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In my last post, I talked about an improvisational theater game that can help your team build social sensitivity. Social sensitivity is “the ability to perceive, understand, and respect the feelings and viewpoints of others.” *

In this post, I’ll talk about a way you can vary this game that’s useful if you have one person who has a disproportionately negative effect on the team. This variation helps someone see how their actions alone can affect the entire team.

The game is called Friend and Foe, and to review, it goes like this:

Get a space big enough for your team to move around in. Everyone on the team secretly chooses one person to be their Friend, and one person to be their Foe. As the game progresses, each person needs to be as close to their Friend as possible, and as far away from their Foe as possible. After a few minutes of letting your team play the game, stop and debrief. You can play this multiple times, with everyone choosing a new Friend and Foe each time.

To debrief, ask the team:

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

If you have someone on your team who has a disproportionately negative effect on the team (I call this the “disproportionately negative effect person,” or DNEP), you can vary the game like this.

Using the usual rules, play the game twice.

After the second time, tell people to remember the pattern that was established that time. Then tell the team that you’re going to give everyone secret instructions. Go to each member of the team and whisper to them to keep their Friend and Foe exactly the same – except for the Disproportionately Negative Effect Person (DNEP), who you’ll tell to switch their Friend and Foe; that is, their Friend is now their Foe, and vice versa. That’s all.

Have the team play the game a third time. When you finish, tell them to not reveal their secret instructions, and to not reveal who was their Friend and Foe, but to debrief about the game in the usual way. Ask them what was different from the previous time they played it.

When the discussion seems to be dying down, ask everyone to reveal their secret instructions. Start with someone to the right or left of DNEP (without saying that that’s what you’re doing), and go around the circle so that you end with DNEP. This will build up everyone’s puzzlement about why the pattern was different, only revealing at the end that just one simple change caused the entire pattern to change. Then let the team discuss.

If you have your team play the game again, for example as a warm-up to a retrospective, you can use this variant again, only have someone other than the DNEP be the only one to change their Friend and Foe (again, by switching them)

The next time you have a private conversation with DNEP about their effect on the team, you can introduce the subject by asking them about their effect on the pattern in the Friend and Foe game. Ask them what they experienced, and what they noticed. Coaching them to introspect on their effect on the patterns in the game can help them see their behavioral patterns in the team in general, and to think about how to change their effect.

* 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.

Friend and Foe – A Game to Develop Social Sensitivity
Guess What? Agile Can Help Your Toastmasters Club

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