Lars Hoffmann Creates Strategic Learning Boardgames | Episode 112

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Lars Hoffmann is the Learning Director of DHI, a global water engineering consultancy and software provider. He has used, designed and sold learning games for more than 20 years, working both within and as a consultant in leadership development and change for large international organizations. He has a background in psychology and very much prefers board games to computer games, even though DHI is digitalizing heavily – also in the delivery of training for its clients.

A regular day for Lars is taken up by many internal meetings, a lot of which are now online through video conferences as it’s a global company. A large amount of time is also consumed by email. However, outside of this, he spends time doing learning design, including training delivery and interacting with colleagues. Outside of work Lars spends time listening to audiobooks, playing board games with his family, watching sports as well as reading.

One of Lars’ favorite fails comes from when he was working with a large Scandinavian insurance company. Lars, together with their strategy department, designed a board game that when you played through it you played through the strategies of the company. It was a great concept with lots of effort and knowledge put into it. Lars saw great success with the people he played it with as he was facilitating it. However, when it came to others facilitating it, it was difficult for them to understand due to the depth of knowledge in the game. Due to this factor, the game was almost not played by the company. If Lars was to approach it differently, he would have very early exposed his prototype to feedback from the end-user and spent much more time on what the users’ opinions were as to which aspects were more interesting.

A story of a time where Lars’ overcame a big challenge comes from a similar situation when he was working with a national bank that wanted more execution of their strategy. The way this situation was approached differently was thinking less about putting information into people’s heads and more about facilitating a conversation. What Lars came up with was a board game that was tested early with teams, it was sent out to all the teams across the country to play early locally in every bank, without the need of facilitation. This was a great success, and everyone agreed that this would help them make a move on the strategy and provided personal empowerment to the employees who played the game allowing meaningful discussions to happen.

Lars’ process when it comes to approaching these situations is often taking the role of the facilitator, thinking about what he needs to guide people through and remembering they are the experts and guiding them to find out themselves. Through his knowledge, Lars can design game mechanics in a way that are good at directing people’s attention in the direction that best meets the needs of the game. Therefore, when designing games, he tries to reward the behavior he is looking for. Also, it’s key in his process that after the games there is some debriefing so that it becomes something bigger than just fun.

One of Lars’ best practices, that was previously mentioned, is testing early and something that has been key. Another best practice for Lars is to seek simple solutions and something that can be built upon. For example, a game that takes a whole day to play is often difficult for others to use.

If Lars was to recommend a guest to be on the podcast it would be another learning game developer who works for a Scandinavian games design company called Works whose name is Morten Jaeger.

A book Lars would recommend for game design, especially in board games is Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design which is an encyclopedia of sorts and includes 250 of the most well-known board game mechanics. Another recommendation of Lars that has helped him understand the strategy and action execution in organizations is The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay. Lars’ favorite game of all time is Dungeons and Dragons as it inspired him to get into game design. However, the game he is playing most at the moment is a game called 878 Vikings, a game about the Vikings’ invasion of Britain.

Lars’ superpower would be his dialogue facilitation skills as he has done a large amount of training. Also, most of his design has been around games that facilitate dialogue.

His final piece of advice would be to not get too fascinated with digital games but also stay in-tune with board games as that’s where you can easily experiment yourself and it’s easier to adjust it to your own needs.

We can stay in touch with Lars through LinkedIn and through the web of one of his latest games


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