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Tag: debriefing team building events

Optimal Debriefing of Experiential Learning and Team Building

More than 20 years of working with organizational performance improvement and team building and experiential learning has taught me a few things, I think. So, I wanted to share some reflections around how to optimize the impacts on individual and group learning.

There has always been a discussion in the experiential learning literature about the need for focused debriefing versus the inherent learning that naturally occurs. After all, how much time needs to be spent talking about the obvious?

One might think that the experience itself would be sufficient for learning to occur and that no debriefing is necessary since the key learning points are all so obvious. The other perspective is that a focused discussion and reflection are paramount for learning to occur.

Overall, I think that the key is BALANCE. Key learning points should be discussed, with the reality that some people will learn more than others and that individuals within a group will each see different things, depending on their perspectives and experiences. But spending too much time in too much detail will dull the brain and cause a loss of interest and engagement.

I take the position that individual reflection and group discussion are integral to understanding from any event and especially for building a shared commitment to doing things more better faster
(or at least differently than before!).

Learning can occur within an individual simply as a result of some experience. But I also think that reflection and discussion generate much richer learning.

As an example, let me use my Square Wheels® illustration as an example. One person looking at the illustration may come up with 2 or 3 insights as to possible meanings, where another might find 10 to 15 learning points. Commonly, a group of people feeding off each others’ ideas and comments can readily identify 30 or more key points.  And, they will have more fun doing it.

How things work in most organizations = Square Wheels images LEGO

So, reflection and some discussion DO generate a richer learning environment and one that is more likely to generate some impetus for change.

My personal belief is that an exercise like Lost Dutchman is an excuse to do the debriefing and that the exercise is merely the platform for the group learning that will occur.

The authors of “The Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators” (Pfieffer and Jones, 1983) felt that it was “axiomatic” that the processing of the experiential learning program “are even more important than the experiencing phase”. These authors even urged facilitators to take care that the activity “does not generate excess data”. Rappelling a mountainside or descending whitewater in a raft with 5 others would be the kind of experiences which would “generate excess data.”  Too much, in fact, to capture and categorize, and not much real learning would occur.

Experiential exercises offer the benefit of links to preferred information gathering and decision-making styles.  It can match with the kinesthetic, visual and auditory learning styles and confirming systems.  The various roles can also benefit when a team applies the different thinking styles to the information processing and risk-taking situations.

So, one of the benefits of an exercise like Lost Dutchman is the clean design and straightforward metaphors that allow for a relatively structured debriefing of individual and group experiences.  In all of our game designs, we pay attention to business issues and opportunities and thus structure our suggested debriefing approach to allow groups to focus on realities of the workplace as well as the applications for the future. The themes and relevance are designed to be obvious.

collaboration generates optimal results in Lost Dutchman

At the same time, shared experiences also allow the facilitator to link the program to their existing and preferred tools. Should someone be using DISC, for example, they might use the game at the start as a tool to set the stage for a discussion of possible styles or at the end to test out applications of others preferred styles toward themes of teamwork and problem solving.

If people are focused on strategy implementation, they can use the issues about confusion regarding the overall goals of the exercise – “to mine as much gold as we can” in the case of Dutchman — to discuss the reality that choosing to compete will sub-optimize overall group results, the main cause of why “interdepartmental collaboration” is an oxymoron in most organizations. The game experience helps link the choice in the game to the reality of workplace choices, helping to define what could be done differently.

a user testimonial about team building exercise

By taking the time to debrief the program, you gain the benefit of group perspective and individual learning. What you got from the game is thus less likely to be lost among the informational noise and data. And a team focused on how they handled risk, for example, will most certainly generate different insights than simple reflection by an individual; the nature of the discussion and the different viewpoints will allow more objectivity and perspective.

Years ago, I jumped a 130-meter bungee jump in New Zealand, the Nevis. It was risk-taking in some ways. But a failure to debrief on decision making and perceptions of safety and other issues did not occur and there was not a lot of learning that occurred, in reality. I see this same kind of thing in the actual learning from a lot of different outdoor adventure activities – learning will come from the debriefing and reflection and not simply from the experience itself.

picture by Robert Young

It is when the activity and its review are combined, facilitated and discussed among teams that the real benefit of the event occurs – the learning that occurs with possibilities for personal and social development. Future-pacing possible outcomes is also beneficial.

Dutchman creates a learning event which includes some interdependent elements:

  • new and challenging collaborative decision-making
  • new group team building events and
  • various learning modes related to decisions
  • various information processing needs

The challenge is to discover ways of merging these learning elements into real individual and organizational improvement. In the short term, a single element may dominate the experience, but ultimately this dynamic form of learning depends on the harnessing and intermixing of these many elements and learning that come from reflection and discussion.

I hope that this is helpful and that you can apply it to your own learning and development events for building teamwork and improving people and performance,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games Scott small picand organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Debriefing as an excuse to do Team Building

Continuous Continuous Improvement, Organizational Alignment and Collaboration, and The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a truly great Team Building Exercise.

Winemaking is an art that takes a substance and nurtures it through the act of continuous incremental improvement, often with the goal of producing a truly spectacular product. Different winemakers have different goals, but some are artists and not accepting of mediocrity. These craftsmen are continually looking for techniques to improve their craft, trying to discover new ideas and nuances to impact quality and searching for outstanding customer reactions.

It’s in that same spirit of nurturing and exceeding expectations that we’ve developed The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine — it is an excellent example of how continuous continuous improvement works with innovation to create an ever evolving and increasingly better product.

Dutchman’s existence grew out of dissatisfaction with another team building game that I represented as the first USA selling agent back in the late 1980s. It was supposedly about collaboration, but that game’s play and its debriefing supported competition among teams – it was an exercise that was designed to allow teams to quickly die because of their decisions, claiming that it was a reality of teamwork. It tended to be a show, more than an organizational development program, and the focus on competition was something that I didn’t feel created a better Return on Investment than what a Collaborative Approach would do, real world.

When I tried to collaborate with that game’s developers, they resisted these “outsider’s ideas” for things that would strengthen their game’s outcome for organizations. It was at that point that the idea of developing my own exercise, one that had clear metaphors for teaching and one that had alignment to collaboration, came to mind. So, in 1993, Dutchman was created — there was a need in the team building market for an exercise that would create a fun atmosphere for players yet it would support a serious learning framework for how collaboration beats competition in getting the best ROI.

Dutchman was meant to create a really solid debriefing
and discussion of real organizational development
and alignment issues, framed as a teambuilding game!

Not only did we want a game that linked to real workplace issues, we also wanted an exercise that could be easily facilitated by trainers or consultants and didn’t have a bunch of restrictive licensing and continual payment requirements attached to it. I wanted to sell Dutchman as a one-time cost game with a money back guarantee that could be used by virtually any type of organization. And, I soon found that this was a much appreciated concept compared to the typical way that team building products were put into the marketplace.

An early user even suggested that we “dumb down the reading and math” in the presentation, because his workforce in North Carolina did not have really strong skills. That was seamless and easy once we looked at the context. Plus, we found out that anyone could use our simple design framework and that only simple facilitation skills were needed deliver it — we have had administrative assistants deliver it for their senior management teams as well as line managers facilitate it for their sales teams all over the US and then all over the world.

Speculand Testimonial LDGM 100

Once Dutchman entered into the playing field, it immediately received accolades for how it drove home the concept of collaboration and communications. Through a much stronger debriefing than the other game provided, I was able to show how teams could have increased their ROI by the simple act of collaborating across teams. Few programs of any kind enable this type of inter-organizational collaboration and teamwork and few link to measurable results and outcomes.

Leadership, communications and strategic planning are all essential to creating a collaborative environment and Dutchman sets this up extremely well – one testimonial is below and dozens are visible if you click here or on the image. The funny thing is that competition is a compelling force for players and they end up sub-optimizing their gold intake because of this. Therefore, this further indicated that a solid Debriefing was necessary to the game in order to get people to realize how debriefing Collaboration and team building brings in a better ROI.

TF Testimonial LDGM Helal 100

Flexibility then became an important addition to the game and its debriefing because organizations have different reasons for using team building games and as Dutchman’s debriefing continued to evolve over the years so did its flexibility for creating different outcomes. Within its first year of use, Dutchman became a worldwide product that easily worked in various cultures and countries (see the testimonial from Robin Speculand in Singapore, above, since he has been actively using it for 19 years. Our newest client is Challenge Korea.)

Throughout the years, we’ve continued to improve upon the game play not only from my own ideas but also from collaborating with Dutchman owners who have given me great ideas to incorporate into the game. The game materials have evolved over the years, the Debriefing presentation and slides have expanded, the training materials have evolved to now include videos of how to work the game, etc. Even the original game board has changed into a different version.

The people who bought the game 21 years ago can still play with the materials they received at that time while those presently purchasing any of the game versions will acquire a more polished set of materials but all versions will work exceedingly well to create a game worth facilitating because the outcomes of the game are like a fine wine in that the depth of appreciation for Dutchman and it’s return on investment continues to grow as it ages.

If any of this is of interest, we encourage you to contact us, directly. I am quite easy to reach and answer the telephone myself (or email me at Scott@SquareWheels.com),

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Lost Dutchman DebriefDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

 

Common Traps when Debriefing – some ideas from Roger Greenaway

Roger Greenaway is a superb facilitator. Even though we have never met, we run in similar loops and his work is commonly referred to by my customers and other people in this business of learning. He and I have had some good correspondence on ideas and his work — regardless of your skills — is useful.

You can find his website here, and I wanted to write about one of his posts because I think it is really solid and related to what we do with our team building games and what we might do better.

Roger sees some of the common traps as these:

1. Apologising for holding a review
2. Asking ‘What did you learn?’ at the start of a review
3. Speeding: expecting instant thoughtful responses
4. Trivialising: expecting brief answers to big questions
5. Controlling the whole review process, or trying hard to do so
6. Keeping the whole group together for every review process
7. Filling up flipcharts
8. Strongly favouring one learning style
9. Assuming that everyone had much the same experience
10. Welcoming certainty
11. Talking too much as a facilitator

and he details his thinking on this page on his website.

I wanted to reframe one of these because it is  common to my suggested debriefing around game play in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and are commonly used in most game debriefings. Roger’s #2 problem is one of the ones that I disagree with (2. Asking ‘What did you learn?’ at the start of a review).

Roger suggests that there is an Unintentional Message, that:

“The learning has already happened – so don’t expect to learn anything new in this review.” Just four words (“What did you learn?”) transform an opportunity for new learning into a memory test.

Avoid trap 2  Follow a sequence that is designed to generate learning from experience during the review. For example:

  • Start by asking for descriptions of what happened and of what people were doing. (Consider how selective you want these accounts to be, and whether you want participants to focus on particular themes or perspectives.)
  • Ask yourself (or the group) whether visual aids would assist their reflection and communication (eg pictures, diagrams, photos, video or re-enactments of key moments).
  • Encourage participants to look out for different versions of events and experiences. Such curiosity helps to bring out new learning.
  • Notice how much description is ‘external’ (equivalent to CCTV footage) and how much reveals ‘internal’ worlds of feelings, reasons, intentions etc. Recognise that a lot of learning will arise from bringing out new information – both external and internal.

If you also want the group to recap what they have already learned, try to do so in a way that does not interfere with their expectations of new learning arising during the review process.

My thinking is that this is the BEST way to start the debriefing and learning part of an experiential learning session anchored to a game.

What did you learn from playing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine exercise

I will suggest that this simple question of, “What did you learn from your experience,” done as a tabletop open discussion really allows our players to discuss the game from an ending perspective, that it allows them to discuss the decisions that they made that led to the different outcomes that they got.

One of my goals is to get that experience fully anchored in their thinking and to get the play of the game up front, so that we can discuss it and “put it in the back and move forward.”

Since it is done at a tabletop among teammates who shared an emotional experience, it has been my experience that the group is able to talk about information that was accepted and rejected, advice and help that they could have received early in the game, etc.

It was my experience in debriefing the exercise early on that the players would continue to talk about the play of the game as we tried to move ahead in our discussions of the choices they could make for improving the workplace, that the game was getting in the way of the learning… By allowing them to discuss their shared experience and decisions first, we could get that out of the way and move on.

I then repackage this same question and get them to focus on the learning as it relates to their organization, the desired outcomes for the session and the issues and opportunities they see for change and improvement. I want to use the behaviors of the game to link to the behaviors in the workplace.

Reading Roger’s thoughts on this is interesting and gives me pause. Maybe there are other ways of accomplishing the same kinds of things. My thinking was to spend a bit of time on this and NOT allow a long and divergent discussion of the game, but to move quickly toward choices and links to the workplace.

You can see an overview of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine here.

Your thoughts?

Discuss what you might do differently

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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