Games Trainers Play


Training-GamesAs a student in B School my first experience of a structured experience was when the professor had some actors dress up in rags and carry weapons while chasing one of my classmates through the campus. The whole thing happened in a matter of seconds. We were all stunned and immobilized by fear. The professor then asked students to write down their own version of eye-witness accounts of the incident. Each one of us had a different version of the event. We could not even agree on how many people were attacking our classmate. We could not agree on the kind of weapons the group members carried. The professor then proceeded to use this incident to draw out important lessons in group behavior, individual perceptions and cognitive biases that affect “eye witness” accounts. The incident is fresh in my mind after years.

The professor had explained to us that for learning to be effective, an experience has to be followed up with a period of reflection and then the reflection leads us to form a hypothesis about how we should change our behavior. The reflective process has to generate insights that give us the energy to drive behavior change. The skill of the facilitator lies in generating these insights.

Structured experiences or training games are effective only when the facilitators are able to use their observation skills to draw inferences, hypotheses & learning. So the effectiveness of a structured experience is directly linked to the skill and knowledge level of the facilitator. In the absence of which, these become party games. The participants enjoy the entertainment and hence there is no impact back on the job. They are as good as entertaining activities run by an event management company.

Trainers too go around with a bag of these games and are forever ready to oblige a customer who says, “No gyan. I just want the boys to bond. Why don’t you do the ‘rope twisting ‘exercise. That was so much fun.” Organizations get the trainers they deserve.

Experiential learning is a very powerful approach to learn. But the experience has to be followed through with a reflective process. Most organizations skim through this and that is when the game is nothing more than a gimmick or entertainment option that creates an illusion of learning. Many organizations use event management companies to run these games at an offsite. It helps to park the expenses under the training budget and legitimizes the team outing.

They say we learn from our failures and successes. People do not automatically draw lessons from life until they pause to reflect on why they failed or succeeded. Some people use a diary to reflect. In case of a structured experience or a game it is the facilitators who mentor the group to look beyond the game and draw parallels from the work environment and create processes that will make those processes translate to new behaviors. Else these are reduced to an entertaining party game that event management companies should run – not facilitators.


First published in Human Capital magazine Dec 2014

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  1. Sanghita bhakta says:

    Reflective practice is the backbone of any learning experience.In my experience learning professionals are very keen to drive the activity because it’s tangible and can be experienced by learners however to reflection since its a internal process and cannot be witnessed and therefore not given too much importance.reflection is a process which has to be approached in three ways .first reflection before the experience , during the experience and post the experience. Reflection is one of the most critical tool to drive self directed learning and to be become life long learners and not not bound by specific event.

  2. In today’s era the average attention span you can hold onto people has reduced to 7 minutes (studies done in classrooms) thanks to smart phones. People will a switch off from any topic even if it is interesting when it goes beyond 15 minutes (studies done on MOOC and its audience). We are living in the world of pop-art-culture where we need marquee stuff (moving and popping stuff) happening around us to catch our engagement and attention thanks to TV and Internet. We literally have to beg to people to give us TUDA – Total UnDivided attention. Hence in my view fun and frolic way is best way of teaching and training.

    I once did an experiment with my students. I detest trainers who are nothing but ball of pep-talk they jump and dance throughout the training. After the effect of pep-talk wears off people usually are weary and are not able to cope up with the grunge of work and life, they sabotage themselves for not able to imbibe new learning or curse the trainer for brainwashing them and showing them rosy picture within the closed doors of the seminar room uninterrupted by the world.

    My experiment was simple, abstain from any form of pep-talk be straight face and give directly the nuggets of knowledge, concept, skills and experience. At the end of the session I realized that I failed, People were gloomy and were least enthusiastic even after getting the most power packed value learning. Learning lesson for me was, I need to be warm, motivated and inspired and be little pep-up. It’s essential glue needed for training.

    Problem with reflective learning is it’s a single window of line of thought from which there is always possibility of branching and swaying away. You can slip from reflection introspection to mulling over and eventually landing up into a fantasy land of day dreaming and from that fantasy land no HR, manager or supervisor can possibly get you out. Further more you can’t really be sure if you have got the learning from introspection and quantifying it is next to impossible.

    Reflective cognitive tools like journal and diary are not always applicable in all the cases. For example a batsman needs to peg the learning of what do and how to draw the bat every time a unique delivery of ball is made. He can’t use any gadgets, apps, or pen or paper he needs to register it in his muscle memory etc. Similarly a high level manager seldom stays on single computer screen or mobile screen or on a page of a report for long time. Instead he starts developing skills of intuition, reading between lines, gauging market, and assessing intention of people by looking in their eyes etc.

  3. Arun
    I am in general wary of trainers who have a script and put up a performance. Their voice tone changes (a bit like how some people’s voices change when they speak to children) and they put up a grand theatrical show. The focus is all about the trainer and not on what the person has learned.


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