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.