The book combines the elements of many traditional facilitation/group processes and is divided into a number of sections: essentials, core gamestorming skills, games for opening, exploring and closing. On closer inspection, many of the processes are not games, and thus diminishes the power of games in organisations and groups. Games can provide a real insight, often tangentially, into how we behave during the game and potentially, at work as well. Anyone who has been working with groups and using a range of processes will find little new in this book. However it’s a handy reminder. For people new to group work it opens up a range of approaches and ideas to build upon.
There are also many variations on a theme, for example, cardstorming/affinity mapping are all essentially the same process – taking a bunch of ideas and finding common themes, patterns etc. It also seems a bit odd to me to describe well-known processes such as World Cafe and Open Space Technology as games. I also find it a stretch to call a SWOT analysis a game too, even if it’s done with post-it notes and people get out of their chairs.
What I do like about the book is that it draws a lot of its activities from outside of traditional sources and adapts them for use with groups. It also encourages active participation rather than passivity. Anything that encourages facilitators to get participants to use their whole body, and not just the part above the neck, is welcome.
A lot of these activities are designed to create awareness, understanding, and recognition of others’ ideas. I suspect we now have a need for these activities because many of us have lost the art of connecting, of building relationships, of having conversations, of knowing the differences between dialogue and debate, and how and when to inquire and advocate. We are too caught up in our own heads to stop and listen to others, we are looking too hard for the ‘right’ answer and stop looking when we think we have found it. There is also an overemphasis on reaching a conclusion or a decision. While this is comforting for many, it diminishes the value of exploration and reduces groups to entities that can be directed to an end point. Groups are messy, ideas are convoluted, and appropriate decisions depend on many variables.
This book is an addition to the vast array of books on processes, games, techniques. They are all useful activities to know in any given situation. There’s something missing though. You can have all the games and activities in the world, all indexed, available in iPhone apps or on index cards, stored in the computer in your head or the one in your hands – yet that doesn’t tell you what to do when. I wrote about this here.
Noticing, awareness, doing less not more, being alert to what’s not happening as well as to what is – these are essential facilitation skills that are hard to convey in any book.