Sami Sarén, Kari Malinen, Hiltrud Kinnunen, Muutostaito Oy
This article describes Muutostaito’s Changeskills game format, the game format realisation process and practical areas of application. The game is about using the Changeskills game format to facilitate a group of people discussing the essential questions about a change (in strategy, culture, process, behaviour, etc.), making a plan to implement the change and following up on it.
The roots of Muutostaito’s game format
The foundations of Muutostaito’s game format were laid at the start of the 1990s. A gamified
intervention tool named ´Team Game´ was developed to improve the work of teams, and the tool was
based on a library of questions covering every essential aspect of team development. The game was
developed at the Helsinki University of Technology and, in conjunction with this development work,
several academic studies were conducted on how the game could be applied.
Unlike many existing board games used for training, an essential feature of this game was that it was not
used to teach teamwork. Instead, the questions in the game guided the team towards discussing
important matters in terms of the team’s development, as well as working together to resolve and agree
upon any matters that arose. The questions had no right or wrong answers. The game was played on a
game board and, by moving around the board, players could choose which type of question they would
like to address. The questions were divided into three different themes: ground rules for teamwork,
problems and knowing other people. The game was an individual competition where points were
awarded for factors such as being on the side of the majority when players decided on their stance on a
particular question theme. The winner was the first player to reach the specified number of points on all
three question themes.
As such, this game was primarily an intervention tool for organisational developers rather than an
educational game. The game was played at more than one hundred organisations and it helped to
achieve verifiably good results in terms of team development and promoting interaction within
Developing the format into a group game
The ´Team Game´ was a workable concept but it could only be played by a maximum of 8 people in a
session with a single game facilitator. In addition, the point-scoring mechanism required improvements
to make it more flexible in relation to the duration of the game. At that stage, the library of questions
was also strictly limited to themes related to teamwork.
Based on the principles of the ´Team Game´, the ´Change Creators´ game concept was developed in the
late 1990s for groups of 16–25 people, with players giving their views on the game questions in teams
rather than as individuals. The theme of this game was change management and almost 200 game
questions were printed on ready-made playing cards, covering various areas of change management
focusing on practical implementation. At that stage, the game could also be played using a game board
affixed to a wall.
Developing Muutostaito’s game concept into its present form
The Changeskills game format has been developed over the past seven years. Muutostaito acquired the
rights to the game format developed in the late 1990s, and this was then adapted and developed to
make the gameplay elements work better. The content themes have also been expanded to cover all the
essential areas of organisational development and requirements of business life.
The game board was taken down from the wall and placed on each team’s table. Small groups were
given their own game board in the middle of the group, enabling the groups to work more closely
together. Point-scoring was separated from the game board and assigned to the game facilitator. As
such, all players can constantly keep track of the points scored by their group and competing groups.
The key change was to strengthen the role of the game facilitator. Now, games are always facilitated by
a facilitator from Muutostaito itself or a facilitator certified by Muutostaito. This allows for more rules
and more complexity to ensure that the game has enough alternatives and is not too easy or too
difficult. The trained facilitator explains the necessary rules at the relevant time. This enables players to
feel that they have sufficient control over the game during each phase, and there is a suitable amount of
new content to come as the game progresses. The trained facilitator is also able to plan the game’s
dynamic in advance on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration each customer’s goals and the
composition of the group. The group dynamic is actively steered during the game workshop itself. The
facilitator can add gameplay elements if the group dynamic requires this. For example, the number of
points available for each game round can be doubled. The number of gameplay elements can also be
reduced by actively guiding the directions in which playing pieces can be moved. Muutostaito’s game
format worked better than the previous model, and the way in which the game was conducted began to
develop increasingly rapidly after the game had been played several times.
Flexible game format
An essential aspect of the Changeskills game format is that the questions have no predetermined
correct answers. The teams score points for their answers based on joint discussion. The game design
process focuses more on discussing the right questions than identifying precisely the right answers.
Content design was improved and the process of implementing the game was made more efficient by
deploying an information system that contained all of the game questions previously used. This boosts
the efficiency of design and facilitates the selection of appropriate questions for each theme and
situation. More questions are also being constantly produced in accordance with customer needs.
Muutostaito currently has more than 2,500 game questions in its question library.
The Changeskills game format can be used with several different types of game boards marked with the
key headings related to the game board’s theme. Custom game boards can also be designed specifically
for organisations, even if they are only used for a single game workshop.
Nowadays, the majority of game implementations feature game questions and a game board designed
specifically for the customer. This ensures that the customer’s brand is incorporated into the game and
its contents. In addition, the customer is part of the co-creation process, where Muutostaito’s game
format and the ability to create suitable questions are combined with the customer’s business substance
Why Muutostaito’s Changeskills game format works
The purpose of Muutostaito’s game format is to create a structure in which participants produce
interpretations, insights and solutions for pre-designed questions and topics with the help of the game.
The discussion that takes place during the game is created by the players themselves and solutions arise
through group discussion. The participants bring their own interpretations, tacit knowledge and wealth
of experience to bear on the game topic. The participants are motivated to engage in discussion when
the topics are directly connected to their own work.
The game involves taking a stance on the questions and alternative answers –first in small groups and
then in a larger group. The answer alternatives are designed to elicit a range of important perspectives
on the question.
Open atmosphere of mutual trust
The basic philosophy of Changeskills game format is that discussions involve all participants and all
viewpoints are valued. This leads to an open atmosphere of mutual trust around the game. Even
participants who do not usually engage in training events find it easier to participate because the
questions are directly related to their own work and the answers do not allow a ‘possibility of failure’.
Putting effort into answers and listening to others
A key element of the Changeskills game format is listening to and understanding other teams’ positions.
In addition, the teams are required to make joint decisions in a limited time in such a way that a group
consensus is reached without voting.
The game motivates and encourages players to give reasoning and high-quality answers because the
format involves evaluating the other teams’ responses and every team is evaluated in turn. As the
format involves evaluating the other teams’ responses, they become more interesting, and listening to
other teams’ viewpoints is a very natural part of the workshop that increases the intensity of the game
This combination of making an effort to create answers and intensively listening to others, together with
the limited time available, gives rise to an intensity and working atmosphere that is unlike normal group
A game of feelings
In the Changeskills game format, feelings are mainly created through the dynamics between the players
rather than the interaction between the player and the game content.
Games based on the Changeskills game format are clearly not entertainment games, but the
competitive setting and differing interpretations of questions and words arising during the game create
funny moments and the space for humour. The game facilitator’s professional skill enables this
dimension to be fine-tuned and, if necessary, the atmosphere to be lifted or the focus to be shifted back
The Changeskills game format brings feelings to the fore more readily than normal because the players
know each other and give each other feedback during the game, either in the form of points or verbal
comments. Because there are no correct answers in the game, this feedback is based on the subjective
views of each person or team, as well as the interpretation of the question. Various emotions arise in
situations in the game where players are required to accept views that differ from their own. Players
may be surprised that rewards in the form of points may not be received because another team has
considered the issue in a different way. However, the thrill of success can easily be experienced when
the neighbouring team has thought about the issue in the same way, and the outcome of this can be
seen on the scoreboard.
Incorporating feelings into the game is an absolutely essential part of the dynamic of the Changeskills
game format. It enables the discussion to become deeper and more relevant to the players, as they are
required to see things from other perspectives. For this reason, the discussions during the game are
usually more memorable than ordinary training days. It is also important to activate feelings when, at
the end of the game, the participants prepare their own plans for how they intend to work differently in
The game’s structure is instrumental in ensuring that all of the players are equal within the game,
regardless of the participants’ roles or positions. Similarly, the game’s structure and schedule contribute
to ensuring that all of the planned topics receive the planned amount of time for discussion and that
socially active personalities do not dominate the discussion.
Right questions are essential
The formulation and selection of questions is the most important aspect in terms of the game’s results.
The game should guide the discussion in the intended direction and give rise to a clear need to change
the status quo to head towards the target.
However, the topics and arrangement of questions play a very important role in determining the extent
to which a solution-oriented, unifying atmosphere is created within the workshop, as well as the extent
to which the discussions lead to practical measures and changes in the future.
When selecting subject areas, it is important to ensure that the game features questions which are
important to all of the participants and which as many participants as possible can influence through
their own work. The questions must also be formulated so as to avoid an outcome of illusory democracy
in which the question appears to provide the opportunity to discuss a matter but the decision is
ultimately made by someone else. For this reason, questions do not usually involve considering strategic
or operational options. Instead, they focus more on how the selected policy could be put into practice
within the organisation.
A further perspective on discussion and question-setting is the static or dynamic point of view. The
game is about change, so questions are set in such a way that they highlight the tensions between the
target state and the status quo, and the discussion is guided towards ways of getting from the status
quo to the target state in the area in question.
The game format itself encourages players to understand differences and varying viewpoints and
tolerate different interpretations of the same matter. In this regard, the facilitator aims to ensure that
the game does not get bogged down in semantic or linguistic details, and that the focus of discussion is
practical action rather than theoretical differences of opinion.
In the future, Muutostaito will continue to focus on games that activate mutual discussion between the
players so that the game takes place socially between players themselves rather than between the
player and the game equipment.
Implementing change using Muutostaito’s game process
In recent years, in addition to the Changeskills game format itself Muutostaito has also developed its
game design process, i.e., the way the Changeskills game format is applied to a specific situation with a
In the early phases, this game design process was developed to ensure that customer-specific game
content can be included in a very agile manner and in a short time if necessary. As a result, an
increasingly large proportion of games are related to a theme of current significance to the customer’s
organisation. In most cases, the aim is to use the game to make a start on an important process of
change for the organisation, or to drive such a process forward.
In this context, a “process of change ”can be understood very broadly. It can refer to the
implementation of strategy or a programme of cultural change on a large scale. On a smaller scale it can
refer to the desire to encourage the group participating in the game process to behave or do things
differently in relation to certain matters in the future. Such games include the Customer Game,
Leadership Game and Well-being at Work Game.
The design process focuses on identifying the question areas where real change is desired. A second,
parallel approach to preparing the game questions is to ensure that the questions cover the essential
perspectives of “why”, “what ”and “how ”in terms of change management. In practice, this means that
the game involves discussing why changes are essential, in addition to talking about what will change.
The game concept incorporates joint responsibility and individual responsibility. In practice, this means
promotion of individual responsibility by ensuring that game workshop participants always leave with a
tangible plan, activity or commitment that they intend to bring to fruition after the workshop. This is
based on the philosophy that we consider the game to be a tool for implementing change rather than an
educational game. As such, it is not sufficient for the game workshop to result only in participants
gaining new insights or learning something. We want all participants to immediately incorporate
something from the game workshop into their everyday work.
Over the last two years, Muutostaito has developed a process for following up on the plans made during
the game and evaluating implementation. This post-game process typically takes 3–5 months so, from
the participants’ perspective, the game process now takes several months, rather than just a single day.
In terms of enacting change, the process helps to create and maintain internal motivation for the change
among the participants. The process provides participants with the autonomy to decide for themselves
which change they would like to implement in their everyday work. When the plans and commitments
are public, the process supports social commitment and learning from others. The post-game activities
at the end of the process reinforce the feeling of success and provides participants with good public
feedback when they have made progress towards making their own plans a reality. Successes are
noticed and brought to the fore.
CASE: FINNISH BOOKSTORE CHAIN
The “Finnish Bookstore” is the biggest bookstore chain in Finland, with around 450 employees, more
than 100 million Euros turnover and 60 bookstores throughout Finland. The company was founded in
1912 and is part of the Finnish graphic communications concern Otava Ltd.
The “Finnish Bookstore” has invested in customer service training for its employees in various ways
for more than ten years. In 2014, the company began looking for a new way to refresh its
commitment to provide active, expert and cheerful customer service.
After experiencing a game demo, Muutostaito’s Customer Game was chosen to become the next
method for training personnel on customer service. It was also decided immediately that “Finnish
Bookstore” wanted a unique game board tailored specifically for the company. “Finnish Bookstore”
had prior experience of Muutostaito’s generic Well-being at Work Game, having played it in 2012
and 2013. Back then some of the bookshops´ sales assistants took part in half-day game workshops
arranged by mother company Otava Ltd on the topic of occupational well-being.
Planning the game project
A project group was set up to plan the company-specific Customer Game, with three regional sales
managers, one shop manager, one person with responsibility for shops and one sales assistant from
“Finnish Bookstore”, as well as a Senior Consultant from Muutostaito. The project group was tasked
with planning the content of the game, along with the graphical elements and slogans for the game
board. The project group convened three times during the planning process, with the Muutostaito
Consultant leading the group.
The content of “Finnish Bookstore” Customer Game consists of various questions related to
customer service situations in shops. The project group produced nine different situations –
questions – for the game. The target was to identify situations that are challenging for sales
personnel and where sales personnel may have different approaches. The situations were connected
with the themes relating, e.g., to the customer experience, different issues concerning the actual
customer facing situation and interacting with challenging customers. The game board was designed
accordingly. In addition, it was decided that the game board would contain the values of “Finnish
Bookstore”, which are responsibility, boldness, quality and proximity. The slogan, “We help the
customer to buy”, became the name of the game. This is an apt description of the game’s targets: to
increase the rate of additional sales as well as the way in which additional sales are made at “Finnish
Bookstore” – by helping customers to buy products. The game was created out of the objective to
offer “Finnish Bookstore” customers the best multichannel shopping experience and to constantly
deliver on the customer service commitment with consistently high quality.
The game’s content and functionality was tested in a pilot game. The project group had succeeded in
planning incisive content – the pilot game only led to a few minor changes being needed. The
steering group received permission to confirm the timetables for a total of 23 games in January,
February and March 2016. The second key purpose of the pilot game was to involve sales personnel,
managers and personnel in positions of responsibility from different shops in the forthcoming
process in advance. When the participants in the pilot game had experienced the game and gained
information about the forthcoming project and its targets, they were able to take this information
back to their own shops and get people involved in the forthcoming project in advance.
EXECUTING THE GAME PROJECT
At the beginning of 2016, the dice began to roll and the playing pieces moved around the giant game
board. Almost all 450 employyees of “Finnish Bookstore” took part in game workshops held all over
Finland at the beginning of 2016, while the company’s new sales assistants got to play the game
towards the end of 2016.
Each game was played by about 20 people from different parts of the company. Participants in
Muutostaito’s games are always divided into teams, which throw the dice to move around the game
board and compete against each other. One of the teams wins the game and receives a prize. This
gamification brings a certain intensity and quality to the day’s discussions. The game involves
competing to see how groups solve tangible everyday challenges: How can I analyse a customer’s
needs? How can I have a positive effect on the customer’s experience? And how should I interact
with challenging customers?
The game and the events in the game also provide players with an opportunity to exchange ideas and
experiences with people from other shops and to learn from each other. This is no small thing: In
Finland, people are often located far away from each other. Settling down for a day of discussing and
working on questions related to sales work is considered important, by employees as well as
The game forces people to participate. Many of the personnel had worked in groups where some
people talk while others hold back. In small groups, everyone is able to speak and everyone is
listened to. The game brought up a totally different way of participating.
The game has a jury, which listens to the teams’ reasoning and awards points. Teams can also earn
points from other teams and from the game board. At the end of the day, the winning team receives
plaudits, as well as a basket of fruit to share.
The personal promises and pledges made during the game are followed up transparently in everyday work
After the game is over, an even more important step begins. Each player thinks about which aspects
of their customer service they would like to improve, and they formulate this in terms of a tangible
promise or pledge. When everyone makes their own personal promises, everyday work in shops will
involve “taking action together” after the game.
This activity will be maintained using a gamified follow-up process jointly developed by Muutostaito
and “Finnish Bookstore”. The objective of the follow-up process is to realise actions that develop
operations and a positive buzz. Above all, it should draw attention to successes and how participants
have succeeded in developing themselves in terms of the targets created during the ‘We help the
customer to buy’ game. Development should be transparent so that everyone can evaluate and
verify it. Promises and pledges made during the game workshops have been delivered on with an
average certainty of more than 85 per cent with the help of this follow-up monitoring and feedback
process. The promises and pledges are everyday actions that lead to changes in everyday work.
When the follow-up process also includes a playful competition between shops on aspects that can
be monitored using indicators, it adds something extra – positive pressure for development because
everyone wants to be the best. Shop-specific successes are brought to the fore in the shops’ weekly
letters, and the best examples are included in the company’s internal monthly letter. Successes
matter, and they are noted.
Separate ´We help the customer to buy´ game project for head office
When all of the shops had played the game, the decision was taken to arrange a game day for
personnel in the head office of “Finnish Bookstore” in autumn 2016, along with a subsequent followup process. The content of the game was redesigned during two meetings of a small project group
and the game focused on developing internal cooperation. The following themes were worked on for
the game: feedback, cooperation, appreciation, utilising expertise, developing operations, the flow of
information, sufficient quality, enthusiasm and time management. Some of the staff in the head
office were already familiar with the method as they had also taken part in the game events for
shops in some capacity.
The game immediately creates a freer atmosphere, even if the players do not know each other.
There are no right or wrong answers – the real thing is to give good reasoning for answers in order to
get points for them. A competitive spirit guarantees that the answers are well thought out.
The head office is aiming to create the same culture and positive buzz that has arisen in the shops.
Thanks to the game projects, “Finnish Bookstore” has created an even greater atmosphere of mutual
encouragement, both in its shops and its head office. Although personal successes are still rewarded,
a stronger culture of working together has arisen in the chain. This culture contributes to success at
work, effectiveness and occupational well-being. Customers have also noticed a positive change in
the operations of “Finnish Bookstore”. Regularly-monitored customer feedback reveals that
operations have improved, and sales figures show that sales work has been successful.
The game and the post-game activities have provided supervisors with good tools. In some shops,
already new and really good promises and pledges were made – everyone has understood what was
aimed for. Successes have also begun to accumulate at a gratifying rate.
Finns often find it hard to talk about their successes, but now they are actively sought out – it is
precisely these things that make work enjoyable and keep people in good spirits all year round. This
has created a positive buzz.
Enthusiasm is born of success
Sini Kortelainen, a sales assistant in a “Finnish Bookstore” shop, comments on the game workshop:
“The day was really rewarding and relaxed. We went through some customer interactions, operating
methods and putting the values into action in practical work. There was a lot of discussion
throughout the day and everyone was listened to. We learnt from the more experienced personnel
and gained some new perspectives. It was also motivating to notice that I had something to give to
the newest employees. The day gave me more enthusiasm and motivation, and it provided a clearer
basis for continuing my work in the shop.”
Katja Roth, shop manager, summarizes the game day like this: ”None of the sales assistants
said that the game day was a waste of time. This is quite good. Such a major investment in
developing the professional skills of sales assistants shows that we are valued. And it is worth it:
when we are good at our jobs, work becomes more enjoyable.”
And Marje Stolpe, area sales manager, adds to this: “The game project has been really good for
the atmosphere. When the starting point is to get people to experience success, it has a positive
impact, both in terms of employee satisfaction and the customer experience.”
The game projects have led to a desire for a better understanding of other people’s work, thereby
creating a desire to provide better service. For example, employees from head office have visited
shops to work as sales assistants for a day. This has been an eye-opening experience for many
people, and many have found it inspiring.
In addition, the service culture within the head office has improved and has thereby become faster,
thanks to familiarity with and a better understanding of other people’s work.
“Finnish Bookstore” understands the importance of continuous development, and this is a good basis
to continue moving forward. The tools and methods are now in order, so it is easier to keep this
matter on the agenda. Act today!