Experiential learning (EL) is a type of learning that is focused on reflecting on what has been done, and drawing conclusions and implementing improvements based on that experience. EL exercises are activities that provide users with a challenge and through the process of solving it, an insight into their mindset, behavior and problem solving capability.
While it may sound a bit complicated, in reality EL exercises are nothing but specialized games at heart. “Game” is a term mostly avoided by EL trainers, for various reasons the most significant being that they make the whole setting seem less serious – although this may actually be strength, since people behave more naturally and honestly in a more relaxed environment. Trainers vastly prefer the terms “activity” or “exercise”. However, in their core, all of these activities have the characteristics of a game:
1) They have a clear objective
2) They have a set of their own rules and restrictions
3) There is willingness to follow these rules and restrictions to achieve the goal
4) They are usually designed to be fun, either by being socially dynamic or by being challenging)
(If you want to see what some of these games look like, scroll down for examples!)
Of course, not every game is fit to be used for EL, especially in business settings. The activity needs to provide insight into characteristics relevant to business such as; teamwork, problem solving, creativity, leadership, etc.
That being said, should we really use games in a business setting, in a time when the competition is strong and the stakes are higher than anytime before?
I firmly believe the answer is: now more than ever.
Not only are EP games always a good way to get insight into important behavioral patterns of your team in a fun environment, but interest in games in general is on the rise.
When we talk about games we can’t go on without first saying that the gaming industry is one of the steadily growing industries of today (rivaling even Hollywood), with the video gaming industry projected to be worth over 90 billion dollars for 2016 with a constant growth of 5-10% between years. The board game industry, despite being more of a niche market, has also seen significant expansion and revenue increase in the past few years.
Games are already everywhere and will continue to expand their influence. Following the growth of gaming, future generations are very likely to be more familiar with game concepts and will play more games on average. With this in mind the future looks bright for experiential learning. There are ways companies can utilize these new gaming-related interests and the two largest areas are Gamification of processes and Experiential learning games for exploration and development.
Gamification is a process of increasing engagement and productivity over tedious tasks by applying game mechanics and elements to them such as leaderboards, achievements and progression. While gamification is a topic that can stand on its own, it is worth mentioning two big corporate examples: Microsoft created a game out of proofreading, called “Language quality game”. The result? Participation was 100% in all 36 languages, and they found over 150 bugs.
Delloite had trouble getting senior executives to finish their leadership training program. After they adding leaderboards, badges and other game elements, training completion time dropped by half!
Experiential Learning games are used to identify individual and team strengths, pointing out areas needing further development and discovering hidden talent all the while having fun and getting to better know themselves and their teammates.
Let us see some examples for experiential learning exercises
Counterintelligence is a game of coordination, communication and a lot of teamwork. Each participant is handed several cards with rules written on them. Their goal? To make a certain shape using the provided counters. If it sounds easy, a lot of participants would agree, until they start playing and hit many communication obstacles along the way. This game is excellent for identifying communication gaps, learning the problem solving style of the team, as well as their approach to planning
In Colorblind users are blindfolded and given several abstract plastic shapes of different colors. Their task is to deduce which shape and color is missing. With only limited help from the assessor, the team is left to their own wits and abilities, with nothing but verbal communication and their sense of touch to help them solve the problem. This is an excellent activity to learn more about the communication style of the team members, that is, their ability to explain clearly, balanced with the ability to listen attentively. We highly recommend this activity since it provides a lot of relevant information and the participants found it rewarding every time.
If you prefer a more virtual approach then Simteam might spark your interest. Simteam is a cloud-based business simulation software, where participants are all members of a fictional company competing in the market for resources and projects. Several companies (teams) can play at once as independent entities or as competitors. Companies earn income by completing projects. Employees (resources) are needed for completing those. The game is turn based (a turn is a quarter year) and after each one different events can occur on the market or during the completion of a project (e.g. someone quits, client is not satisfied, etc.) and each team has to deal with these events in the most effective way possible.
To overcome the many obstacles Simteam throws at you the team has to have good decision making skills, excellent resource and risk management and the ability to compromise.
This activity is customizable and can be based on the real time goals of your enterprise.
Here we have something a bit different: Hanabi was originally not meant to be an Experiential learning game (it was meant to be just a game) but it proved to be an excellent fit none the less.
Hanabi is a card game not like many other. The team works together to place cards in ascending order from 1-5 within the same color. The catch? They can’t see what cards they have in their hand. Only their teammates can, and while they can share information, each help has a cost and is in VERY limited supply, so they have to pay attention to what, when and who they choose to help. Prioritization, planning, resource management, risk assessment are keys. If you are interested in discovering these qualities in a team, then we suggest trying it out.
More and more people are playing games, so why not take advantage of it to learn more about their interpsersonal and team skills?
To summarize, these are some of the advantages of using Experiential learning games
- Teams usually act more naturally enabling one to see behavior patterns not otherwise observable
- Team members get to know their teammates a lot better
- Team and individuals become more aware of their strong and weak points
- As a side effect, teams can gain an increase in team spirit and members develop a sense of belonging
- The games can provide insight into communication and interpersonal problems the team might have
- Great for finding hidden talent (that one reserved team member who has the right solution, but is ignored)
With the rise in popularity of video games it begs the question: Will it impact the format of EL games, that is, will switch more and more to digital format? If so, what would be the gains and losses of such a switch? What’s your opinions on this – we would love to hear about it!
Srđan Matić | Assessment Systems
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