When I was a personnel development executive, I seldom used outside consultants and trainers. Why? Because they played too many games and no one learned a thing. They called it experiential learning, but more often than not it was so artificial that I was hard pressed to find any application or meaning in the real world of the group. There may be a place for “walk on the moon,” “the human spider web,” and “alphabet soup.” But, to quote Roger Schwarz,
“The group members’ own experiences trying to solve real problems create more than enough real data for me to help them learn about their dynamics and themselves as group members.”
Schwarz goes on to say,
“If you choose to use experiential exercises…to facilitate group process, consider using ones that are consistent with (your) core values and principles.”
Here are a few examples from Schwartz’s book “The Skilled Facilitator:”
- Don’t use experiential exercises that require withholding information or relying on deception.
- Don’t use experiential exercises whose outcome is predetermined and controlled by you.
- Don’t use experiential exercises that demand a level of personal risk greater than what the group members agreed to.
- Don’t use experiential exercises that are inconsistent with the group’s objectives.
- Don’t use experiential exercises when you do not have the time to process the results adequately.
- Don’t use experiential exercises when you do not know what to expect in terms of the range of issue that might be raised.
- Don’t use experiential exercises when you are not confident about handling all the issues that might be raised.
I guess the real question here is not about playing games, but understanding and being consistent with your core values, beliefs, and principles. Learning is best when it is active rather than passive, when it is problem centered rather than theory centered, when there is two-way communication, when participants share control over and responsibility for the learning, and when thought and action are integrated. If you feel playing games will do that for you then go right ahead and play. But if you, like me, feel these learning assumptions are best met by tapping into the experiences and work of the participants then stop all the games and make the experience real.
Marshall Goldsmith along with Laurence Lyons and Alyssa Freas, in their book “Coaching for Leadership” provide three maxims for working with groups:
- Never diminish clients—help them grow.
- Don’t invalidate their view of reality—help them to expand it.
- Be wary of telling the client what to think—ask good questions that leave room for self-respect.