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Campfire

People spend hours sitting in training sessions, sifting through orientation manuals, and playing corporate e-learning games to learn the know-how for their new positions. But the reality is that the bulk of employee knowledge is gained through social experience. Campfire leverages our natural storytelling tendencies by giving participants a format and a space in which to share work stories—of trial and error, failure and success, competition, diplomacy, and teamwork. Campfire is useful not only because it acts as an informal training game, but also because it reveals commonalities (and diversity) in people's perception and experience. - This session can be revised to be used as a warmup, icebreaker, deepening session, anywhere storytelling could be useful to your group/team.

  1. Step 1:

    Before the meeting, brainstorm 10–20 words or phrases you can use as trigger words to start the storytelling session. Write them on sticky notes. Suggest themes for the storytelling - main focus on positive or neutral stories: partnerships, amazing collaborations, first day/week on the job, work travel, project, clients, inspiring experiences, opportunity for growth, and so forth.

  2. Step 2:

    Post the sticky notes in the meeting room in a space visible to all the players and give them access to markers and more sticky notes. Tell them that this is a workplace “campfire” and the only thing they’re invited to do is share stories back and forth as an informal “company training program.” Show them the “wall of words” and ask them to take 1–3 minutes to look them over and recall a story associated with one of them. To help the group warm up, start the storytelling session yourself by removing one of the words on the wall and posting it in a space nearby. Then tell your introductory story.

  3. Step 3:

    Ask for a volunteer to continue what you started by peeling another word from the wall and posting it next to yours. This begins the sticky-note “story thread.”

  4. Step 4:

    Before the first player begins his story, ask him to read aloud the word he chose and then instruct the other players to listen carefully to his story and to jot down a word or phrase on a sticky note that reminds them of another work-related story. If no words in the player’s story jumped out at them, they are welcome to pull a sticky note from your original “wall of words.”

  5. Step 5:

    After the player concludes the first story, ask for another volunteer to approach the wall and to either post her own sticky note or take one from the “wall of words.” Ask her to read her word aloud and to then share her story.

  6. Step 6:

    Repeat this process until the players have created a snake-like “story thread” which acts as an archive of the campfire conversation. Use your best judgment to determine when to end the storytelling session. Before you “put out” the fire, ask the players if there are any insights, learnings, or final thoughts they want to add.

  7. Step 7:

    Strategy

    Your role as the meeting leader is simply to encourage the sharing of work-related stories. If you find a lull in the storytelling thread, refer the employees back to the “wall of words” or ask someone to throw out a “wild card” story. You can also share work-related stories of your own that are triggered by stories from the players. You can let the stories drift toward less positive or neutral topics if you think the players need some catharsis, but be prepared to manage what may come up and don’t let the meeting conclude on a sour note.

    The point of Campfire is simple but powerful. It encourages sharing, shows the many things employees have in common and diversity, and leverages the natural tendency of employee training to take place through informal dialogue. Humans want to tell stories; you’ll likely find that the players linger to share experiences even after the meeting ends.

    This game was inspired by Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory),by Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morson.