Non Musical Chairs

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Timing:

Between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

Materials:

Several chairs in an empty space (no table) – No specific disposition, leave some chairs in the middle

1 chair for each team member + 1 empty chair

Between 10 to 15 players (maybe more)

Instructions:

The facilitator will start the chronometer and walk (do not run) in the room trying to sit on the empty chair (all other chairs have a team member sitting on it)

The goal for the team is to prevent the facilitator from sitting on the empty chair during 1 minute, by moving and sitting on the empty chair (each move leaves an empty chair somewhere in the room)

Team should not move the chairs (the solution is not in moving the chairs) but it’s not a real problem if they do it because it doesn’t change the output of the game.

Rules:

- Team member could not touch the facilitator: holding, blocking, pushing … are forbidden

- Team member HAS to move to an empty chair after standing up (a team member could not sit on the same chair … even if the facilitator is close to them)

Iterations:

When the facilitator wins (it takes a few seconds to WIN), give the team some time to do a retrospective and define a new strategy.

Try the new strategy:  the facilitator will win again … do a retro and try a new strategy

Repeat the processus … until the team find a winning strategy

Learning objectives:

This game enforce the importance of SELF ORGANIZATION, COMMUNICATION, SIMPLICITY and TRUST

  1. Self-Organized team is really efficient (no manager needed)
  2. Team should find a quick and simple way to communicate (short verbal word)
  3. The strategy has to be very simple (no time for thinking or organizing the team during the play)
  4. Each member should trust other members (for taking care of the chair he left)

Special note:

Thanks to Frédéric DUFAU-JOEL for having presented this game during an agile event organized by the CARA (Club Agile Rhône Alpes)

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Rating: 4.7/5 (14 votes cast)
Non Musical Chairs, 4.7 out of 5 based on 14 ratings
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11 Responses to "Non Musical Chairs"
  • chuck suscheck June 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

    You can add other dimensions to this game by making new rules:
    You can only communicate with one word per person per move. IE nobody can say more than one word until someone sits down. Then between that time and the time the next person sits down, each person can say only 1 word. This will be good for planning out rules of communication.

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  • [...] Below you can find how team performs when playing non-musical chairs game. [...]

  • Jesus Mendez March 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Hi guys, I did today’s retrospective using this game and it was awesome how the team reacts to it. At the beginning they were a little bit by their own, no much team work on it, but after some iterations they were asking for time to re-plan the new strategy, and after they started to protect themselves, and protect their chair. It was a lot of fun, I think that we learned a lot doing it. Thank you for sharing it. It was really fun to experience how the team reacts to it.

    Regards,

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  • Aislinn Green May 16, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Tried this out with a group this week and we had great fun doing it. The group discovered very quickly the benefits of working as a team, clear communication and listening. Great quick and easy game for looking at how teams continuous improve their way of working. Just a note don’t try with chairs on wheels can be very dangerous :)

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  • Olivier June 27, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I used it to introduce “tribal leadership” and I was looking for a short game to energize the meeting. I search for a problem impossible to manage for one lonely people.
    Tried this with a group of only 7 people. They managed to find a solution in 20 minutes. Work very well :-)

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  • Bob August 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Before I attempt non musical chairs with my team, I’d like to be a little knowledgeable of how this will play out. Can someone reveal to me an example of an ultimate team solution? And do I understand correctly that the object of the game is for the team to devise a strategy for filling the empty chair as the facilitator walks into the room? …and continuously succeed in filling the empty chair before the facilitator gets to it for over one minute?
    thanks,
    Bob

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  • timothy muttitt November 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    I tried this out with my team for the first time today and it was a huge hit! They were so happy not having a regular “sit around and talk about it retro”. They learned constant communication is key to a successful iteration and they requested to be colocated based off of what they learned in the game.
    Bob – just give it a go and learn yourself as it goes.
    Yes the team need to work together to continously get better at filling the empty chair, so the facilitator can’t sit down. We started off doing 45 second planning meetings, and 45 second iterations. Then I switched it up to 15 second planning meetings, to better reflect that you spend more time doing than planning. After about 20 minutes I timeboxed the team and said they have 3 more iterations. They didn’t keep me out of the seat until the very final iteration! They also came up with a great strategy by moving the chairs into a circle and everyone shifting in one direction, so I introduced a rule of no circles to challenge them more. They of course want to win and will try and break the rules…. Like if your butt leaves the chair you have to sit down in a different one. But you laugh it off because it shows spirit and determination. I’m going to recommend it to fellow scrum masters at my company.
    Thank you Tasty Cupcakes!

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  • Martin August 1, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I also tried this with my team of 8 members and they really liked it. It took around 20 iterations to succeed and they were all very tired at the end :P I think it might have been more difficult than necessary because the chairs had wheels… A 1minute/1minute 30 retro/planning between iterations seemed enough. At the end, the retros between iterations took less time because they were pretty confident the problem was in the practice of their execution more than the strategy. When we talked about the game after it was over, they were all very happy of the time they invested for that retrospective and thought it helped improve their consciousness about the importance of good communication and self organization.
    Thanks for that great idea !

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  • Fabienne February 17, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Hello

    I’d like to know what kind of solutions your team found ?

    I’d like to test this experience..tomorrow !

    thaks

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  • Alex Boutin February 18, 2016 at 2:45 am

    You have the solution in the learning objectives :
    - Implement simple rules : Inform the team when you leave your chair (say Go)
    - Trust other members for taking care of you chair (Do only 1 thing at at time –> Move to the empty chair)
    - Don’t wait for moving

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  • Catalina Vrabie September 12, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Hi,

    I facilitated this game for a team with 20 members. It was a lot of fun but I had the feeling that some info were missing. My challenges were:
    - How the team starts the game? I was confused about the position of the persons in the beginning of the game: sitting or standing? In my case, I chose to start each iteration standing.
    - I should make clear that only 1 person should engage in a movement at a time. For several times, I had 4-6 persons who wanted to fill the empty chair.
    - Next time I will start the game without speaking and let the people to ask for talking. I feel like the overlapped talking will be better felt in this way.
    - Somewhere in the process, I introduced a rule for short communication: using only 1 word. This rule was not very well followed. I’m thinking to start the game silently, after a while to introduce short communication and in the end talking freely.
    - The room was to small for 20 persons with 20 chairs. It was a bit crowded. Either I will arrange to use a bigger room or to pick a smaller group.

    How was it for us?
    - The entire game was as a mirror for the team. Everybody plays the same role as in the project.
    - We had a late person who entered in the game after several iterations. How was the new guy introduced in the process was interesting and made the rest of members to think about how they integrate a new member in the team.
    - The team had a lot of fun, entering quickly in the game.
    - The retrospective (up to 30 sec) was not very well focused. Because of this I will short the time for this session to 15-20 seconds. If they will need more time, to let them to ask for it.
    - They managed after 8 iterations to fill the chair in 40 seconds. In total they succeeded for 5 times from 19.
    - I stopped the game after 19 iterations (with the announcement made with 3 iterations earlier), since I felt that they get it and there was no progress anymore.
    - In the end, we took max 10 min to debate.

    PS: They asked me from the beginning if they can move the chairs in circle. I played careless and chose not to answer on this question and they didn’t repeat it until the third iteration. It was also a big lesson for us.

    Thank you for the game. I plan to repeat it. :)

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