The top 5 things we consider when designing activities for team and leadership development.
1. Balance novelty, relevance and the “level playing field”.
The activity should be removed just enough from their normal experience base to provide little or no advantage for people’s functional status or experience. We seek to draw out natural traits biases and behaviour. A novel theme, narrative and framework is useful (many game styles have been done to death and thus lose a great deal of impact with jaded groups). If too similar to their day to day roles and functions it may permit some to hide behind functional skills or status. The activity must also mirror key decision-making and interpersonal complexity with sufficient relevance to engage the target audience. Ideally all are equally unfamiliar with, and thus forced into disequilibrium by the task at hand.
2. Appropriately challenged, but not terrified or humiliated.
It is important that people are challenged individually and collectively in ways that have relevance to their work related behavior. Business people come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Failure to make a challenge appropriately inclusive could cause the wrong traits to be rewarded and marginalize those people who are in fact great performers in their world. Anyone can physically challenge a group, but only good design can appropriately challenge a discerning business team. Unless they actually need to be physically pushed at work (very rare), purely physical challenges have little or no relevance to achieving meaningful outcomes linked to business.
3. Finding the “Goldilocks” zones for time, rules and complexity.
Game design needs to be rigorously tested and “war gamed” to find the pitfalls and loopholes well before the clients do. It’s also critical to get the factors of time compression and complexity “just right” to create enough pressure to draw out the required behavior, but not to bring about a higher degree of failure or frustration than required (or indeed to make things too easy, and thus not a valid experience).
4. Build the right “Trojan Horse” for any desired model.
When clients use any particular theoretical underpinning or model (e.g. Belbin, MBTI, DISC, LSI, TMS etc) it is important to design approaches that have enough complexity to draw these traits out. Activity constructs will often need to be carefully designed and tested to ensure that all operating and thinking styles are catered for to illustrate diversity and enable meaningful strategies to unfold that harness that diversity. If poor activity design favours any particular cluster of behaviours and not others it can greatly inhibit its value and impact as a learning tool.
5. Design with the human brain in mind
Current advances in neuroscience offer tremendous insights into both the rational and limbic systems of the brain. A well-designed challenge should be designed with such insights in mind and serve to trigger not just the rational systems of the brain, but also to carefully draw out emotional limbic responses. These can be mapped and de-briefed to reveal cognitive biases that exist within individuals and teams that will influence their ability to plan, make decisions and execute in the real world. When seen and discussed during and after a good simulation, effective strategies can be designed and implemented for better managing them at work.