The Agile Playground

room: Grand Ballroom A — time: Monday 11:00-11:45, Monday 11:45-12:30
Level: Practicing

Agility in Action… This session will introduce five interactive games that a facilitator can add to their toolkit for team and management training. The games all illustrate the principles and dynamics that support Agility. The rationale for this session is that people learn best by embodying the learning, rather than just receiving knowledge at a head level. All participants will be immersed in the games; there are no observers. At the end of the session the participants will have a set of games they can introduce into their own organization to enhance their own Agile adoption process.


I have used these games, and many others in public training sessions and with teams in company settings over the past few years. Due to the non-prescriptive nature of the games the outcomes can be surprising, to both facilitator and participants. That is part of their attraction for me. The games have their roots in the work of Augusto Boal, unless otherwise noted.

Warm Up: Go!

A simple game of pointing and walking that turns out to be incredibly difficult to do. Its resolution lies in changing old thinking and old behaviors. This exercise comes from the Improv tradition; I learnt it from Matt Smith.

10 minutes

Movers and Shapers

A fast-moving exercise to set the tone for the session. Participants move around the room attempting to create different formations that rely on the positions of other people… who insist on doing their own thing! It is chaotic, messy and frustrating. It can also be beautiful. I never quite know the direction this game is going to go in, but during the debrief participants often identify many Agile principles and dynamics at work.

20 minutes

Note: this next game has been removed from the session, but the description left here for now in case it is useful to readers. The point made by Amr in his review, and Brian in his comment, is well taken and I have added a new game, Forum Theatre, to replace this one.


We create a tangled knot of 8-10 people through a process of crisscrossed hand-holding. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. The other participants act as analysts and managers. A vision of an open circle is offered, with everyone standing comfortably. A constraint is set that in order to reach that state the hand-holding must not cease. The game proceeds in three stages:
1. The analysts are asked to write a spec: a set of steps the team members have to take to resolve the problem. Team members do not move.
2. The managers are asked to give instructions to each team member, who will move if told. Team members not instructed should wait their turn.
3. (Of course) the team is asked to resolve the problem itself. What happens next is an almost text-book example of self-organization: a collaborative, reflective, emergent behavior occurs and the problem is quickly resolved.

20 minutes

Take The Power

A physical scenario-building exercise designed to explore power dynamics in a group. Participants attempt to take power away from one another, simply through position and posture. Some very unexpected things happen in this game — escalation can only go so far.

15-20 minutes

Forum Theatre

A continuation of the previous exercise, this requires participants in small groups to create a quick improvised scenario of a difficult work situation, preferably one where someone is exercising power over another. The scene should be acted out exactly as it happened. At the end of the scene, without discussion, we start the scene again only this time anyone watching (audience member) can step up, tap an actor out of the scene and take his/her place. The actor steps aside to observe. This can happen multiple times. We are exploring different ways of behaving here. Often someone outside our own context and see ways of being that are invisible to us. More about Form Theatre can be read here.

The application of this game in real life is to take a few seconds in a difficult situation to pause, “tap” yourself out of the scene and come back in with a new behavior. Creating these different ways to see the world is a powerful tool for generating change in a culture — change that begins with ourselves.

20-30 minutes

Session Debrief

Small group discussions to share learning moments

10 minutes

Cool Down: Quiet Counting

In a circle have the group close their eyes, be silent and just breathe for a minute or to, sensing the others in the group. Ask the group to count to ten, as a group. Anyone can start, anytime they chose. Someone says “one”, then someone else says “two”. If two people speak at once the group has to start again from “one”. This exercise fosters listening skills, empathy and respect; it is a nice, calm way to end any training session. It needs no debrief.

5-10 minutes

I need an empty room. Chairs around the edge will be useful. No tables, no projector. I’d like to restrict the participation to 24 persons or less, although 16 would probably be my ideal number.

Learning outcomes
  • A deeper understanding of Agile dynamics
  • A deeper understanding of Agile principles
  • A set of practical learning tools for Agile adoption
Featured participants
Primary target persona
Other target personas
This session is open to anyone who cares about Agile beyond the practices and methodologies level. Job titles and roles are not relevant here. Applicability of the learning will be determined by each participant's own context.

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