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What Agile Games Teams Play To Help Them Learn And Grow.

What is an agile game?

An agile game is a creative activity that explores an aspect of agile by having  the whole team work towards a common goal.. There are many different types of agile games, but they all share a few common features –

  • They are typically very interactive and require a high degree of collaboration between team members.
  • They often have a very short duration, with each game round being relatively short (no more than 10 minutes).
  • They typically involve some form of feedback loop so that players can learn from their mistakes and improve their performance over time.

As they play, the team implements the concepts of agile software development. They change what they do in order to deliver a better outcome each time they play a  round. The short, repeated nature allows the team to measure their outcomes each round and get feedback on their decisions.

The team gets quick feedback on how their decisions, interactions and behaviors impact the final outcome.  This mirrors the way a high performing DevOps team would work on a day to day basis. The goal of playing these agile games is that the team can better assimilate agile software practices both during, and after the game.

Why play an agile game?

Who doesn’t love a good game? And if you can learn something in the meantime, it certainly beats sitting through yet another death by PowerPoint lecture about the theory of agile. Throw in an interactive team-based game, and it can lift the mood and start firing up a few neurons.

Here are just some of the benefits of agile games –

  1. They are a fun way to learn about agile. Whether it’s understanding the value of kanban or seeing the importance of the iterative processes, people can experience the basics of agile principles without feeling like it’s just another training session.
  2. They help improve creativity and innovation.  With no set “correct” answers, the agile games offer a challenge to test out those off the wall ideas. Exploring different perspectives and angles means that without any one known solution, the journey of creating your own as a team becomes the real win!
  3. They promote team cohesion. With a common task or goal and a time limit, everyone has to learn to share ideas efficiently. As teams improve from round to round, the shared experience of achieving something together helps to build team bonds.
  4. They are a safe space. The game-based environment offers a psychological safe space for people to share as there is no one exact answer. This  allows different strategies to be played out.
  5. They  boost team productivity. Teams become happier, more efficient and feel safer as they work; this can lead to fewer conflicts, improved work quality and overall productivity through better work practices.

Do games really help improve performance in agile teams?

There is a great deal of research that points to games improving the performance of teams.

Dr Stuart Brown, Founder of the National Institute for Play and author of a book of the same name, found that games are not just for enjoyment, but that there is also a strong connection to human development and intelligence. That’s why play and games are so powerful.  In his book he suggests, “The opposite of play is not work…It’s death.” 

Deloitte found that 60 to 70% of all large-scaled change efforts are thwarted by people who resist the idea of having to shift away from what they are already doing. Their report suggests that group-based change may be more manageable and that it is “now time for a new way of thinking about how to get something accomplished” when it comes to change implementation.

In the Journal of Universal Computer Science (2016), the use of games in retrospectives meetings were shown to positively impact team behavior. The authors go on to say that having the right game, aligned with Tuckman’s model of the four stages of group development can improve the efficacy of the games and help accelerate the team depending on which stage they are in. SRI Education also states that educational games can improve team learning outcomes by up to 23%.

Games can provide a gentler way of helping transition teams to agile and overcome a resistance to change. This can be a show stopper for any agile transformation.

Which agile game should I use?

Here’s a list of things to consider when selecting an agile game.

The goal or wish for your team

There might be a particular aspect of agile that is showcased. Some games will focus on kanban management or estimations. Others could cover a whole range of topics more broadly that you can then unpack later. You might want the team to hone in on a particular area of communication or ask them to set their own goals. 

Logistics

The size and location of the team will make a difference. Can you adapt a game to move away from physical resources? Can you make the game more accessible based on the number of people in the activity  so that it gives everyone the chance to contribute effectively?

The stage of your team’s development

The Tuckman’s model suggests five stages of team development: Forming, Storming Norming, Performing and finally Adjourning. Depending on how familiar and how comfortable your team is with each other can determine the level of complexity of your game. Starting with a few icebreaker questions can help open up the space for more intense games. 

The team’s familiarity with agile

Some of the games might be more challenging when it comes to  applying the principles of agile. icking one that helps them level up from where they currently are in terms of agile maturity will help ensure that everyone can participate. Some games are designed to be played multiple times, while others are only useful the first time, or when a new person joins a team.

If, for example, you had a development team that has already implemented kanbans but were struggling with moving work items between areas, then the Ball Point and Paper Airplane game are good candidates. They are both games that require ways to interact with efficiency, while trying to hit an objective of maximizing outputs using a current system. For a newer team, allow a few hours of gameplay so that the concepts can be fully discussed and then applied. 

List of the best agile games  

Here’s a list of the Agile games you can use with your team.

Agile-Principles-TeamRetro-image

Agile Principles

 

Ball point Game  
Experiment and play in multiple teams while learning about continuous improvement. 

Paper Airplane Game 
A good individual and team game that explores continuous improvement.

Chocolate Bar Game
Become a product owner and get feedback on your ultimate chocolate bar.

Coin Game
Get flipping with a kanban, workflow challenge that will help teams stay active.

Marshmallow game
Explore problem solving strategies and builds that require learning from failures and timeboxing.

How long does it take to make a cup of tea
Enhance and explore estimations and the impact on team outcomes.

The Multitasking Name Game (Henrik Kniberg)
Which is better, single focus or multi-tasking? Take the challenge and find out.

LEGO Flow 
Role based workflow game that will be sure to get a few neurons firing.

XP Game
A powerful way to learn about Agile Software Development and roles and responsibilities people play.

Battleships
A twist of the classic game which helps with practicing estimations and feedback loops.

DevOps Dream
An online simulation that puts your DevOps team in the role of CIO.

Kanban Pizza
Understanding kanbans, limiting Work In Progress (WIP) and adaptation

Retrospectives

 

Actions for Retrospectives 
Generate actions for a specific event or goal with Nick Oostvogels action centered approach.

 

Snakes and Ladders 
Teams explore game strategies that will help them get to the finish line.

Draw the Last Sprint
A prompt based game that gets people visualizing different aspects of the last sprint.

Anti-Retrospective Bingo
A continuous game that gets the team to be on the active look out for antipatterns during a retro.

Retros Against Humanity
A spin off of the Cards against humanity card game.

The Speed Boat Game
Accelerate your team to its dream location.

Agile Retrospective Fun Formats
A range of fun and engaging retrospective formats that add novelty and generate new insights.

[Link to TeamRetro’s Retrospective picker]

Communication 

 

Emoji Communication Game
A guessing game involving only emojis.

Sandwich Game
How hard can it be to make a peanut butter sandwich?

Broken Signal
It’s time to stretch your fingers in this non-verbal communication challenge.

Listen to a Life Lesson
A self generating quiz game that allows a team member to share a life lesson with everyone.

Gif Battle
Who will be the Sommelier of Gifs?

Zip Zap Zoom
A speed based listening and action packed game.

Team Building

 

10 Things in Common
Find out what your team has in common. But with a twist.

Think of a Teammate
Can you ask the right questions to uncover the truth? Elementary dear Watson!

Virtual Coffee Chat
A prompt based tête-à-tête conversation with a world cafe vibe.

Write a Story
Disney creates great stories. Turn your team into creative writers.

Line Up
A problem solving game that will have your team exploring creative ways to solve a simple challenge.

The Face of the Team
No expert drawing skills needed. This activity helps you really look at the people in your team.

Icebreaker Questions, Warm ups, and Check-ins
Get people to be present, and familiar with each other with this icebreaker generator. [Link to ice breaker generator]

A final word about serious games

Agile games can be a way to hack your team’s culture to try and unlock high performance. Keep in mind, they can, but they can’t create team culture. 

As a Scrum Master, coach or team leader, there are still challenges to overcome.  You need to get people comfortable with the concepts of playing games to learn, adopting agile principles in their work, and taking what they have learnt from the games into their daily work environment. 

There is a real danger that stress, deadlines and pressure suppresses creativity and that people forget about the principles of agile. Outside the safe space of playing a game, creating psychological safety is still key. Whether it is a retrospective or a team health check, team members should still be able to share their ideas openly and freely. 

Agile is about people and performance. Games are also about people and performance. Playing the right agile games can revitalize and energize people, helping you create high performing, effective teams.

Have fun at your next agile game! 

If you have any other agile games you love playing with your team, we’d love to learn more. You can share this with us at info@teamretro.com.

Other resources for agile games

A great agile thinking exercise to really help you to understand and raise your awareness of an agile mindset.

Each person is responsible for one letter, and you should be able to “read” a word by looking at the participants in a row on the video.

Kanban Pizza Game teaches you how to get from an existing process to a Kanban system, how to visualize it and start modifying it.

A game for modern tech leaders to improve software delivery and organisational performance, based on real industry insights.

A list of Agile Sparks’ favorite games to both energize the audience and start learning about agile.

A role playing game (RPG) to identify and discuss unproductive behavior in retrospective meetings.

A set of collaborative workshop formats to facilitate innovation in the business world where workshop participants are ideally cross-functional, if possible, including customers.

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