Alexis Monville (en)

Agile Games New England 2019

In two previous posts, OKRs! OK What?, and The worst presentation ever, I covered sessions proposed during the Open Space on the third day of Agile Games 2019.

In this post, I would like to highlight the other sessions in which I found interesting “nuggets”, to use a term that my friend and colleague, Matt Takane often uses.

Opening Keynote

Jason Tice opened the event with a keynote about games for high performing teams. The games are built on the learning from Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage. In a nutshell, trust is the foundation of high performing teams. The ten ways collaboration builds trust are:

  1. Active listening
  2. Ask questions
  3. Leave breadcrumbs / Enable transparency
  4. Provide humble feedback
  5. Mentor (and learn, yes, mentoring is a social learning experience)
  6. Be whole and authentic
  7. Use metaphors and tell stories
  8. Periodic reflections (What’s going well and what could be improved)
  9. Visual framing
  10. Share appreciation

Jason had us played at each table.

The first player rolls two regular 6-sided dices and adds the total rolled to determine the storytelling topic:

2. A time you have made a mistake or failed
3. A time that you have received recognition
4. A time that you have helped a team member/coworker
5. A time when your manager or a coworker made you angry
6. A time that you had a great day at work
7. A time when you let someone down
8. A time when you were singled out or excluded
9. Something outside of work that brings you joy
10. A time when you were inspired
11. A time when you contributed to team success
12. A time when you recognized or appreciated someone else

The player then rolls the story cubes to establish common visual metaphors upon which stories for the topic will be based.

Each participant at the table tells a short story based on the cubes that were rolled. Everyone listen (recording the story by taking note is an option).

When the story is complete, the participants respond by providing ONLY appreciations.

Conclude with a round table in which participant share how they felt during the exercise and what they learned about themselves.

The last nugget. When you receive an appreciation, take a picture, if you use a service like google photo, the photo will show up in your feed in one year!

Building Network and Bridges

Erica Maguire proposed two activities.

The first one was the classic low-tech social network with a speed dating twist to run quickly the introduction and create the connection. For more details on how to run the activity, consider this post by Dave Gray.

The second one was about building bridges.

The goal is for two teams to each create half of a complete bridge. The acceptance criteria are:

  • a matchbox car should be able to drive over the bridge
  • the length of the bridge should accommodate eight matchbox cars
  • the width of the bridge should accommodate the width of 4 matchbox cars
  • you should be able to drive a matchbox car underneath the bridge

You have 2 minutes to plan.

You have then 8 minutes to build the bridge.

You are not allowed to look at what the other team is doing.

You are not allowed to communicate with them.

After the build phase, each team brings his half of the bridge on the integration table for a review.

You then have 2 minutes for a retrospective with the other team.

You can propose another iteration with the adaptation proposed during the retrospective.

Lego Labs Mini-Residency

Matt Takane and Tim Beattie proposed an interactive session that simulates what they do at Red Hat Open Innovation Labs‘ 6-12 week Residencies.

A lot of activities covered in a short amount of time. The activities are described in the Open Practice Library (in which you can contribute your own practices by the way).

We built a city with Lego and while doing that we experimented activities like:

  • The Social Contract
  • Identified the main aspect of building a city using “How might we…”
  • After some affinity mapping
  • We defined the relative priorities with the Priority Sliders
  • Use a Story Mapping approach to define what we wanted to build first
  • Position the items we wanted to work on an estimation ladder
  • Place the items on a kanban board, used by the multiple teams to coordinate their delivery on the integration table
  • Improved our way of working during a short retrospective
  • Enjoyed the simple introduction of the test framework
  • Appreciated the loud encouragement of our Product Owner

A lot of fun, and a lot of learnings!


Chris Diller, from the Target Dojo, proposed to play the cooperative board game Pandemic. What do you think playing a cooperative board game could teach us? They use the game as a starter in retrospective asking questions about similarities and differences with the work of a real team. We then discussed the roles in the game, and in real life, which was a rich discussion. After that, we discussed our behaviors, were we playing like an agile team during the game? Were we more or less agile than at work? Were we focused on an MVP (minimal viable product) or were we trying to do everything, and finally achieve nothing? (the latter, unfortunately…)

The debriefing phase was simple and powerful. Very well done!

Tips and tricks for meetings

Scott Showalter proposed a session to share tips and tricks for effective meetings.

Some are designed for when people start trickling down the room:

  • An easel pad titled “I am optimistic that…” with an invitation to complete with what you have in mind
  • Another easel pad titled “The meeting will be successful if…” with an invitation to complete with what you have in mind
  • And a last one asking for “co-facilitation volunteers” like note-takers, time-keeper

Some are designed for the meeting itself:

  • The collaborative note taking: using post-it notes, one note per things you want to capture, draw or write in caps, and place the notes on a dedicated easel pad
  • The back of the room agenda: large post-it notes have the topics we want to cover sequenced in order
  • The pie-chart agenda: draw a circle on a piece of paper, and then cut in slices representing the time we should invest for each topic
  • The classic talking stick was here a speaking object that the participants put on their heads 🙂
  • Scott replaces the classic “hand signal” in which the facilitator raises his hand, and all the people do the same and stop speaking as soon as they see people doing that, with a powerful whisper. He was just saying quietly: “if you can hear me clap once”, “if you can hear me clap twice”… those bring the silence in the room very effectively!

And lastly, some to close the meeting:

  • Success Story: The success stories are your action items, one per post-it note that you paste on an easel pad
  • Undo button: One post-it note is your undo button. In the rounded-square that you draw on the note, write something you want to undo.

Another great session!

The power of conflicts

Shahin Sheidaei proposed a session to harness the power of conflict to improve our organization.

He started with a simple question: “pick a color that represents conflict from the color cards on the table”.

Four of us picked red, one picked black, and one orange.

We then explained what the color represented for us: Anger, fear, absence of hope, and… creativity for the person who picked orange!

An interesting difference of perspectives at our table.

From another table, we heard a person picked green, and then explain that it represents an opportunity.

The exercise is simple enough to be introduced quickly to any team. A great opportunity to have a conversation about what represents conflict for the team, and what to do the next time we will have, or maybe we should have one.

Shahin then introduced Thomas Kliman model and invited us to identify what was our default mode:

  • Avoiding
  • Accommodating
  • Compromising
  • Competing
  • Collaborating

We then played with a partner with fake scenarios trying to use the different mode.

In the end, we studied one real story brought by one of the people of a group of three.

Another excellent session!

Making it pop

Jenny Tarwater closed the last day before the open space with a session highlighting the importance of a structured debrief.

She introduced Thiagi Six Phases of Debriefing.

As Thiagi said: “People don’t learn from experience; they learn from reflecting on their experience.”

The six phases are meant to balance the structure and the need for the free flow of the debriefing.

Phase 1: How Do You Feel?

Phase 2: What Happened?

Phase 3: What Did You Learn?

Phase 4: How Does This Relate To The Real World?

Phase 5: What If?

Phase 6: What Next?

And, of course, we had the opportunity to test the debriefing after short games at each table:

  • Clock: Raise your arm and point at an imaginary clock fixed on the ceiling, point at 12, 3, 6, 9.
    • In what direction your finger is moving?
      • Clockwise
    • Lower the finger, until it is lower than your head, in what direction your finger is moving
      • Counterclockwise
  • Compute: Sum of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.
    • How did you compute? Left to right, right to left, by 10s, by 11s, others…
    • We debriefed using prompts
      • I felt …
      • I learned …
      • I can use …
      • I plan to …
  • Who knows what are the choices on that menu: Soup or Salad and Bread

A great session!

Terraforming Mars

Scott Showalter and David Bujard proposed an open space session using the board game Terraforming Mars.

The idea of the session was to study the gameplay of the existing game, to then, adapt it for an enterprise transformation.

  • What would be the metrics that will replace the score track, the temperature, the number of oceans, and the atmosphere?
    • Maybe: budget, position in analyst quadrant, team satisfaction, customer satisfaction?
  • What would be the cards?
    • The experiment that we could make: self-learning, training, dojo, open space with a team…
  • How to measure the appetite for change?
  • How to know where to act with the cards?
  • How the design of the board should evolve to be adjusted to the organization?

Interesting session. A lot of work to be done to be able to get to a result for a specific organization. And, yes, I added that in my Someday / Maybe column 🙂


Lastly, we played Kanjis with Isabel Monville, and it was a great session.

Tell me if you would like to play the game!





3 responses to “Agile Games New England 2019”

  1. […] At the beginning of the month, I had the pleasure to participate in a fantastic event: Agile Games 2019. Here are three posts about the adventure: The worst presentation ever, OKRs! OK What?, Agile Games New England 2019! […]

  2. Jag Venugopal Avatar

    Alexis — pleasure chatting with you, and nice job on the writeup.

    1. Alexis Avatar

      Thank you Jag!