Game on: We have a winner(s)!

I, as my British colleagues say with classic understatement, am chuffed.

This week was the finish line for a big experiment, the 28-day competitive conflict-skills-building game I’ve been running with a client group. The experiment succeeded well beyond my expectations. (For those of you just tuning in, catch the backstory in the Game On: Conflict competition post.)

World-record conflict-clearing

The twelve people that comprised four competing teams set what must be a record: over four weeks, they stepped into a total of 198 difficult conversations.

  • 72 of these addressed long-time, recurring patterns of behavior that had become toxic to their workplaces and relationships.
  • The other 126 were “get curious” conversations: when they hadn’t gotten the results they needed in an interaction, and became triggered, players proactively engaged to understand their conversation partner’s perspective, share their own, and work together to find a  satisfactory way forward.

Did players maintain momentum, or did the game wane?

A few weeks in, I asked you for ideas to help keep momentum going (and I used a bunch of them). On this side of the finish line, I can see that not only did players sustain engagement, but they actually increased activity by a few % the last two weeks (the final week showed the biggest uptick). Again, if you’re just joining us or need a refresher, you can check out the strategies I used here and here.

Wow, was all she could say.

What became clearer to them about productive conflict? How did the game help?

Across the board, players reported their anxiety about and during difficult conversations went waaay down.

  • The way they think about difficult conversations evolved from “stressful interactions that will likely create more conflict” to “opportunities for connection, and improving things.”
  • They also described a profound shift in how they viewed their conversation partners: “They’re on their own journey, too.” “They really do have their own story – and it might be different from mine. I learned a lot from them.”
  • They described the game as “an awesome learning tool,” adding that it was overwhelming at times – especially the volume of emails flying back and forth between people getting their team communication points.
  • A number said they kept their scorecards by their computers all month, starting each day looking for the places they needed to get clarity with or listen differently to others. “It’s become second nature to look for these opportunities. We stopped playing several days ago, but I’m still doing it.”

During our debrief, I broke them into mixed groups with instructions to draw 1) the essence of what they learned, and 2) how the game played a role. Scroll down to see what they drew, and how they described it.

“The techniques we’ve learned help draw the light out, making conflict and how to get through it more clear. That’s the sun. The game acted a magnet, drawing new capabilities out of us.

Before, some of us were avoiders, and others were exploders (those are the jagged lines in the sun). The avoiders learned it’s not so bad – and that not doing saying doing it all perfectly isn’t the end of the world. Engaging a conversation with the tools we have made us more effective in the office, and happier leaders. The exploders learned the importance of listening – and we are getting much better at it.”


“The game made us more self-observant by making us accountable to ourselves. You have to look yourself in the mirror, be self-reflective – that’s where radical change comes from. The outrageously big ears you see, and the glasses, represent learning to listen differently and more, and see more about ourselves in different scenarios.

“We learned to be proactive, and keep the fires small around us. Engaging conflict quickly increases satisfaction in basic interactions. We have a bigger toolbox for different ways of interacting.. And we grew big listening ears and awareness antennae. We learned to really put our eyes in their shoes and understand where the other person is coming from.

The game also increased our sense of team, with each other and with our employees. We started using our game team for advice and coaching on other things, too, which made us realize how many resources there are in the (company network) – and want to use them more.

I hope you feel as chuffed as I do

To those of you who shared suggestions by commenting here and via email: know how much you’ve been part of supporting this team! And my experiment.

I’m now off to co-facilitate a course at the Banff Leadership Centre, Leading Through Change, with my super duper collaborators Karen Dawson and Ian Prinsloo, both of whom contributed great thinking on the game. We’ll raise a toast in the Rockies for everyone.

Anything else about this experiment that’s keeping you up at night? Let me know and I’ll do my best to scratch the itch.