Leadership of games

When using games in your training program your leadership role will be more effective if you switch to one of facilitation. The role of a facilitator is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: “one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision”.

Facilitation is a form of leadership.

In the above illustrated quote, facilitators are seen to have a special role to play when structuring participation among people. Games by their very nature are a structured activity. Each person has a particular set of instructions to follow. The leader needs to ensure that everyone knows these instructions. S/he will need to demonstrate or organise for others in the team to demonstrate how this will work. The leader/facilitator will also find it far more effective if they participate fully in the game. This participation will decrease any feelings of threat that might be perceived by the participants.

So what is facilitation?

The word facilitation is based on facilis which is the Latin word for ‘easy’. Facilitation is the process that a facilitator uses to make something easier for others to accomplish.

When a leader is facilitating a team in game playing, their main concerns are:

  • making the process easy and flexible
  • ensuring full participation taking into consideration physical disabilities and the environment
  • encouraging values and ethics that treat everyone equally
  • generating an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable
  • providing everyone with confidence to contribute
  • building team spirit
  • calculating an ongoing evaluation of participation and achievement of goals
  • determining when to stop the game.

Social interactions and games

When building an effective team, social interactions are a key tool used by facilitators to bond the team members together. Games make social interactions easier because they provide a structure in which the team members interact. Another benefit in the structure is that it involves all of the team members – even the shy ones. In addition, regular use of team building games will make the team development process faster because of the amount of interactions that will occur while the members are having fun playing games.

So just what are social interactions?


Social interaction is a dynamic, changing sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions according to those of their interaction partner(s). In other words, they are events in which people attach meaning to a situation, interpret what others are meaning, and respond accordingly. Social interactions can be differentiated into:…Regulated – planned and regulated by customs or law, will definitely raise questions when missed. Interaction in a workplace (coming to work, staff meetings, playing a game, etc.), family, etc. In sociological hierarchy, social interaction is more advanced than behaviour, action, social behaviour, social action and social contact, and is in turn followed by more advanced concept of social relation. In other words, social interactions, which consist of social actions, form the basis for social relations.

Anne T. Heatherton,A. T., & Walcott, V.A., (2009) Handbook of Social Interactions in the 21st Century, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, New York, U.S.A. page vii

The most common social action is talking. This involves skills in: oral language, conversation, listening, etiquette, manners, body language, interpreting tonal inflections, questioning, honesty and eventually trust. Other social actions include: making friends, meeting people, hosting, commercial transactions, playing sports, being a member of a club etc.

Another advantage of using team building games to teach social interaction skills has to do with our age of digital communication. With the ubiquitous use of social media, texting, instant messaging and email these days, skills in face-to-face communication and social interactions are becoming less well developed then when communication was mainly done in person. These face-to-face skills are the very ones required in team work. They are also the very ones being developed through the use of team building games.

3 types of icebreakers

Icebreakers are the most important type of game to kick start an effective team building process. But did you know that there are three types of icebreakers. They fall into these categories:

  • getting to know your name
  • getting to talking to you
  • getting to know something about you.

Knowing which type of icebreaker you need will help you to select more appropriately.


Getting to know your name

This is the type of icebreaker that is often deemed to be synonymous with the term ‘icebreaker’. It is needed when the team is first forming. It is most important to use when the participants are strangers. But also important when team members have not interacted regularly before the team formed. In all social interactions when two strangers meet, the first thing they do is introduce themselves. This icebreaker provides a structure for those introductions to be accomplished quickly in larger groups. And sometimes there is some fun added. It is important as a first step for everyone to know the names of their team mates.  The ‘Getting to know your name’ icebreaker is the most non-threatening of the three types.

Because this is most renowned form of icebreaker, many facilitators only use one icebreaker with a team or group. But just like in a social gathering when meeting a stranger the conversation then develops in stages, so icebreakers come in stages also. So you can use as many icebreakers as you feel are necessary to break down the normal personal barriers that exist when people are thrown together with strangers and/or casual acquaintances.

Getting to talk to you

The ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers mimic the next step in meeting someone – talking to them. In a social gathering strangers often talk about the weather – a topic which has few emotional ties. You can spin this topic for quite awhile without investing anything of yourself into it. So it is a comfortable topic. These icebreakers are a structured way of having a light or ‘comfortable’ conversation. They ask the participants to talk about anything except themselves. They are providing  social interactions that are starting to build tenuous links between team members. They can be confused with entry level team bonding games. But in these games, emotional investment is very low. Thus the ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers are low threat.

Getting to know something about you

These icebreakers are seeking to provide a structure for everyone to talk about themselves. This is the next level of  normal conversation. Even though this is an easy topic for most of us, it incurs a slightly higher threat level than the other two types of icebreakers. There is now some emotional attachment to the content. Thus, it is usually used after the other two types. Sometimes, the ‘getting to know your name’ icebreakers will also include some personal things. But generally they are there to provide a context for the name. In the ‘Getting to know something about you’ games, the structured activity is providing a fun way to explore like and dislikes, values and skills. The links between members are growing very slightly stronger.

Since conversation is involved in these quick activities, many of these games are done in smaller sub groups. Thus, tenuous links are not forming between members of the entire team, but with some members within the team. For that reason, there may need to be a few of these type of icebreakers used to start the team bonding process. The facilitator will feel the difference between working with quiet strangers and working with a team that freely talks with each other. At that point, icebreakers are no longer needed. Energisers and team bonding games take over.

Benefits of play


In a previous post we discussed the relationship between movement and learning. In this post we will look at the benefits of play. When you are using games the team members are participating in play. Here is one quote about play.

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R., (2010) page 183

The following video has a different take on play but certainly illustrates creativity and imagination.

So what are some of the other benefits of play.

…it [play] allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths… Play enhances physical health by building active, healthy bodies… Play contributes to healthy brain development… In addition, play and recess may increase children’s capacity to store new information, as their cognitive capacity is enhanced when they are offered a drastic change in activity… Play is essential to developing social and emotional ties…It teaches them leadership as well as group skills that may be useful in adult life.

Milteer & Ginsberg (2011)

This quote lists a tremendous number of benefits of play. Playing is important to our daily lives and our maturation. So can play be just as beneficial to adults. The following TED talk continues to look at play as being more than fun. It also looks at play as an important endeavour throughout the life span. Stuart feels that play should be constantly part of our lives.

Adding games to team training adds play to the lives of all of the team members. It can be a very beneficial addition to the program for so many reasons.


Ginsburg, Kenneth R. ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’, Pediatrics 2007;119;182 (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full.pdf+html)

Milteer, R.M. & Ginsburg, K.R., ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty’ Published online December 26, 2011PEDIATRICS Vol. 129 No. 1 January 1, 2012, pp. e204 -e213

The importance of knowing names – part 1

Lots of people are talking about how important it is to know a person’s name. When ‘knowing someone’s name ‘ was placed into a Google search, almost 15 million results were received. So using Icebreakers with the goal to learn someone’s name seems to be very important to explore.

a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language

So what are the physiological responses involved that provide the foundation on which we decided to use icebreakers? What effect does it have on us as individuals to have someone else know our name. There are three different components that will be reviewed in three posts:

  • What is my reaction to hearing my name?
  • What happens when you don’t know someone’s name?
  • How it feels to be able to call someone by their own name?

This post looks at the first question – What is my reaction to hearing my name? According to Holeckova and colleagues: “Hearing one’s own first name automatically elicits a robust electrophysiological response, even in conditions of reduced consciousness like sleep.”  Camody and Lewis found “evidence that hearing one’s own name has unique brain functioning activation specific to one’s own name in relation to the names of others”. These findings indicate that we have a strong physiological response to hearing our name. So our names would seem to be much more than a label to us.

a number of names

When we are in a crowd, “we turn towards a conversation when we hear our name (or some other highly relevant information) mentioned, even if this event takes place in a multi-source environment and in some distance”. (Wolvin, 2010) This is often referred to as the cocktail party effect.

And it isn’t just hearing our first name. Tacikowski & Nowicka conducting a study using the full name of the participants, found “that different kinds of self-related cues, such as self-name and self-face, activate a similar amount of attentional resources… We found that it is the meaning of the stimuli, i.e., the fact they denote us (‘It’s me!’)… that is crucial for the involvement of the attentional resources.”

So whether we hear our first name or our whole name, there are unique responses that occur in our brains. Our names are very important to us.


Carmody, D.P. & Lewis, M. ‘Brain activation when hearing one’s own and other’s names’ in  Brain Res. 2006 October 20; 1116(1): 153–158.

Holeckova I, Fischer C, Giard MH, Delpuech C, & Morlet D., ‘Brain responses to a subject’s own name uttered by a familiar voice‘, in Brain Res. 2006 Apr 12;PubMed1082(1):142-52.

Tacikowski, P. & Nowicka, A. ‘Allocation of attention to self-name and self-face: An ERP study‘, in, Biological Psychology 84 (2010) 318–324

Wolvin, Alvin D. (ed), (2010) Listening and Human Communication in the 21st Century, Wiley Blackwell, Malden, MA, U.S.A.

Learning with games and fun on the agenda

Team building is seen as a serious endeavour. So why would you want to add games and fun to this environment?

According to Maarten van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, “Games are an excellent means to get through often complex messages of scientists and can help bring about real change”. When playing games, the participants are learning.

In 2009, Volkswagon initiated thefuntheory.com program. They have created a contest and a web site which has the aim to:

This site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

In the video below, a research team decided to use fun as a means of increasing the use of the recycling bin on the street.

Games add an element of fun to your team building program. Through this fun, you can lighten the serious mood and re-engage the participants with the subject matter. In addition games help the team members to both create and strengthen social ties with their fellow team members. This is turn helps to unite them in their learning.

Here is another way that a fun theory team found to alter human behaviour. This is a new way to do an old behaviour. Putting rubbish in the bin has not always been top priority for everyone. But add a bit of fun and it can become so.

We may not want the games in training sessions to radically change behaviour but we do want them to change into effective team members. How well we achieve this goal depends on:

  • the quality of the games being played
  • the fit of the games to the needs of the team members
  • what games are best for that stage of the team development cycle
  • the choice of game based on the goals of the team and/or the training session during which the game is played
  • the participation level of team members.

Why use games in team building

There are many reasons for using games in your team building program. The most important reason for most facilitators is that games can add an element of fun. In the other training activities, fun may not be the foremost goal. Games can entice team members to become involved. Team members will interact with each other in a different type of activity from the rest of the training program. Thus, games bring them together in a new situation. While participating, they get to know another side to their team mates.


Some of the other reasons are listed below.

  • Participating in games provides team members with an opportunity for movement that can be sadly lacking in the daily training/school routine.
  • Physical activity/movement promotes an increase in brain activity and re-energises the body.
  • Both increased brain, muscle activity lead to increased blood flow that will both refocus attention and improve the individual’s mood.
  • Any change in activity level will refresh participants and offset boredom. This is often called a brain break.
  • There is some evidence that goes further to say that if the games require movement that encourage participants to be active they can improve learning, concentration and memory.
  • Interactive games  build relationships between team members.
  • Games can provide a structured, interesting activity where participants are unconsciously learning team building concepts
  • In the developing of relationships, team members can get to know one another and start to trust one another while having fun.
  • Games can be educative in subtle but effective ways.
  • All games can help develop a range of communication skills and some require use of literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Good educational games can be motivational and promote a range of higher order thinking skills such as:
    • creative thinking (as found in the energiser and team bonding games)
    • problem solving and analytical thinking skills (icebreakers, energisers, team bonding and trust games)
    • collaborative, cooperative thinking plus negotiation skills (team bonding and trust)
    • reflective, evaluative and critical thinking (closure games).

Relationship of movement to learning – 3 recent research studies

The connection between the student’s ability to learn and their physical activity has been known for decades. But the implementation of the practice of physical activity during learning has not been consistently practised. The use of games in your team building program can add the physical activity that according to these reports will improve the learning that will occur.

There are many articles in this area but I am confining my references to three of the latest reports. They are all from the U.S.A. and have been published in the last three years. The most recent report was published in May of this year by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active… [They went on to add] In addition, students should engage in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day, such as through recess and classroom time dedicated to physical activity.

Institute of Medicine (2013), Educating the Student Body – taking physical activity and physical education to school,  National Academy of Science, Washington D.C., U.S.A. http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2013/Educating-the-Student-Body/EducatingTheStudentBody_rb.pdf [accessed 15/10/13]

When learners are asked to stay sedentary for long periods of time they lose focus and and find it hard to concentrate. They may even become bored. But with a short break for some physical activity, they become energised and more attentive.

movement and learning - increase movement increases the ability to learn

The next report is from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and was published in 2010. The authors studied 43 research articles and reports and made summaries of the findings. The most relevant quote in the Executive Summary for us with respect to movement and learning is:

Nine studies (reported in nine articles) explored physical activity that occurred in classrooms apart from physical education classes and recess. In general, these studies explored short physical activity breaks (5–20 minutes) or ways to introduce physical activity into learning activities that were either designed to promote learning through physical activity or provide students with a pure physical activity break. These studies examined how the introduction of brief physical activities in a classroom setting affected cognitive skills (aptitude, attention, memory) and attitudes (mood); academic behaviors (on-task behavior, concentration); and academic achievement (standardized test scores, reading literacy scores, or math fluency scores). Eight of the nine studies found positive associations between classroom-based physical activity and indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement; none of the studies found negative associations.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 2010, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, including Physical Education, and Academic Performance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Summary, page 2. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf

When using games in team building programs, they are generally 5-20 minutes in length. Thus, they should have a similar impact with corresponding learning improvements.

In a 2010 study in the USA involving 2000 principals, they found:

Key findings from the survey include:
• Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
• Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
• Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

Gallup Poll (2010), Principals say recess has a positive impact on learning; students are more focused, listen better after recess, Robert Wood Johnson Institute, http://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf/newsroom/newsroom-content/2010/02/first-of-its-kind-gallup-poll-links-recess-to-academic-achieveme.html [accessed 15/10/2013]

Recess is slightly longer than games that you might use in a team building program but the concept bears comparison.

Based on the results quotes from these reports, inclusion of movement in your training programs will improve the participants’ ability to learn your program.

Are you ready to start building your team? 8 questions to consider

Preparation for any job can be the most important part of the job. Are you ready? Here are 8 questions for you to consider as part of your preparation.

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What do you want this team to accomplish?

You need to be clear about what you want the new team to accomplish before you start the process. You don’t need to know the specifics but you need to know the general objectives. For example if this is to be a SRC team then you need to know if there are specific tasks that the school executive and/or student body want them to achieve this year over and above the general goal of student governance and all that entails in your context.

Along the way the team will also achieve other goals. These will be determined during the life of the team and can not be foreseen at the beginning. You can only prepare for the known not the unknown.

What skills will they need to accomplish this?

Once you know the general goals to be achieved then you need to consider the skills that the team will need to be able to accomplish these goals. Some of these will be the skills that any team will need. Others will be skills specific to the jobs this team is expected to accomplish. Some of these skills may not be needed in the initial team training. They may suit an on the job training model or point of need training.

It would be helpful if you could divide the skills into those needed now and those needed later. This will make your planning for the initial training easier to organise.

What roles will team members play?

The answer to this question is directly related to the type of team you are developing. Different teams will require different roles. Once determined, you will need a set of role descriptions that are easy to understand. These should include the potential extra skills required to effectively function in these roles.

In addition, some teams have a hierarchical structure but many have a horizontal structure. If the team is hierarchical, then everyone has a base set of skills but each level of the hierarchy will require extra skills. Even in horizontally structured teams there may be specialised roles – for example the communication sub group may need further skills in using the specific websites for the team.

What cultural factors will impact on the team?

You cannot completely prepare for which cultural factors will impact on the team life. You should have an understanding of the main cultural impacts in your community. You will also know the composition of the body from which your potential team will be selected. The first factors you should consider will be the possible cultural factors that may impinge on the team training. One example would be: girls from traditional Eastern European families  will not be allowed to stay late after school or go on overnight excursions.

Another example may be language. If the population from which the team members will be selected contains a high percentage of new migrants from non English speaking backgrounds then the possibility will be high that the depth of understanding written and spoken language will be a consideration.

What barriers may exist to full participation by disabled members?

Most venues for community meeting are now being made more accessible for all. You cannot be fully prepared for bars to participation until you know the nature of any disability that a team member has. Even then, you will have no way of knowing about any injuries that may occur that result in temporary disability. Once the team members are selected then you will be able to determine what barriers exist for the long term participation of each member in the team activities. You can then work towards minimising them. You will also be able to plan activities that are inclusive for all.

What information needs to be available to potential team members?

This is one of the most important steps in your preparation. The membership of the team will determine the possible effectiveness and/or success of the team. You need potential team members to have as much information as possible about both the goals of the team and their possible role. When equipped with this information, each potential team member will be able to make as informed a decision as is possible for their maturity about whether they want to be part of the team.

Another consideration is how to present the information. You want potential team members to know what they are becoming involved in but you don’t want to scare away potential effective team members. You may need to provide some personal counselling with candidates you feel would make excellent team members.

What method will be used to select team members?

There is a tendency when team members are younger for the adults to select them. This is the process used in many businesses also where managers select teams. This could be an effective procedure for some teams. But there are other methods that can be used. In some cases such as peer support, the selection process may be volunteers from a particular pool of students. Another example for teams such as the SRC there would need to be some form of representative selection.

Whatever selection process is used in your situation it is important to ensure that it works. You may find recommendations for change in last year’s evaluation. This is the time when you can examine the procedures currently in use and determine if changes would improve it.

What games would be most in tune with your goals?

Once you know the answers to all of the above questions, then you can work through the selection of games and choose ones that meet your unique needs. Each game should come with a set of aims or objectives. You can select those games that best suit your aims for skills development. You can also examine the procedures for the games and determine full participation of all is possible based on your cultural and potential physical impairments. This is when you can make variations to steps to provide total inclusion. You don’t want any team member sitting on the sidelines.