrief, kind of those, those learning types of games or games where there’s a learning objective. And then there are other times where you just want to have a, a fun team building exercise. Well, I don’t want to say just fun because I’ve, I’ve seen them be just fun and have zero team building to them. Right. And so team building types of exercise where you actually increase the level of camaraderie, familiarity with each other. Yeah. What’s your favorite in that category? Um,
Sam Falco: [20:05] Well, another game that I have played in a team setting, I was introduced to this in a session at Agile 2016, I think was uh, it’s a game called Escape the Curse of the Temple. This is an actual commercial board game and the premise is that you are all explorers and you are in a temple that is about to collapse and you have to get out and you have to get out together. So if one person is left inside and it’s time box to 10 minutes, if one person is left inside after 10 minutes, you all lose. No matter how many other people go out and you have to collect a certain number of gems on your way out also. And, uh, you have dice and if you roll a black skull, that dye is frozen and you can’t, it to move. If you roll a gold skull, you can either unblock one of your dice or to have somebody else’s blocked dice. And so you just keep rolling the dice and, and, and eventually, hopefully everybody gets out. And, uh, it, it’s a great way to, if you, if you’re an observer, it’s just watch the emergent leadership who is helping everybody else who is making sure that the communication flows well. Um, or you know, hey, who’s the guy who’s really selfish and never helps anybody? Maybe, maybe we need to have a little intervention with that person and help them develop their team work better. So that’s a, a fun game. I, I came home from the conference and I immediately bought it and uh, it’s, it’s one of the ones that sits in my closet and a, and it comes out when I know I’m going to have some time to really help a team learn to work together better in a short amount of time. It’s a 10 minute game.
Dan Neumann: [21:40] So that’s a board game as you mentioned it and you mentioned doing it at a conference. So do, how would that game scale for let’s say a larger group that somebody is training or for something at a conference where you may have dozens or up to a hundred participants?
Sam Falco: [21:53] Uh, well the way they did it at the conference was they had multiple copies of it because I think the maximum number of people are six. Might be a little more than that, but um, and the, you can modify the rules a little bit to make it in the, in the straight up board game. There’s halfway through your 10 minutes a chime goes off and you’ve got all scamper back to the center where you started because something bad is going to happen and then you get to start again. Uh, and they got rid of that because that slowed the learning down for what we were doing.
Dan Neumann: [22:20] Gotcha. Yeah. And we can put a link to those games and the books you mentioned in the show notes, which are available with AgileThought.com/podcast. You touched on something that it reminded me of an experience which is you see those behaviors, uh, you see leadership, maybe bullying, withdrawal, you see all kinds of human things come out. And it’s also interesting to look at using simulations in a hiring practice. In job interviewing, especially if you have multiple positions open, you can bring multiple people in. Yeah. See how well they cooperate with each other, especially when stakes are relatively high. You’re trying to get a job, you know there are more, there are plenty of jobs. Um, in that situation you don’t want to have kind of a, you know, a survivor thing where you bring in 10, but only one will get the job. Um, so because that, that would really follow up the dynamics. But yeah, you can see people who are able to pull in the same direction, support each other a cooperate. And so, yeah, that’s another place where I can have seen simulations and games.
Sam Falco: [23:31] Yeah. Well that escape game, I would love if I would like to see that used, it’d be interesting experiment. Not as part of the are we going to hire or not, but we’ve just hired half a dozen people. Let’s have them play this game and that’ll tell us some things that a personality survey might not tell us about where they’ll fit on teams or where we can help them succeed by learning to be an interesting, like almost diagnostic test on, you know, you’ve already decided these people are right for your organization, but now let’s, let’s help them succeed even more. Uh, and then therefore help the organization succeed better.
Dan Neumann: [24:08] Yeah, it was part of an onboarding activity. Yeah. Certainly could provide a ton of value. And so there’s, there’s also then within the Scrum Framework mentioned Scrum being a game and bringing games into the retrospective is another place where they can be really valuable.
Sam Falco: [24:24] Yeah, they can, um, they can be overdone. Uh, I think I mentioned this on the episode where we talked about retrospectives where I was a little too zealous in the let’s make the retrospect fun and, and the team, uh, I later discovered was really just, wanted to do a stop, start, continue. So it can be overdone, but sometimes it’s really valuable, especially to shake up a team that’s been, uh, experiencing some frustrations or some struggles. Uh, we’ve talked about story cubes, uh, as a, as a game. Um, I have used, um, a variant of apples to apples. This is a card game where you get, um, a number of topics and you have to a, the person running the, the, the game or the, it’s been a long time since I played the original, but we’ll, we’ll put down a card and you have to match it as closely as you can. And the winner is the person who comes closest to it. So I’ve done variants on that where everybody gets some note cards and they write down some things that happen during the sprint and then we find the matches. So, uh, and that keeps things light and, but also challenges people to think about what, what has happened in the, in the sprint.
Dan Neumann: [25:34] You want, you want to make sure that there’s the value, like you said, you don’t want people getting kind of knocked off of their, knocked off kilter by a, it’s a new game, it’s a different game. Gosh, I wonder what’s going to happen today. And yeah, so some stability, some predictability, but mixing it up with um, interesting activities as well. Yeah. So Sam, we’ve talked about what constitutes a game. You know, that it has a goal, it has rules, there’s feedback and voluntary participation. And we also talked about the difference between games and simulations and the importance of doing a debrief with and simulations to help ensure that learning objective is achieved. And then we’ve given some examples of different games. So we’ll be sure to put those in the show notes at AgileThought.com/podcast but I’ve been in a situation where somebody very senior in the organization walked through, saw pennies being flipped and later it was like no, there will be no more of that. Right. Yeah. And I think you’d alluded to a situation as well.
Sam Falco: [26:43] Right? I’ve had, I’ve had very similar situation. Um, this is a person who has probably seen games used poorly without the debrief that we talked about earlier without any sort of learning taken away from it. Just here’s a game, um, this person, I’m thinking about what also was very fond of pointing out the cost. Well, you have, if you figure $75 an hour on average and you had 12 people in that room, that’s whatever, 12 times. So I majored in English, um, whatever, whatever that value is. You know, you just, yeah. So, um, you know, which I understand, uh, you know, time is money, but a, and I had to ask him, uh, what, what value did he think we were getting out of that. And obviously he said none, but then just kind of talk to him about different types of value. And yes, we’re not shipping software with this game. However, in the future the teams are going to, especially let’s talk about the penny game. Here’s the value of that. These teams are, are now seeing the value of small batch sizes. So they’ll increase their flow. Basically the throughput will increase. You’ll get more and higher quality software than you were before. Isn’t that worth spending a little, a little time and money on?
Dan Neumann: [28:09] Yeah. Articulating, here’s the objective, here’s the outcome, here’s the value that you’re achieving within those different games to the simulation. So something that looks like fun I think is really important for building some of that support.
Sam Falco: [28:27] Yeah. Cause it can, it can look frivolous. It can look silly. Um, especially if you start bringing in lots of toys and, and things. But on the other hand you can sometimes point to something that didn’t necessarily look like a game, but it was a simulation as we talked about earlier. And point out that simulations are a form of games and didn’t you get value out of this? Um, so I at one point for a retrospective activity had people actually give them play money that I had gone and gotten some, you know, some, some play money and everybody had $100. And I said, okay, let’s talk about our, um, our agile, our, excuse me, our Scrum values and I had five envelopes on the wall. And if you had to spend money on what this team needed to work on most, how? You can divide it up as much as you want. And they enjoyed this and it really made them think about things differently. So this is, this is a simulation, I guess it’s sort of a, it’s got a game like quality to it. It’s got a fun component to it, but it also provoked some stimulating discussion that led to the team improving the way it worked together so that you can do the same thing with games is show that yes it’s fun but the fun has a good end result. A profitable result, a productive end result.
Dan Neumann: [29:43] In getting to that result sometimes takes a different path. You know, we can, we get so attached to our day to day work and so much complexity comes into that and being able to step away from the day to day and do something that feels different to you, process it differently and then you relate it back to that game or I’m sorry you were late. The objectives of the game back to your daily work and what you are alluding to, maybe building some of that support ahead of time and you know, to the degree possible avoiding surprises or somebody walks through and, and then they’ve put down political capital. They’ve told you no more of this and getting them to back off can be more challenging than if there was some communication ahead of time to to keep that from happening.
Sam Falco: [30:30] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you just said sometimes it just stopping and doing things a little differently. It makes you think differently. As we said earlier about teams we’ll get up and go play foosball and you know, yeah, they’re not, they’re not turning out code, but then they go back to their desks and they have the Aha moment that they needed that time away from. So Games in a retrospective or training or whatever can really help with making people think differently about things.
Dan Neumann: [30:56] One other source of resistance that comes to mind is kind of an internal one. I know before I started using some games or even within a new group, sometimes there’s a little bit of a, uh, an internal barrier to trying something that might be perceived as weird or different or unusual with some of these games. And really just finding a place to practice or a safe group to try with can really help get over that internal opposition to trying a game as well. If you ever, have you experienced that as well in the past?
Sam Falco: [31:29] Not personally. Um, you know, I, I love games and I also, as you as you know, uh, you’ve gotten to know me over the past few years. There’s really not a whole lot I won’t do to make myself look silly if it, if it helps break tension.
Dan Neumann: [31:42] Yeah, you were an English major. I was a computer science major. Right, right. Just start right there and that barrier is not there for everybody.
Sam Falco: [31:51] Right, right. Um, I do remember though, a back in my teaching days, I would often use simulations or games within, uh, within my classes. And uh, there were some students who did have that resistance to trying something that might make them look foolish. I did one to give them the lesson. I don’t want to go too far afield from, from our topic here, but the lesson in that class was on specificity of language and what I did was paired them up with somebody and one of them was blind folded and the other had to describe, uh, something to the blindfolded person. And you know, some of the students were really, really reluctant to be in either of those positions because they didn’t want to look foolish. They didn’t want to be trying to describe a baby’s rattle, uh, without saying the words babies rattle and etc. Uh, and then there were some people who just didn’t want to be helpless and I had to adjust that exercise and in order to get some buy in.
Dan Neumann: [32:47] Yeah. And adjusting the exercises is definitely one of those coping mechanisms are a way to get started where maybe you start with something that is less weird than another approach or you create some additional safety for that game. You know, maybe you’ve given the cultural norms or given the organization you’re dealing with. Yeah. And sometimes allowing people to opt out or maybe always allowing people to opt out, although hopefully people are comfortable with the game and it’s set up in such a way that they voluntarily participate.
Sam Falco: [33:19] Yeah. Yeah. And, and, but the observer can be a role. Uh, so sometimes it’s valuable to say, okay, if you don’t feel like participating, I just want you to, to watch the people on the team and talk about what behaviors you saw later and that can, that can be very valuable as well. And it gives them a way to participate without risking as much of their ego and psychological safety.
Dan Neumann: [33:45] Very good. Well, thank you for exploring the topic of games with me today. Sam. Really appreciate you taking the time to do that. Uh, are you reading anything these days or getting some inspiration from anything in particular?
Sam Falco: [33:57] I just finished reading a book that, um, it kind of blew my mind. It was called, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh and it is on heredity and genetics. Um, and all of the ways that nature can just, uh, recombine and do weird things to, to make, uh, new creatures or, um, Gosh, just, it’s, it’s such a broad book. It’s like 700 pages and it took me weeks to get through, but it really challenged my thinking about what I thought I knew about biology. All that stuff we learned in high school was the tip of the iceberg. And there’s so much more.
Dan Neumann: [34:34] That sounds really interesting longer than the typical book that I read.
Sam Falco: [34:39] Yeah, it was when it came, I, um, I was like, uh, I don’t know when I’m going to have time to finish this and my father and we’ll look at, and he said, how can you write that many words about that subject?
Dan Neumann: [34:51] Well, apparently somebody did and thank goodness. Very cool. Well that, yeah, there’s some interesting things about how genetics happened and how they affect behavior and things we thought maybe were freewill, maybe not quite as much. And uh, yeah. Fascinating stuff. When you get down to the genetic level.
Sam Falco: [35:09] How about you? What are you reading lately?
Dan Neumann: [35:11] Oh, I feel like I’m a little bit all over the place right now. The last thing I read was Lead True, which is a book by a physician that was a guest on our podcast, just the, actually the episode prior to this one. And so it’s about value based leadership and would really encourage folks to, um, consume that book, listen to that podcast. And what I like about the way he talks about, he’s got real experiences you know, he’s not talking platitudes and theoretical, you know, he relates, one of the vignettes is he had a, um, a neurosurgeon, so very highly paid person, a person who generates a lot of revenue for a hospital system who berated a security guard, which is not the top of the hospital food chain by any stretch. And that just goes against the cultural norms. And, um, he created a path for this person to the physician to either stay or go, you know, he could stay, which meant he would apologize in person to the security guard and he would write a letter to that person’s supervisor. And he would not do that again. And, uh, no, too much ego that that person opted to leave. And, um, you know, the organization was better off for it even though they had an, uh, temporary disruption in, in some revenue and, and some of those services that person was providing. So I just, um, you know, companies can say they have values but you don’t really know until push comes to shove and then you see the actual values get expressed. And I um, yeah, it was really like that and he takes it outside of the medical realm and it’s just a, he’s a genuinely nice guy. He’s in the La Crosse Wisconsin area, which happened to be where I was actually born back, uh, just a couple of years ago. And Yeah, we ended up bumping into each other on a, an airplane ride from New York to Detroit. So it was serendipity and loved his book. And uh, hopefully folks love that podcast too. They should come check it out.
Sam Falco: [37:15] Yeah, I love that. I love that anecdote because it also points to something that we talk about when we are doing team formation exercises is you have to be kind to your teammates. And the idea that this one genius programmer can do everything, well, they may be a genius, but if they’re jerks, they’re going to disrupt the team. And uh, you know, I’d rather have a team made up of not geniuses, but you know, competent people who work together well than, uh, one genius who disrupts the team around him and then treats people poorly.
Dan Neumann: [37:46] Yeah. You keeping values and having excellence are not mutually exclusive. They might, it might feel harder, but the payoff is in the long run for sure. Yep. Fantastic. Well thank you again, Sam. I appreciate it and we’ll do another one in the future.
Sam Falco: [38:03] I hope so.
Outro: [38:06] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought, get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.