One of the most memorable and rewarding sessions I attended on agile games was not on any stage however, but in an Open Space on the 1st floor of the conference center.
It was entitled Where Are Your Keys?
Diana Larsen, who had successfully captured my interested on the subject by writing and tweeting about it earlier this year, facilitated the WAYK Open Space session. (you can see more on WAYK at XP2010)
I found myself sitting in a circle looking down on a collection of objects (red pen, black pen, rock, stick & dollar) with other industry experts such as Michele Sliger and Linda Rising. We quickly formed 3 concentric circles. The 1st circle was the Inner Circle, the 2nd circle the Lunatic Fringe and the 3rd circle the Meadow.
At a basic level, the Inner Circle started off with very simple sign language about the object that lay in front of us. The outer circles mimicked their actions to help support them. In about an hour, we went from not knowing any sign language to speaking in past, present and possessive tense. By myself, it is very unlikely I would have ever made such a rapid progression in this short amount of time.
Part of the reason this was possible is that we had a non-threatening way to deal with mistakes, as we’d just throw up our hands and say “How Fascinating!” when people floundered. It created a safe environment for collaboration and learning.
While this session was not for everyone, I found it rather enlightening. I’m not certain that I’d recommend the game for all agile teams, but for groups of agile coaches & facilitators it works rather well. WAYK gave me a refreshing perspective on just how effective group learning in a safe environment can be, and is a gentle reminder about how we cannot get too caught up in our mistakes.