I’ve just started a boisterous 4-week experiment with a client, and I could use your help.
The idea came from my dental hygienist.
She had a life-altering experience playing Game On!, the competitive health and fitness game invented by hilariously irreverent Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson of Gray’s Anatomy. “It was hard, it was a blast, I got totally into it – and I never thought I could change all those habits, but I did,” she summed up as she finished flossing my teeth (speaking of habits that could use a little change).
I got a wild hair.
What would it look like to use a Game On! approach to build communication skills?
I’m working with a group of 12 leaders on a year-long leadership development series, and we’re approaching our first desired program result: by the end of June (four months in), leaders can more comfortably, confidently and skillfully lead through challenging conversations. To date, I’ve given these leaders a heap of concepts and tools, and they’ve been enthusiastic during our sessions.
Like all of us, they’re busy. They have business teams to manage, profit margins to watch and customers to serve. Making time for practice is tough – especially when “practicing” can feel, well, yucky, because you’re taking the risk to step into uncomfortable conversations.
So here’s the Game On!-inspired experiment I’m running to see if it moves the dial:
- 4 teams of 3, including one designated as the team scorekeeper
- 28-day competition
- Weekly scorekeeping based on specific elements of practice, big and small (with the possibility of earning points, penalties, and bonuses)
- Built-in peer pressure to keep playing like you mean it: each day, you can 5 points if you send encouraging communication to a teammate AND trash talk someone from a competing team (I borrowed this genius gem directly from Krista and Az’s version)
- The prize: Winning group gets the mid-afternoon treat of their choice, baked by me within 24 hours after final scores are announced and served at our May session
How on earth do you award “points” for productive communication?
Good question. I wanted to incentivize behaviors without being unhelpfully prescriptive. Where I landed: Among other things, you can…
- Earn points for a “crunch” conversation (tackling a big, hairy, long-time pattern of conflict)
- Earn points for listening deeply to someone’s experience – what they’re feeling, thinking, observing, and want
- Earn points when you notice, real-time, that you’re triggered and make a choice to respond productively (you might acknowledge aloud that you’re getting defensive, or take a deep breath and stay quiet vs. yelling)
- Earn points for reading a blog post with tips for dealing with conflict (I’m sending them to the very excellent Crucial Skills blog)
- Lose points for procrastinating a difficult conversation with your name on it, or complaining about someone to a third party
- Get bonus points for achieving your own personal “conversation goal” for the week, or getting your scorecard in on time
As you might expect, in Week 1, the teams had no problem earning full points for trash-talking. Across all categories, in fact, their scores were high enough to surprise me: one group cleanly outscored the others at 1700 points, with two close in the middle and one trailing behind at 900. No one gave themselves a penalty. After I announced the first week’s results, a team member wrote everyone:
Hey guys – I am really enjoying our group and the experience we are sharing. I have to say it was a bit heady to see many of you talking about or using some of the leadership skills as we were engaged in the company meeting. I am proud of the effort we are all putting forward to get this stuff down, and I know that the whole company will benefit from us spreading the skills through walking the walk.
So far, so good.
As I wait for Week 2 scores – due this evening – my question for you smart, inspired souls is this: What else can I do to increase the fun, fuel competition, and keep practice meaningful for the remaining two weeks? Any ideas?