Agile Chair Exercise: Some Alternate Suggestions

By Jesse Houwing

If you’ve been at an Agile conference, been a Scrum Master for quite some time and joined an Agile meetup group (here in The Netherlands there are several), then you probably found that games can be very quick ways to energize any meeting and to drive learning through fun.

One game I’ve been doing a lot during Scrum Developer courses is a variation on the Agile Chair Game as described on Tasty Cupcakes.

Just to reiterate the goal of the game very quickly. Have the team learn quickly by failing in rapid succession and learning from their mistakes. The game drives short cycles, inspection and adaption and lays down a number of restrictions that they (initially) cannot work around (just like the real world does).

As I mentioned we’ve been doing a number of small changes to the game, so here’s how we play it:

Agile Chair Exercise

Number of participants: 10-25

Number of facilitators: 1

Required attributes: as many chairs as participants to the game.

Space needed: 1 room that can easily have the number of chairs randomly laid out in the room so that every chair stands on its own in the space

Time taken: 15-60 minutes

Setting up

Ask all the participants to put their chairs in the space selected for the game. Have them keep the following restrictions in mind:

  • Chairs must be placed in the game area
  • Chairs must be evenly facing all sides of the room
  • The seat of the chair must be far enough from any obstacle so that you can easily step away from the chair
  • Initially: no two chairs may be put directly next to each other

Instructions to the group

Ask for one volunteer to leave the room (if there is no room available use blindfolds and headphones). Instruct this volunteer separately.

Explain to the group the following rules:

  • They get 2 minutes to define a strategy to “win” the game.
  • Their objective is to make sure that the volunteer is not able to sit down on an empty chair.
  • They can only do so by taking the empty seat themselves
  • No person may occupy more than 1 chair at a time
  • They are not allowed to push, hold, pull the volunteer (no force whatsoever)
  • They get 2 minutes to form a strategy
  • They are allowed to use audio or visual queues

Explain the volunteer the following rules while the group forms their plan

  • The volunteer needs to find an empty chair and sit down on it
  • He may not push, hold, pull any of the participants
  • He may start the game as soon as the 2 minutes are up (this usually lets him win the first time within seconds, as the group is not keeping to their timebox.

Start the exercise

As soon as the 2 minutes expire the game starts. The facilitator is to time each turn from the moment the timebox expires until the volunteer sits down.

As soon as the volunteer sits down the time stops. Note down the time and challenge the team to do better next time.

The volunteer leaves the room and the participants get 2 minutes to reflect and 2 minutes to form a …read more

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