Talking About Communication: A Fun Game For Your Next PMO Meeting

Telestrations – A Game For Communication

Today I was cleaning out my school bag and came across some old index cards that I had used in my Advanced Project Management class. We used it during our lecture on communication management and the instructor had us play a quick game of Telestrations

Why It’s Important

One of the greatest threats to the success of any project is the failure to communicate. Our goal, as Project Managers and Product Owners is to ensure the timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, and disposition of information. Communication is the oil that keeps a project running smoothly. 

This game is easy, fun, and provides some laughs. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity for everyone in the Project Management Office to be reminded of the basic principles of communication. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a PMO meeting and was either bored to death by power point (death by power point… ugh…) or the group wasted an hour and a half reviewing project status reports (couldn’t I have just sent an email?!?… double ugh…).

The game I describe below takes about 2 minutes of set-up and about 5-10 minutes to execute depending on how many participants are involved. It’s a great ice-breaker and will keep everyone focused if you’re one of those evil managers with a habit of scheduling the PMO meeting after lunch.

Supplies – What You’ll Need

  1. Pink (or any color) note cards x4
  2. White note cards x16
  3. Sharpies x4
  4. Stop watch x1
  5. 1 person to facilitate and keep time
  6. 4 or more people to participate


Write 4 different project management topics on your pink notecard (in the examples below, my team used: integration, program management, execution, and procurement)

Place 4 of the blank note cards (or more if there are more than 4 people in a group) under a pink card with the project management term written on it.

Write the following instructions on a whiteboard for everyone to read:

  1. Please get into a group of 4 people.
  2. Each person will be given a group of note cards (keep them together at all times).
  3. The 1st note card will have a Project Management term on it (Do not share this word with anyone in your group until we are done with the game).
  4. Every 1 minute, we will rotate through the note cards as follows (The facilitator will keep time and ensure the note cards pass to each person):
    1. First Person, read the term on the pink card, then place that card behind the stack of cards and draw the term on the first blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with your drawing on top.
    2. Second Person, Based on the drawing the first person made, Write the term on the next blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with the term you wrote on the top.
    3. Third Person, Read the term the second person wrote and place it behind the stack of cards. Draw the term the second person wrote on a blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with your drawing on top.
    4. Fourth Person, Based off of the drawing the third person made, Write the term on the next blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with the term you wrote on top.
    5. Assuming a group of 4, the first person should have the original project management term they started with — the pink card they first read to start the game. Starting with the pink card, each person read the original term and share the pictures and terms in the order they were drawn. 
    6. Facilitator should allow each person to describe their pictures and encourage a few minutes of conversation.
  5. Final Note: Drawings can not have any written words or prompts on them. Pictures only!

Below is an example of the final results our group had:

Topic: Integration

As you can see, the first three people were able to communicate “integration” pretty well. The fourth person wrote “tools & techniques.” When we discussed this as a group, the pot in the third picture reminded the fourth person of tools and cooking techniques used in the kitchen.

Topic: Execution

This one was pretty funny. I started off this iteration and chose to draw a stick figure getting decapitated at a guillotine. I felt this was a an obvious example of “execution.” Unfortunately, the second person didn’t pick up on this and guessed “penalty.” Naturally, the third person figured this was a “penalty” and related that to budget and drew a picture that led the fourth person to assume “over budget.” We were way off the mark with this and shared some laughs.

Topic: Procurement

On my opinion, this was the hardest topic. During our discussion, the first person stated they had a tough time trying to draw a picture for “procurement” in 1 minute or less (heck yes! I still don’t know what I could draw). The closest thing they could draw looked like communication management and that was what we all guessed at. Again, we weren’t even close!

Topic: Program Management

I think the first person did a great job with their picture. A program is a group of similar projects or activities. The use of a the box plot diagram was straight out of the PMBOK. Unfortunately, as we discovered, the artist chose to use 5 circles to represent the projects inside of the program. The second person focused on this fact and guess “the 5 phases of a project.” The third picture, which is mine, has a stick figure using a phaser on a column of 5 (pretty creative if you ask me). The final person guessed “5 knowledge areas.” I guess my picture wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

Take Aways – Common Mistakes With Communication

There’s plenty of material about the basic communication model. I’ll try not to rehash something we all know, so I’ve just highlighted a few of the key takeaways from our lecture and subsequent discussions.

Confirm communication is actually received and understood.

Research says that in a face-to-face interaction:

  1. 58% of communication is through body language
  2. 35% of communication is through how the words are said
  3. 7% of communication is through the content or words that are spoken
  • Pay attention to more than just the actual words someone is saying.
  • A person’s tone of voice and body language say a lot about how they really feel.
  • Ask people what information they need and when.
  • Plan communications to all stakeholders and project team members and a way that fits their needs.
  • Customize communication standards within your organization to the needs of the project. Don’t stick with a template if it’s not effective!
  • Use multiple methods of communication.
  • Realize that communication is two-sided, to and from a stakeholder or project team member.

Share your thoughts on communication or using the Telestrations game in your next meeting in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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