Deborah Hartman-Preuss organized a spontaneous (guerrilla) Open Space at the Munich Scrum Gathering, and it gave me the opportunity to run a couple of games. One of my favorite games with large groups of people is a game I originally ran when working as a youth and community worker with disenfranchised teenagers in inner London. Turns out this game is very suitable for learning about organizational behavior, and I have been using it in my Scrum trainings for a number of years now.
Movers and Shapers
A fast-moving physical game to explore group dynamics. Participants move around the room attempting to create different formations that rely on the positions of other people… who insist on doing their own thing! It is chaotic, messy and frustrating. It can also be beautiful. I never quite know the what the outcome and learning will be with this game, but during the debrief participants often identify both dysfunctionsal and healthy dynamics at work.
Introduce this simply as a warm-up or on-your-feet exercise, to avoid pre-conceptions. The exercise requires an open space, unencumbered by furniture. Participants distribute themselves around the space. There is to be no talking in this exercise.
You are a victim. Silently select one person in the room to be your enemy, and another to be your shield*. Once everyone has done this, each person moves to a position where his shield is between himself and his enemy.
Facilitator: observe what happens in the room, look at the shapes being created, the energy of the people. The group usually breaks up and moves outward. The dynamic here is mostly about blame and avoidance.
* David Harvey pointed out that using the term “best friend” rather than “shield” may be less loaded. Good point.
This time be the shield. Pick an attacker and a victim. Once everyone has done this, each person moves to position himself between the attacker and the victim, shielding the victim.
Facilitator: observe what happens, usually the group will collapse in on itself. The dynamic is one of protection, about covering up the mistakes of others.
Pick two people, and move to a positon in the room so that you form an equilateral triangle with your partners, each of you being a point on that triangle.
Facilitator: note that the group will again (most likely) not come to rest, but the movement will be less hectic than in the first two parts. Eye contact is usually maintained, and implicit agreements made. The continuous movement is indicative of a living system. Static systems are essentially dead systems. If you find this part of the exercise results in stasis, introduce something to upset this equilibrium, and discuss the living/dead systems idea during the debrief.
Debrief after each part, as appropriate to your style and according to what you observed. You may also want a general debrief at the end. Avoid making value judgments, and let the participants draw their own conclusions.
The whole exercise will last anything between between 10-30 minutes, depending on the depth of the debrief. I tend to find that exercises like this often speak for themselves and over-analyzing doesn’t add much value. An alternative way of running this is to have 3-4 observers standing on chairs or tables, to observe the patterns and offer insights.
This game has its origins in the theatre work of Augusto Boal.