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Do you want to help your team learn to work together more effectively, and have fun at the same time?

Google did some research on what helps teams work together effectively (What Google Learned from Its Quest to Create the Perfect Team), and they found that one characteristic of high-performing teams is that they have a high degree of what’s called social sensitivity. Social sensitivity is “the personal ability to perceive, understand, and respect the feelings and viewpoints of others.”* So how do you help the members of your team increase their social sensitivity?

Here’s a fun activity that helps people observe each other and see patterns in their interactions. It comes from the world of improvisational theater. I don’t remember where I learned this game, but it might have been from Todd Stashwick, and his work in Organic Improv. Or it might have been when I was a grad student at Georgia Tech (yes, engineers do improvisational comedy).

The game is called Friend and Foe.

You need a space big enough for your team to move around in.

Everyone on the team secretly chooses one person who is their Friend and one person who is their Foe. The only rule is that everyone has to always be closer to their Friend than to their Foe. That’s all.

Tell everyone to start. After a few minutes, when an overall pattern is established and everyone’s probably laughing, tell people to stop.

Then reflect. Ask everyone what they experienced. Ask everyone what they noticed while playing the game. Ask everyone what, in their observation, created what they observed.

Ideally, play this game at least once more. Each time, have everybody choose a different Friend and Foe, and afterwords, reflect on what people experienced.

If your team is using Scrum, you can include this game in your retrospectives. For any team, you can do this at the start of any meeting, or whenever you think it’ll help your team.

After you’ve used this game during several retrospectives, encourage your team to start observing their interactional patterns throughout the day. They’ll start noticing who stands together, who’s being left out, who looks at whom, who gets ignored, when conversations and problem-solving session are going well, and when they aren’t.

Learning to observe the behavioral patterns that are made by simple interactions will help your team increase their ability to be aware of other people and the interactional patterns that teams form. As we get better and better at perceiving, understanding, and respecting the feelings and viewpoints of others, they’ll work together more effectively. And by playing Friend and Foe, they’ll have fun at the same time.


The Rules for “Friend and Foe”

Find a space big enough for everyone to move around in.

How to Play

Have each person secretly choose one person to be their Friend and one person to be their Foe.

As the game progresses, everyone must stay as close to their Friend, and as far away from their Foe, as they can.

Tell the team to start. Let them continue for two or three minutes.

Reflecting Afterwards

Ask the team:

  • What did you experience?
  • What did you notice while playing the game?
  • What, in your observation, created what you noticed?

Number of players

3 to 20


* This definition is from “Social sensitivity and classroom team projects: an empirical investigation”, Lisa Bender, Gursimran Walia, Krishna Kambhampaty, Kendall E. Nygard, and Travis E. Nygard. In: SIGCSE ’12 Proceedings of the 43rd ACM technical symposium on Computer Science Education, pp 403-408.

Photo credit: © 2011 Ars Electronica, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

If You’ve been Giving Way, Try Doing the Opposite
Friend and Foe – If Someone’s Disproportionately Affecting the Team

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