Playing with Leadership

two lego / duplo structures, one representing a triumph arch, the other a very abstract house (just three duplo blocks)Last tuesday at xpnl hosted by Philips Research here in Eindhoven, Yves and Ignace Hanoulle did a trial run of their Leadership Game in preparation for xp days benelux 2005 . ( this entry contains a number of photos – not all aggregators show these ).

The game consisted of three rounds, each with a different leadership style. In each round, the participants had to build lego structures. Also, in each round some of the participants were just observing. I did that in the first round, which gave me a good opportunity to make some photographs and have a look at the stances people take.

directive leader inspecting the work of Jan Bakker, Marko van der Puil and Pascal van Cauwenberghe

Here we have a directive leader (Marthijn Thijssen, in the blue shirt) closely inspecting the work of the team building the cafe. In the first round, the teams built a typical brabant village – a cafe, a church, a farm and a couple of houses (you know what that looks like if you have seen some of Vincent Van Goghs early work, he was from around here).

Something I learnt from this round: if you choose (or have) a directive leadership style, you have to be well aware of what your people are doing. This conversation I overheard will make you look sheepish:

So, how’s the cafe coming along?

Eh, well, we’re building a farm actually.

Three of the four teams in this round finished early, except for the cafe team. That drew the leaders’ attention. In retrospect the cafe team felt the leader broke their flow. On the other hand, they didn’t show much progress and were working very quietly – the other teams were very noisy which gave at least the impression of progress.

The second round was leaderless. Here you can see Rob Westgeest, Marko van der Puil and Bas van Tiel observing the ‘chaos’ that ensued:

Rob Westgeest, Marko van der Puil and Bas van Tiel observing

The facilitators suggested we have a meeting to start with to determine how to build a church and a couple of houses, but I didn’t feel much like it, so I started building right away with my neighbour. “The other ones can have a meeting if they want to” – I already saw eigtheen people staring at each other about who’s going to start. Teams started to self-organise and things went smoothly and quickly. Exactly one church was being built so that went well.

Jan Bakker, Martijn Thijssen and Christ Vriens building a church from duplo

Except for termination. It seemed people continued building as long as there was material available, and noone (including me, by choice) bothered to ask the customer how they liked the buildings.

Pascal van Cauwenberghe and a couple of lego structures he helped building

Around me, the blocks soon ran out, unlike in the corner, where they had small blocks. There they decided to build a minaret, to make the village a bit more multi-culti.

lego minaret being built by Nanne Osinga, Ingmar van Dijk, Theo Theunissen and Christina Westgeest

They continued building until time ran out. Surprising how high a tower of lego blocks one can build.

Overall, this leaderless round delivered, to my mind, the prettiest buildings. Very well suited for creative teams that have to deliver something without a pre-determined outcome. (In fact, most work I do with other independents is leaderless).

The final round saw Nico Mommaerts as a facilitating leader:

Nico Mommaerts with his arms crossed

This round went fairly well, although the leader lost momentum by being a bit too hands-off – he tasked someone else with leading the initiali meeting, instead of asking for just a scribe. Another thing that seems crucial in this style, is catching the momentum of the group. At one point, teams already had self-selected around a couple of buildings – pyramid, chinese wall, stonehenge and the highly ambitious atomium – and the leader went to all the trouble to write the team members’ names on the whiteboard while everyone was anxious to get started.

lego pyramid, chinese wall, stonehenge and atomium on the far left

Communication with the customer through the facilitator was difficult – as the customers refused to speak directly with the teams, it was unclear what we had to build. Therefore the stonehenge team and the chinese wall team built three different versions, each on a different scale.

In all, we had a lot of fun. I recommend you check this session out if you have the chance (e.g at xp days ). I find Simulations like this are usually fun, and I always learn something from it (although I usually don’t know exactly what that is in advance).

There are some more photos of the leadership game for your viewing pleasure. I hope to see you at xp day benelux 2005 logo

One Response to “Playing with Leadership”

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