Gamestorming – An energetic and collaborative way to design strategy and change

 Derval Kennedy2Imagine if you had a work practice or technique available to you, that could assist your organisation in keeping up with the pace of change, while engaging people, fostering collaboration and innovation, and energising them about the future of their work? Such a technique exists.  It’s called Gamestorming…

Organisations that are still implementing change in the same manner as 5-10 years ago, are likely to fall behind.  The world of work and, by definition, organisations, are changing beyond recognition.


Change itself has changed.  As a YouTube presentation from a recent conference puts it, “Change is on steroids”. Change is exponential and can become global overnight. The challenge for all organisations is how to remain adaptable, inspiring and sustainably innovative, while keeping up the pace.


Countless online sources indicate trends  in ‘The Future of Work and the Organisation’, and the next wave of change.  Many point to the future of work being human, being ‘now’, about the unique diversity of Baby Boomers to Generation Z working together in the same organisations.  Add to this globalisation, networked economies, the spectrum of digital from shift to total disruption, the need for consistent innovation,  new working styles (homeworking, activity-based) and the dissolution of the traditional 9-5 working environment. Mind power is now a more valuable asset than manpower and innovation is actively cultivated.  People come to work nowadays with expectations of being motivated, collaborative and engaged in their own work futures.


Business leaders need to know that in implementing change,  all possible alternatives have been explored and evaluated.   The opportunity costs of not choosing the right alternatives are significant. Organisations are traditionally designed for efficiency, not creativity.  Given all these moving parts, organisations struggle with balancing business innovation with bottom line.  No pressure then!


As a strategy and change consultant, I’m continuously researching ways to help clients to keep up the pace of change effectively, while at the same time harnessing the mind power of their organisations.  The challenge is how to accelerate, to address all manner of change or innovation  tasks, while increasing people’s engagement with and energy for the effort.


Recent research led me to visual thinking.  This is not entirely new, having been originally developed in 1970’s Silicon Valley.  Visualisation techniques were used for engineering innovation and complex problem solving, in such organisations as Xerox and Intel.


More recently, these visualisation techniques or ‘serious games’ have been thoughtfully  collated in a playbook.  Dave Gray (Xplane Inc. US) and his co-authors named the collection ‘Gamestorming’ (a play on the words brainstorming and games) to help organisations to solve a variety of complex problems.  Essentially the playbook is a collection of practices and methods for problem solving, creative thinking, strategy design etc.  These are practices that have been cross-pollinated for many years by external consultants and internally within organisations.


Because Gamestorming is both a playbook and an approach, it can be applied to a wide variety of organisation challenges and situations: Input, diagnosis, problem identification, solutioning, strategy design, ideation, planning and execution.


For those with reservations about the merits of organisation ‘think-ins’ and ‘away days’, be assured that Gamestorming is not play.  In  Gamestorming, participants are entering a model space where there are rules and goals.


Brainstorming – a more familiar approach – can be unproductive unless it’s very carefully managed.  Brainstorming has come under criticism for not generating enough good ideas, the lack of critical filters, the inhibiting effects and even groupthink.


By contrast, Gamestorming  applies ‘the rules of the game’.  The approach is quite structured. As with all board, schoolyard or online games, there are time and space boundaries, players, rules, artefacts and outcomes.


Problem solving requires navigating an unknown journey to an unknown destination.  The basic premise is that you’re dealing with ‘fuzzy goals’.  Movement towards fuzzy goals is progressive.  The process is both emotional (generating passion and energy) and sensory (developing artefacts and making the ideas shareable).  You know that you’re being asked to ‘put the man on the moon’, but you don’t know how you’re going to do it. Linear journeys from A to B wind up with the same result every time.  Gamestorming is about taking a non-linear journey from A to B (when you don’t know what B looks like), using structured ‘games’ within a workshop setting, to drive innovative thinking, creativity, energy and engagement. A good facilitator will design a workshop ‘with the end in mind’.


While the journey may be non-linear, the mechanics of Gamestorming are entirely consistent.  These adhere to an OPEN – EXPLORE – CLOSE sequence of sections, facilitator-led.  The OPEN section allows for divergent views, EXPLORE examines emergent views, and CLOSE deals with convergent ideas.  The facilitator will prepare, select, manage and conclude a series of appropriate games for each section.  Dozens of games may be used – the choice and range can vary according to the desired outcome and facilitator design. The sequencing leads to a cumulative effect,  encouraging new thinking throughout but also ensuring meaningful outcomes at the end.  Examples of games can be:

  • OPEN – Affinity maps, Empathy Maps, Who Do?
  • EXPLORE – Cover Story, Force Field Analysis, Bodystorming, Understanding Chain
  • CLOSE – Forced Ranking, Impact & Effort, Plus/Delta, Memory Wall


Workshops can be designed to address all types of corporate change challenges; strategy alignment, team development, growth agendas, creating digital services, process improvement or enhancement, or creating a ‘future state’ organisation.


Gamestorming is essentially low-tech – it’s about people, paper and process.  It’s about running workshops that are built on collaboration, at a speedy and dynamic pace. It encourages people to co-design change energetically, being engaged in their future and opening up the solutions.


Not long ago, as I raced from one end of a room to another during my facilitator training in Amsterdam, taking part in a Bodystorming exercise to physically ‘vote’ for my preference, I realised for myself how energising the process was. It was literally a ‘whole of body’ experience!


I’ve started to use Gamestorming in client engagements. While initially a little cautious, people quickly become engaged, seeing the results that they can so quickly produce. The key is to ‘mix up’ the variety of games to ensure that people stay motivated and curious.  As a facilitator it’s critical to remain unprescriptive, and stay in touch with your clients domain knowledge.


In any workshop, there can be a tendency to get ‘down into the weeds’.  There are some cool checks for this in Gamestorming.  The ‘Altitude Test’ can be a great on-the-spot scan to assess where you are vs. desired level of detail, keeping outcomes in mind.


In the end, it’s important to acknowledge that a Gamestorming session is a stepping stone in strategy or change initiatives.  One of the outcomes can be a visualisation of the continuum of strategy execution or change, co-designed by the participants, which is ‘theirs to own’.


Organisation challenges and problems are never static.   Gamestorming helps to move forward toward results, with beneficial side-affects.  To quote Dave Gray, “the  paradox of discovery is that you can find things that you’re not looking for, but if you don’t look, you won’t find anything”.


Derval Kennedy is on the Alternatives Senior Consultancy Panel where she specialises in Strategy, Change Management & Organisational Design.