This exercise is actually “Exercise Without A Name” – hence its name “E.W.A.N.”

The reason for this is, after the 14 of us finished brainstorming the creation of this game at Agile Coach Camp Netherlands 2012, we came to the conclusion that this game could not be given a name, as doing so would transmit its intention, and thereby reducing its impact.  See, this “Exercise Without A Name” started out as a desire to name, and reveal, the “elephant in the room”. Of course, if the word “elephant” was in the game’s name, then we we would inadvertently lead people to conclusions, which they would benefit to uncover on their own.


Game Name: E.W.A.N. McGregor**

Purpose: help a team admit a difficult topic, to prepare to talk about it & move forward

Participants: Minimum: 4, Ideal: 10-15, Maximum: up to room capacity

Timebox: 20-30 minutes, depending on discussions; allow time for the debrief

Accessories: (Small) room, tape (to mark on floor), lots of chairs/obstacles, camera


Creation Date: 29 April 2012 at Agile Coach Camp Netherlands 2012

Co-creators: Thorsten Kalnin (initial question), Deborah Preuss (idea: build elephant using chairs), Silvana Wasitova, Niels Verdonk, Rob van Lanen, Robert van Vark, Coen Sanderink, Jan Salvador van der Ven, Dave Brands, Joost Jonker (?suggested “Ewan McGregor” name), Sander Huijsen, Freek Giele, Sandra Warmolts, Nicola Lovadina (who else?). Thanks to all who asked “what are you doing?” and provided inspiration.

Silvana’s Photos:

On Flickr I used tags: accnl12 elephant



  1. Select one or two “Observers”, and ask them to leave the room. (Could be from inside or outside the team, but people trusted by the team.)
    Select a “Documenter” to take picture(s) during Step 3.

  2. Ask the participants to build a large “obstacle” in the middle of the room, e.g. a big pile of chairs (avoid calling it “The Elephant”).

  3. If Obstacle does not get very close to the room’s walls, delineate space tight to the Obstacle Area by placing tape on the floor; game area is “inside” the taped area.  Facilitator: re-arrange chairs as necessary to make obstacle course more difficult, intricate. Take a picture.  Position Participants, spread out within the game area.


  1. Run two or three “Challenges” so Participants have to move around the obstacle to go to a  new spot. These should be activities where everyone want to be in one spot at the same time. INSTRUCT Participants to observe and remember their positions, movements and steps around the obstacle. Examples:

      • A Participant invites others to see something at their spot (“Look at this code!”).  Others have to navigate the obstacle to get closer to the inviter.

      • Another Participant invites others to go to another spot. (“Pizza has arrived!”).

      • Optional: one more “movement”.

  2. Clear out the “Obstacle” (pile of chairs). (Think about what you will do with the chairs if the room is small). Ask the participants to go to the same starting position as in Step #3 and prepare to repeat the same movements they remember from Step 4..

  3. Invite Observer(s) back in.

  4. Without explaining to the Observer, Participants repeat the movements from Step  4.

Now it gets strange – what’s going on?

  1. Ask Observer(s) for their insights (DO NOT yet show picture from Step 3), e.g.:

    • What do you want to ask us?

    • What advice would you give us?

  2. Ask Observer to participate in the “movements”; show the Observer “how we do things around here”; (Facilitator: group will probably warn Observer not to step in the “wrong” places to not get hurt – wait to see if it happens naturally). Main message: that’s the way we work here!

  3. Ask Observer for their observations. (Optional: Repeat Steps 6 to 8).

  4. Show Observer what the Participants “see” (picture from Step 3).

Shift people to observer mode:

  1. As a facilitator, walk right through the “Obstacle”.  Ask all to “Join me in the middle”. This may feel tense. Ask – “How does this feel?” and wait for answers.

  2. Ask people to sit down in a circle for the debrief.

  3. Debrief.  Sample questions:

    • How did it feel when <Observer> walked through the <obstacle>?
    • How did it feel when <Participant/Facilitator> walked through the <obstacle>?
    • What happened when <Observer>  challenged us?
    • What happened when <Observer>  joined us?
    • What was the role of the <Documentor>?


    Connect to today’s situation:

  4. Facilitator: explain why you asked the group to do this exercise. Could be along the lines of: “I have been observing how we work… I have a hunch/feeling that there is something we are not talkiing about, that makes us less effective…”

    • What are we not talking about?  (WAIT! Allow for reflection).
    • Facilitator: if things get tense, ask “What is happening right now?”
    • Continue focusing on the team and the process, do not let it get “resolved” by focusing on one particular person in the team.
  5. You might want to read up on navigating conflict for the discussion that will surface at this point. See ideas below.

  6. At the end of your time: Invite the group back into the center (where the Obstacle) was.

    • Ask: “How does it feel now?”
    • Possible wrap up questions: What’s possible from here? What do YOU want?


    After the “Aha Moment”, ask the real questions

    (Optional: can write these down in private, no need to share with others):

    (Optional: Dress up the obstacle so it can be recognized as an elephant)

    • Is there an elephant in the room?

    • Do we have an elephant?

    • What is our elephant?


Possible next step:

  • read on Facilitating Conflict Resolution.
  • check out Lyssa Adkins’ article on “navigating conflict” instead of resolving it
  • set up a big awesome goal and play using the obstacles you are now willing to talk about . Influence change, even without authority!


**About the Game Name:

“E.W.A.N. McGregor” came from “EWAN”, short for “Exercise Without A Name” – since the co-creating group wanted to stay away from using the word “Elephant” in the game name.  Without hinting to Participants in advance what the game is about, they can experience their own lessons and discoveries.  (Please do not call this “Pink Elephant Game” even tho it started out that way 🙂 )


The game’s original write up is at

2 thoughts on “E.W.A.N. McGregorE.W.A.N. McGregorE.W.A.N. McGregorE.W.A.N. McGregorE.W.A.N. McGregor

  1. Off top, this is a very weird exercise.
    I had a chance to participate in this exercise and doing it felt weird.
    Doing it in front of the observers… Weird…
    When we get to the end and start asking questions and listening to the observers, FANTASTIC…

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