One of the major elements of my job is getting information out of people, whether it be understanding what an organization's goals are for their SharePoint environment or gathering functional requirements. Getting information out of people isn't always an easy task. I've run into people not wanting to share information because there were colleagues in the room and they didn't want to step on any toes. And then I've run into some that simply don't know what they don't know.
A couple of years ago at a conference, I came across the concept of gamestorming. Gamestorming encompasses a facilitator leading a group of people through a game to gain some kind of insight. The games and rules can be found through some great resources such as www.gamestorming.com and the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, just to mention a few. Different games help in different kinds of tasks such as goals discovery, UX design and decision making. Choosing which game to use for your specific scenario can be a daunting task as well. There is no way to tell which game will work best for you and the wide variety of personalities/people that will be in the room with you to play. For your first, I suggest choosing a game that seems relatively simple and one that you feel the most comfortable in facilitating. The key is COMFORT, the people in the session with you will sense how comfortable you are with what you're doing and if they get the slightest hint that you aren't, you risk losing them. As a facilitator you need to do the following:
Many of the games require some artifacts to be prepared ahead of time including things such as game boards, posters, and additional supplies. Ensure you know the flow of the game well, again you don't want to be second guessing what the steps are or how to play in front of your group.
Know When to Listen and When to Speak
Your job as a facilitator is to ensure that everyone knows what they're doing and that you listen in on what the issues, goals, and ideas are. The group isn't there to learn from you, rather it is you that is trying to understand and gain a deeper insight into their world, which means you need to listen more than talk!
Control the Room
You need to listen however you have to make sure you know when to push the group along if they're getting stuck on a particular detail or topic, which may overtake the whole session. Ensure that everyone knows that you are going to be leading the session and ultimately guiding everyone to ensure that this is a successful gamestorming session.
I recently ran a gamestorming session in which I needed to get an insight into an organization's ultimate direction and goals for their current SharePoint environment. I knew going in that there were going to be some stakeholders that were unhappy with the current SharePoint implementation. I chose the game called Cover Story. There are some variations of this game but essentially, you break the group up into teams and each team must imagine that it has been a year since their new SharePoint portal has been running and it has been so successful that a magazine is going to be doing a cover story on it. The team members must work together to establish the magazine cover story, sidebars and headlines. With a group of 10, the teams worked together on the cover story brainstorming and then we came together and reviewed everyone's work. Everyone in the room was able to get a sense of what others wanted and naturally some common goals began to emerge. See below for an example of one of the cover stories.
Now, it's always a bit nerve-racking going into a meeting with group of executives or high level stakeholders and telling them that today we will be playing a game. And most definitely some will question its efficacy, but in my experience, as soon as they start working together on a task, people start to quickly see how something like gamestorming naturally brings answers to questions you never thought of asking.