Updated: Feb 26, 2021
There are a lot of people who have difficulty understanding what Serious Play and me being a Scrum Master actually means. I understand completely and trust me, it can be difficult to explain too! Not because I’m doing things that are necessarily very complex or difficult to understand but simply because it involves a lot of different things and has an impact on a lot of different issues and layers that are all somehow interconnected and – most importantly, if I’m being honest – because I’m sooooo, so, so incredibly enthusiastic about what I do that I tend to get so carried away when talking about my work that it ends up being this complete information overload. So, I decided to start a new blog series to help me explain what I do in bitesize bits and pieces called: MY ROLE AS…..
Part of being a Scrum Master is being a Facilitator. And as a Facilitator, I make sure that a team is able to go about their business, work together, stay on track, stay motivated and stay focussed on working towards the same goal. Serious Play games play an important role in achieving all this. And what I do during these games? Well, a LOT, actually:
In my Game of the Month-blog about Change Game I mentioned that every time I plan to use this game during a session, I’m really looking forward to having a good laugh while seeing people squirm in order to change their appearance. And while that’s absolutely true it doesn't mean I don't take what I do incredibly seriously. It isn’t simply a matter of 'oh, that's such a fun game, I'll just make them play that and we'll all have a good laugh' and trust me, I don’t have the time to just sit back, relax and watch the madness unfold as soon as people have started playing. For starters, I never decide to play a game 'just for the hell of it’. Change Game, for instance, is a great game for when I’m working with a team that’s stuck and needs to change the way they operate, or that’s going through a transition of some kind. It really helps them experience why that change is so difficult for them or others on their team. So, a big part of my role as Facilitator is choosing the game that’s best suited to the situation and the team.
And then, there we are, about to play my carefully chosen Change Game. If you want to make the most of a game, it's obviously important that people don't automatically partner up with their usual cronies. As Facilitator, this is where I have to step in. One way to do that, of course, is to order people around and divide them up in teams myself. But people tend to resist being told what to do, so it’s not a very good way to get the party started. It's much more fun to use a simple game to help people pick their partners. For instance, I get people to search for their 'sole mates'. ... Get it? It cracks me up every time! … After people have taken a good look at the soles of each other’s shoes and found a suitable partner, they are generally in a good mood and ready for action.
During the game, I'm the one who has to keep track of time and make sure we don’t take forever, but I’m also the one that needs to make sure that everybody is allowed the time they need to be able to actually play the game. To keep track of everything, I often ask people to raise their hands when they're done. That way, I can easily see who's ready and who's still busy. It's a good visual to make those still fooling around realise that they should stop being stupid and get with the programme. Sometimes it's just that little push they need to get serious about playing games. Or, it helps me identify those people who are struggling and need a helping hand. Which is equally important because I'm also the one that has to make sure that not only everybody's participating but that they’re also having a good time. And finally, I’m the one who’s deciding how many rounds will be played. Has my team been challenged enough? Should we do a fourth round? Or shall we stick to three? It’s my call to make.
And when everybody's all played out, that's when my job gets really serious. The reason we were playing this game is to help the team understand the change process and now is the time to make sure that all those amazing lessons they’ve learned while playing actually stick. Of course, it would be easy to simply spell out all the lessons I wanted my team to pick up on during the game but it's much more effective if they are able to come up with those insights themselves. So I need to make people think about their experiences. By asking the right questions: What was the first change you made in the first round? What was the effect on your neighbour during the second round? Shall we do another round? OK, that last one’s a joke, obviously. :-) Another big part of my role as Facilitator is preparation and, obviously, I will have prepared a lot of these questions beforehand but debriefing works best if I’m able to link the lessons I want my team to learn to things that actually happened during the game.
(Side note: You might consider using the debriefing cube if you run out of questions to ask, thanks to Julian and Chris!!)
Which means that while I was busy keeping track of time, making sure everybody was able to take the time they needed, were participating, as well as having a good time, I also had to keep an eye out for those moments that would help me ask the right questions. So, while my team is busy playing, I’m actually working my ass off to make sure that not only everything’s running smoothly but also to make sure I get the results I was looking for. Pfew! That’s heavy shit and definitely not me simply standing on the side-line laughing my ass off, wouldn’t you say?
But there’s more, because while my team is busy learning by playing this game, I’m busy learning too. I’m learning a lot from watching my team interact with each other. I’m getting to know the individual team members by watching the way they behave during the game and I’m also learning a lot about the way the team interacts with each other. Who likes who? Who’s the one getting all the attention and who’s not getting the attention they deserve? And this is important information that helps me to be the best Scrum Master I can be for my team, because it helps me identify the problem areas that I will need to address to make sure everything’s running smoothly. So even if I decide to play a game ‘just for the hell of it’, there are still lessons to be learned, even if I’m the only one learning them, and it’s all for the benefit of the team.
And well, the lesson to be learned from reading this blog is that being a Facilitator during a game is actually a lot of hard work and I’m loving every minute of it.