Using Play to Help Your Team Work Brilliantly

Do you love learning through games and play? A colleague of mine Bette Gardner developed a to­tally fun game that helps teams learn to work creatively and cohesively, instead of getting lost in arguments about stretched resources and priority conflicts.

Her game is called Friday Night in the ER and it’s a fast paced simulation game that any number of people can play together. You can organize, play, and debrief the game yourselves, or have a certified trainer provide expert facilitation. I’ve been a certified trainer for many years and find the debrief discussions are the most powerful part of the game. Game creator Bette Gardner recently shared with me one of the lessons she helped a team learn:

“Facilitating Friday Night at the ER as part of a recent leadership development program, I was reminded how our own mental models either limit or expand the opportunities for improvement that are often right in front of us. About halfway through the game, I paused the action for a short debrief. A hand shot up from one of the tables, “Can we share staff across departments?” (The simulation involves running a fast-paced hospital emergency room, making decisions about staffing and other resource allocation.)

I redirected the question to the group, “What do you think, can you share staff in this game?” Half the room declared a resounding “Yes!” and the other half just as loudly called out “No!”

It was a fun moment full of learning. Because nothing in the game rules imposes any restriction about sharing staff! I asked the people who said no, “Where did that “rule” come from?” After few moments of reflection, participants realized: the “rule” came from within them! It was an assumption made automatically, without awareness, while people were engaged in performing their simulation jobs. It was an assumption that seriously limited their ability to be successful as a team.

Freed from the burden of restrictions that did not really exist, the group resumed the game with more open-minded creativity…and markedly improved performance.

How often do we overlook or rule out ideas within us that could create great results? It’s a lesson of the Friday Night at the ER game and it’s an important life lesson. Next time I feel stuck – note to self – remind me to challenge my own mental model, which may be the only thing limiting my ability to take brilliant action.”