posted 3 Apr 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 7
Fun and games
An interactive approach to knowledge management
The power of gaming comes in its ability to involve people from all levels within an organisation to share common goals and experiences and to work together as a team. Lennard van der Poel and Mike van Holsteijn describe the elements that make gaming projects so successful and offer their advice on how best to develop a truly interactive approach to knowledge management.
Times are changing
The era of command and control is over. The famous Dutch ‘Poldermodel’ or consensus model is now common in many large organisations. This has repercussions for the use of knowledge. Employees have and should have a say in the way their organisations are operating. Knowledge management takes this into account. The companies that have managed to hang on and develop their active knowledge management policy through the stage when KM was considered a passing fad are the real winners of today.
In this article we will give our view on how to promote and visualise the benefits KM delivers. It will differ from the approaches that are usually used such as presentations in-depth reports or meetings and conferences. We will describe why an interactive approach using an element of gaming is so successful. Furthermore we will demonstrate what the important conditions are for successful gaming projects and describe some cases by way of illustration.
The power of gaming
Current business practices involve a wide variety of stakeholders all having a relevant say in the matters at hand. The power of gaming lies in the shared experience of people participating in the game. When complex issues arise a game could help to pinpoint the problem as it is conducted within a fixed timeframe and involves those that are directly involved. This will serve to clarify the problem and will offer the participants a shared view on thorny issues. This shared view has proven to be an important precondition for change. This is one of the reasons that gaming is an important part of our KM approach at Resense.
Preconditions of a successful business game
A well-engineered game should permit:
- Complex matters that people run into in everyday practice to be easily determined and addressed;
- The easy translation of lessons learned to real life situations;
- No open doors: the experience should add something to what you already (should) know;
- The chemistry of fun and learning;
- The end result (winning or losing) to be determined by luck and strategic insight. When you lose you should always be able to say that you were unlucky. You should however be left with the feeling that next time you could do better.
Furthermore it is important to decide whether or not a game is the right tool at the right time. This is done by finding an answer to the following questions:
- What are the objectives you wish to pursue and are there hidden agenda’s when using the game? If there is no clear objective for the session the power of gaming is not being used to its full potential;
- Are the circumstances consistent with a non-threatening learning environment? Games could be misused by trying to assess participants on certain aspects which will affect the experimental atmosphere that will normally arise during a game session;
- Is the game embedded within a wider project? Or is the game being played purely for fun or entertainment for example to keep participants ‘busy’ during a course? If a game is played without a strong objective and thorough follow-up it is useless.
If these conditions are met games could prove to be a valuable instrument.
Games as part of the Resense approach to KM
The interaction provided by gaming is an important consideration in determining Resense’s approach to KM. We discovered during the last couple of years that most of the companies that are shaping themselves into efficient knowledge machines have gone through considerable trouble maintaining their employees’ willingness to share and distribute their knowledge. Excuses of having other things to do than updating a knowledge database or training inexperienced co-workers are often heard. It was this experience that led us to conclude that it would prove invaluable to have some kind of action learning device to accelerate the process of understanding knowledge management and it’s impact on behaviour. As knowledge management should be embedded in your daily processes so should it be within the gaming process.
We began to develop a game with a holistic but very practical approach towards KM. Playing the game would help answer questions like: ‘how do I as an individual play a role in a knowledge sharing environment?’ and ‘how can an organisation be configured to create an optimal knowledge sharing environment?’ Our experiences with gaming made us realise that the power of interactivity should be at the core of our KM approach. We therefore created an approach that is supported by different instruments to ensure interactivity during every step of the process.
Each instrument offers a specific kind of interaction aimed at reaching a certain goal. The scan for instance creates insight into the position of an organisation on a knowledge management thermometer (for example indicating a fever when not enough knowledge is being created). Simulation is aimed at testing a new way of working in a real life setting. A simulation is therefore more often used during the realisation phase. A tool like the Electronic Board Room is focused on facilitating brainstorming and decision-making processes. What all these instruments have in common is that they support an interactive approach.
The Resense knowledge game
Our knowledge game was developed in 1999 and has since been used as a component of the Resense KM approach. Before presenting some different cases we will explain the main principles strengths and workings of the knowledge game.
The knowledge value chain is the main model on which the game is based. The knowledge value chain is about three major steps:
- Creating/acquiring knowledge;
- Sharing/spreading knowledge;
- Using/applying knowledge.
In each step the organisation behaviour and infrastructure are enablers for the successful creation dissemination or use of knowledge. The objective is to apply knowledge because this step creates the most value. The game encompasses all three steps by specific actions a player can take. Furthermore the game shows the potential strengths and weaknesses of technology by simulating knowledge systems that the players can use to achieve their objectives. At the same time players experience cultural influences like the dilemma between sharing for the greater good and completing an individual task first. The last facet of the game is the organisational aspect. To reach the objective as a team it is important to have a clear strategy and rules about for instance how to use the different systems.
Unique propositions of the knowledge game
- The game helps participants to visualise KM issues. Before developing the game we noticed that during our KM projects people had difficulties visualising the various aspects of knowledge management as interrelated parts.
- Participants also experience the impact of sharing knowledge. The objective of the game is to win as a team while having individual goals at the same time (goal incongruence). The only way to win is to operate as team and share knowledge as effectively as possible.
- Games encourage networking and teambuilding. Playing together is a good way of getting to know each other (except for sore losers!)
- Participants become acquainted with knowledge management tools like a skills base or a knowledge base. When playing people realise that for a tool to be effective its technical implementation alone will not suffice.
The game: how it works
The knowledge game can be played by one or more teams. Each team has four to eight players and has it’s own game board. Every player has an individual task he or she has to accomplish. For this task knowledge has to be gathered shared and applied. The first person to finish his or her task wins. At the same time the team as a whole must beat the other teams by being the first to solve all its individual tasks.
It is possible to gain loose and/or apply knowledge through actions such as team discussions and by collecting or sharing so-called knowledge cards. This process is affected by the occurrence of events upon which players have to take action. For example during the game a participant might leave one team for another. Both teams will have to react to this loss or increase in knowledge.
After playing the game an evaluation takes place. The game process is evaluated critically and the learning experiences are discussed as well as the opportunities for integrating them into daily working practices.
The duration of the game is approximately 90 minutes (including the evaluation).
It is possible (and advisable) to customise the game for a specific situation. Some examples are:
- Building extra organisational content into the game;
- Training people to guide the game with large volumes of people to instruct;
- Customisation of events that affect the KM processes.
The following cases describe how the Resense knowledge game is utilised during knowledge management projects.
The knowledge game as part of a KM start-up meeting.
Situation – A new project is started aimed at improving knowledge sharing for a department with 1 200 employees. In another part of the organisation people already use a software tool developed in-house and based on the Lotus Notes platform.
Objective – The department wants to start a pilot to investigate the capabilities of the new software. During a project start-up meeting the stakeholders will meet and have to form a shared objective and understanding of the KM issues at hand.
Together with the client it was decided to let the players experience the different constraints of a successful knowledge system using the game. Based on this the following questions were used during the evaluation:
- What are the critical success factors for knowledge management within the game?
- Which of these apply to your own organisation?
Actual game – To create a real life atmosphere the game was played with two teams that were competing for a client order. Both the teams were a mix of people representing the different departments of the company for example system developers quality management employees managers and so on.
Before the game started some specific cultural issues were addressed. Among them was the strong will of the organisation members to think of better ways of sharing knowledge during the game. On other occasions teams had to be encouraged to take a wider perspective but during this game session it automatically took place. One of the teams began to design new knowledge sharing devices that would help the team to beat the rest. But this appeared to be counterproductive; after being invented at different places with different purposes the five new systems of sharing knowledge apparently did not work when implemented at the same time because this team lost!
Evaluation – The client had been interviewed about the critical issues that had blocked the use of the system. The consultant monitored if teams did indeed encounter the problems that were revealed. During the evaluation all participants had their own experiences with the problems that were encountered during the game which led to a fruitful discussion. Participants had discovered that the use of one single method of working was preferable. Understanding of the system had been raised as an issue.
As one participant said: “The game was like real life. While playing we gained insight into the added value of KM tools and the constraints for their successful implementation.”
Follow up – One of the important insights gained during this session was the concern of the participants that no specific procedures and roles had been identified for the use of the system. It was now obvious to the participants which advantages and disadvantages might come from using the system but at the same time it became clear that a lot of work still had to be done to prevent mistakes (as experienced during the game) from happening.
The knowledge game as a KM project aimed at facilitating knowledge sharing
Situation – A project is started aimed at improving knowledge sharing between different departments of an organisation in particular newly acquired departments. In order to improve knowledge sharing a specific system had been developed. The system had two major parts: a skills base (who knows what) and a knowledge base (repository for codified knowledge). The reason for implementing the system was the geographical dispersion of the organisation.
Objective – To create awareness of the new system as a part of the daily work process. After all a system is only valuable when people use it.
Actual game/evaluation – During the game sessions it was interesting to see the differences in culture. For instance some Americans were really focused on winning as individuals and some of the Dutch were focusing more on a collaborative approach. These differences were discussed during the evaluation. One important lesson was that a balance between the two traits would lead to an effective strategy. In short: collaboration combined with clear rules and quick execution proved to be the winning strategy in this case.
Follow up – The second part of the workshop using the real KM system ensured a perfect follow up in the real world. The teams started to work on a real life project during the workshop and used the same KM tools after returning to their offices all over the world to continue communicating about issues at hand.
A satisfied participant said: “Playing the game was a relaxed way of discovering the pros and cons of knowledge sharing.”
Games are a powerful instrument in getting people involved and making complex issues more manageable. This only holds true when the following constraints are met:
- The game should have a clear objective;
- The game should be part of a broader KM approach;
- There should be a follow up focusing on real life knowledge management action.
If these rules are followed games will provide a valuable contribution to your knowledge management effort.
For this article Resense has derived information from the gaming expertise network and business cases as performed at (in alphabetical order): Heineken University Kiwa Royal Ahold Siemens Syntegra and more.