Thumbwrestling Game Rules and Lessons from an Appreciative Inquiry Makeover
A while ago I wrote a blog post about how I reframed the learning from a game called Thumbwrestling using an Appreciative Inquiry approach. The blog post was called “Activity Makeover using Appreciative Inquiry: From STUPID to SMART.”
This game gives insights about collaboration versus competition and bases the debriefing on what makes people naturally take a more competitive approach to such a game (and lose). In the meantime I have had numerous people write to me and ask me for the rules of the Thumbwrestling game itself, so I promised to write it up in the way that I play it.
I have been playing this particular game in teambuilding workshops for many years and if you want a very thorough description, you can go to the Systems Thinking Playbook by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows, which features this game. It doesn’t have the debriefing that I describe in my blog post, although it has evolved out of the same game mechanic and lessons. I am sure that the first time I played it was with Dennis.
Here are the basic instructions:
- Ask everyone to pick a partner with whom they will thumbwrestle (people play in pairs);
- Tell them to lock hands with their partner by clasping the fingers of their right hands (with thumbs pointing up) – they can do this standing or sitting – standing is more fun! (Note: If you have never Thumbwrestled as a kid, then there are plenty of amusing how-to videos on YouTube! This is the same basic game with some new parameters.)
- Demonstrate with another person a very physical and aggressive way to play and tell people not to pinch hard and cause any pain or injury;
- Explain that they get a point by pinching the thumb of their opponent;
- Tell them they have 1 minute to get as many points as they can;
- Shout “go!”
- Time them and then shout “Stop!”
- Ask who got 1 or more point (raise their hand), 2 or more, and go up until you have the winner(s) (most people will only have won 1 or 2 points);
- At least one or two pairs generally have gotten 30 or 40 points by collaborating rather than taking a competitive approach – have them demonstrate their technique.
Now you go into the blog post to debrief (Activity Makeover Using Appreciative Inquiry: From STUPID to SMART) and discuss what motivates people to take on a more competitive approach when collaboration clearly gets them many more points. Ask them where they see this in their workplaces and in real life. The activity makeover and the game helps them think about how to notice a system that makes people behave in a STUPID way to thinking about one that is much SMARTer…
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