Tell me about your favorite meeting games
March 8, 2017 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I lead a team (8) of software developers. As such, we have a bunch of regularly reoccurring meetings (grooming, sprint planning,retro) that I need my team to be engaged at. Unfortunately, I feel like we've gotten to the point where people are in a rut and are not quite coming to the meetings ready to hit the ground running. I'm hoping to find some activities that will get people ready to go at the start of the meeting.

I was thinking that if we started the meeting with a short 5-10 minute game that would get people engaged and ready to participate. Drinking games (minus the drinking) or quick card games that involve everyone would be ideal. I was thinking along the lines of tails on or screw your neighbor. I would definitely like to hear more about what you would recommend.
posted by kookywon to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend - strongly - not doing that. How do you think that 5-10 minutes of wasting everyone's time several times a week will HELP with focus? People will just start showing up late & resenting the meetings.

I can only speak from a personal perspective, but I would resent this hard.
posted by brainmouse at 1:40 PM on March 8, 2017 [31 favorites]

It requires wifi and everyone to have installed the app, but I really like Spaceteams. Lots of energy (I won't say "yelling," necessarily) and laughter.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:40 PM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

This may only partially answer your question, but my favorite "meeting games" are no meeting games. Usually if I'm not engaged when I'm at a meeting, it's because I feel like it's a waste of my time for one reason or another. And starting the meeting with a game would only reinforce that belief.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

On reading the question more (sorry), consider that not everyone needs to be at these meetings, or that they could be handled asynchronously.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:42 PM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: The countering "just not doing this is the option I'd prefer" position having been registered, let's focus on just answering the stated question directly from here on out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:45 PM on March 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is not a meeting game but eating something yummy is the activity that always makes me excited to attend a meeting. lol.
posted by ilovewinter at 1:48 PM on March 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

- Two Truths and a Lie (ymmv--I've had adult students who wouldn't do this because they couldn't bring themselves to lie in this kind of situation, but other groups love it)
- Celebrity Guess Who (you can use the extra-sticky Post-Its) -- but don't use celebrities, use something more interesting or relevant to your group
- etc.

I'd also ask your teammates if they know any short, simple games. Getting them involved could make things more interesting and inclusive.

You can also give people options like a 5-minute lesson (simple recipe, how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in another language, an exercise technique, etc.), doing a recommendation for a restaurant/app/whatever that others might not know about, introducing a hobby or something else they do that their colleagues don't know about, sharing a song or video (only if your group has good judgement about what's appropriate), etc. One person per meeting, they choose the topics, and no more than 5 minutes. (It'll take 7-10 minutes if it's interesting enough for people to discuss and ask questions.)

IMO, it's better to avoid anything like A Big Wind Blows that require any particular level of fitness and could result in injuries (people get too enthused about this one sometimes).
posted by wintersweet at 1:51 PM on March 8, 2017

Ah, wrt short simple games: if your co-workers are of different ages, genders, national origins, and/or regions of a country, you can invite them to share a short, easy to learn childhood game. The similarities and differences can be pretty interesting.
posted by wintersweet at 1:53 PM on March 8, 2017

How about just providing some cookies or coffee at the tables?
posted by redlines at 1:54 PM on March 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

If the meeting is in the morning, book your nicest conference room and have a layout of FRESH FRUIT. Then get to business.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:59 PM on March 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here with search terms rather than specific suggestions: It really sounds like you're looking for icebreakers and energizers more than games. Try searching for those terms ("best meeting energizers," etc.). They do serve a purpose--bringing people into the room, building relationships, re-energizing people in afternoon slumps, focusing them on the meeting rather than whatever task they just finished. I can attest as a meeting designer that judiciously used energizers make a real difference. 10 minutes of an hour-long meeting many times a week would be wearing quickly (as evidenced above, many people don't like or don't see the value of energizers), but building in 5 minutes sounds like it will be helpful.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:04 PM on March 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ha ha, I love the idea of playing work-themed 2 Truths and a Lie:

"I sent out the graphics for next week's promotion, coordinated our next press check with the printer, and decided on a new shirt color based on the samples from the manufacturer."
"Lie! You haven't set a date for the press check."
"Ha! You fool! I DID set a date for the press check, but we haven't decided on a new shirt color because the samples haven't arrived yet!
posted by redsparkler at 2:20 PM on March 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Trivia can be short and will work well for a group. Try getting them to complete a list, like the 10 countries with the highest projected population in 2030, for example. Put on a 3 minute timer. It is a good warmup for more serious brainstorming.
posted by soelo at 2:22 PM on March 8, 2017

Have you considered eliminating as many of these meetings as possible? I'm a software dev and my team until recently had a huge chunk of its week held up in meetings like this where nobody was getting anything out of them. Nobody wanted to be there, and so we were all pretttttty checked out. We eventually just revolted and stopped showing up, and lo and behold it turned out that like 80% of the meetings were unnecessary and disappeared overnight. Since the remaining meetings were important and valuable, we cared way more and they went way better. If our PM's response had been to instead start trying to play games with us like some kind of summer camp counselor, I would've been looking for another job by the end of the day.

Put another way: have you considered asking your devs why they're checked out?
posted by Itaxpica at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Don't want to get defensive about my working environment, but understand that this is an agile environment: these meetings serve a purpose because they were proposed and agreed to during team retro. I am not scheduling them _for_ other people to attend.

That being said, my plan was to bring this up in retro (and provide some examples of 'energizers') to see if it is something that the team would be interested in trying.

c'mon sea legs: that term is what I was looking for. Which led me to this. I don't think my team is much into the physical stuff. This is basically "tails on". This seems like drawful (which we play at team outings). Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by kookywon at 4:17 PM on March 8, 2017

Two truths and a lie is beloved in my office (we only play before big, all day sorts of meetings, not at regular 1-hour meetings). Many of us have know each other for years and it's still fun to try to trick each other. The only downside is that it's not a 5 minute thing unless you only have a couple of people in the meeting.
posted by snaw at 6:27 PM on March 8, 2017

Retrospective fortune cookies!
posted by equipoise at 8:11 PM on March 8, 2017

Yeah, any answers should take into account scrum practices. The meetings are not optional for the development team.

If people aren't energized, I've found, there's quite often some issue with the scrum practices ("rituals of scrum") themselves. As scrum master, you should definitely think about the basics before bringing in games. Here are a few questions to start.
  • How frequent are your scrums?
  • Do you need to have scrums daily on this project or projects, or can they be twice-weekly (e.g., Tuesday–Thursday)?
  • Even if only twice a week, are scrums timeboxed scrupulously, or are they starting to run long? With 2-week sprints, I generally will go with either twice-weekly 15-minuter scrums via video chat (remote team) or Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday Slack scrums. I think the twice-weekly scrums work better. Aggressively tabling items that need follow-up helps a lot, too.
  • How often do you have backlog refinement (grooming), and how long do those sessions run? I've found that in a lot of cases, backlog refinement can be cut down a lot or eliminated almost entirely; often a "mid-sprint check-in," held at the same time as sprint planning would be every other week (for 2-week sprints), can be a good time in the schedule to hold backlog refinement and run through any other lingering items with the team. Too-frequent backlog refinement will definitely increase team malaise, I've found.
  • Along with that, though, are you taking time yourself to go through the backlog prior to sprint planning, to make sure everything is up-to-date? Even with dedicated product owners and regular backlog refinement, it can be easy to arrive at sprint planning without stories up-to-date unless you make sure to ping individual team members beforehand. That means wasted time in these meetings.
  • You shouldn't skip scrum practices, but condensing them can definitely help. E.g., my teams, almost all of which have members split across multiple projects, frequently now do demo/retro/sprint planning as a single hour-long meeting for each project. Demo takes place during the first half hour, with time for any questions, then the team does a quick retrospective, and then we go straight into sprint planning. Even on the most complex projects, sprint planning can usually be done in a half hour if the backlog is updated beforehand (and even if it isn't and some stories need to be pointed on the fly, this hasn't ever held up anything significantly for us). Unpointed stories can also be pointed immediately after sprint planning, if time is an issue.
  • Are any of your team members on multiple scrum teams? If so, are they coming to, say, sprint planning worn out from other sprint-planning meetings on the same day? If that's the case, using an offset schedule (e.g., 2-week sprints run Wednesday to Tuesday) for some projects can help reduce the burden on team members on sprint-planning days.
  • How committed/effective/present is your product owner? Are you getting what you need from that person on the team? I've found that it can be really demoralizing to a team to put in a ton of work and then not receive adequate support, answers to questions, other attention, etc. from the product owner. Determine whether there's an issue there and address it if so (if possible).
  • How is the team communicating between scrum practices—are you all in chat together? All in the same open office space? If you aren't in chat together, you might consider this. It really helps bring the team together and provides opportunity for ambient elimination of blockers.
To me, some of the most important goals to keep in mind are carefully timeboxing meetings, condensing or reducing the number of check-ins when possible while still observing all scrum practices, and ensuring team members feel like their time is well-spent. Scrum really does require a commitment to the meetings, but in my experience, this really goes best when the team is all present and feels like you're doing your best as scrum master to keep meetings short and effective and eliminate blockers as needed in between. Humor also helps, but you don't necessarily need games to foster an atmosphere where team members feel comfortable laughing together—I think team members also really appreciate knowing you're on top of things and won't let them miss a beat.

Also, keep in mind the phase your team is in. Is it a relatively new scrum team? If so, it may still be going through the forming/storming/norming stages, and the members may need time to get to know each other and work through difficulty together as a team. As much as you may want to eliminate any rough spots for the team, sometimes working through that together is exactly what is needed to energize everyone. Scrum is about every team member taking ownership of their role on the project and doing their best to contribute and help the team.

Part of being effective as scrum master is knowing when to step back and let team members figure things out together, as well as when to nip heels and gently help the team recognize areas where they could work together more effectively or where they might have missed something. Good humor and a steady presence may go farther in this regard than any game or icebreaker would.
posted by limeonaire at 8:54 PM on March 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

My team meetings get off to a good start because at the beginning, as people arrive, we're catching up with each other, half work, half small talk, and then when everyone's there, whoever's leading the meeting waits for the small talk to find a natural break point before moving the subject on to "here's what we're going to talk about today".

This feels like the best way to get everyone in the mood for sharing information when they already know each other. To me, getting to a stage where this happens naturally should be the aim of having icebreakers at the beginning of the meeting.
posted by ambrosen at 4:58 AM on March 10, 2017

« Older Independent, non-Amazon online sources for board...   |   How to keep an infant warm overnight without heat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.