Getting Teams Unstuck: Using Games to Promote Creativity and Solve Problems

Posted by Erika Flora on Mar 8, 2013 9:38:00 AM

In Process Improvement, Leadership, Project Management

One of the most powerful tools that a Project Manager can use to solve serious problems that arise during a project is a fun game.  Seems counter-intuitive, right?  It’s not.  In fact, games are finding lots of uses in business.  The best training classes use games, not only to make learning fun, but also to help students retain key concepts that they can take back to their organizations.  Many companies also use simulation type gamesto effect culture change and build trust among employees.  Games can also be used when your team gets stuck on a complex problem and needs to get unstuck fast.

When a team is going around and around on a problem and cannot see any other solution then the (crappy) ones in front of them, one of my favorite games to have them try is something called "the Anti-Problem".  This game only takes about 20 minutes to play, comes from a book called GameStorming, and goes like this:

  • Set the rules for the game:  we are going to step away from reality for a moment.
  • An example problem might be that you can’t get anyone to buy your company’s product.  In the game, we'll attack the "Anti-Problem."  Write up on a white board, “Too many people are buying our product!  How do we get them to stop??!”, and tell everyone we are going to try and come up with as many solutions as possible to address the Anti-Problem.  The more outlandish solutions the better!
  • Give everyone a stack of post-its and have him or her spend the first five minutes writing down lots of solutions.  The rule, however, is that they can only list one idea per post-it note.
  • When the five minutes are up, have everyone post their ideas on the wall or whiteboard (a large post-it is easily movable and also works very well) and explain each of them.  Have the team group similar ideas together, so they can start to identify patterns.
  • Go through everyone’s ideas and discuss together.  You will be surprised by the variety of ideas and insights from the team.

What is great about this exercise is that it brings about a number of positive effects.  First, it adds some levity and humor to an otherwise serious situation and improves communication (because everyone gets to equally contribute to the solution).  Second, it allows the team to think creatively, turn the problem on its side, and have a much deeper conversation about possible solutions.  Every idea that the team comes up with can be a potential solution; you just have to flip it.  If the team comes up with things like “We need to make it difficult to buy anything on our website” or “We need to be rude to our customers”, you may want to take a look at the usability of your website or the level of service you are providing customers.  You may find things that you are actually doing to shoot yourself in the foot and should probably stop doing!

 As Project Managers, we are leading our teams to lands unknown - projects that are new, risky, and full of unknowns.  Invariably, unexpected events and changes are thrown at us, and we need to be able to quickly address them and come up with innovative solutions.  What better way to generate and discuss lots of diverse ideas then with a game?  Having a few games in your project toolbox will help you lead your team out of tough situations and you may even have a little fun doing it!

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