Case Saranen: Gamified 1-to-1 Development Discussions


Development discussions, 1-to-1s, and other regular conversations with employees are a standard timeslot of managers’ calendars. The challenge often is how to manage development discussions in a compact timeframe so that the discussions remain of high quality for everyone, allows space to talk about important issues and still get to the heart of the matter without feeling rushed?

Mia Santala works as a team manager at Saranen Consulting. In her work, she facilitates development discussions for both teams and individuals. She has used the Topaasia serious game to enhance the quality and depth of discussions. Based on her experience, the game helps leaders to take a coaching approach to development discussions.

Fusion of two teams and need for common operating models

Mia first came across Topasia in a situation where there was a fusion of two teams, and a need to discuss common ways of working.

“The two teams from different cities became one cohesive team, and we used Topaasia to help facilitate the discussion. We built a common set of ground rules and thought about where we wanted to go with this team and what things were perceived as challenging in the moment. Then we started to create future solutions and ideas on how to enable us to move in the same direction,” says Mia, adding that after the team’s experience, the same method has been used for individual development discussions:

“I have also implemented Topaasia into our one-to-one discussions. We have one-to-ones with team members every two weeks, and we use Topaasia to have discussions with team members. The discussions have gone well with it. Game helps to gain insights that have not been found before. Personally, I have gained a lot of new information from my team members that I hadn’t been able to ask in previous discussions. I have asked my team members how they have experienced Topaasia in one-to-ones and they said that they have gotten new insights too, and the games have been a good experience”.

Game helps to have coaching approach and to keep focus on the person of development discussion

Mia has extensive experience with development discussions and she thinks that compared to traditional development discussions, Topaasia steers focus on the person, inserts limits to the discussion and creates a possibility to go deeper into the topic in a short time.

“If you compare Topaasia to traditional one-to-ones, Topasia keeps the focus on the person. You don’t go through project situations or other day-to-day things, but you really focus on the person you’re there with. Topaasia is excellent because it sets certain limits on where the conversation goes and around what kind of topics. It allows you to get into a much deeper conversation than a traditional conversation”, Mia tells and emphasizes that playing helps the leader to facilitate discussion in a coaching and insightful way:

“With Topaasia, it was easier for me to refrain from giving instructions or bringing my own ideas into the discussion. It was very much about facilitation and even more about insight. If you are a leader, you know how difficult it is not to instruct and advise. The coaching aspect was easier to implement with Topaasia.”

How did the development discussions work in practice?

Before the game sessions started, Mia went through with the team members what Topaasia is, what kind of issues it addresses and why it is brought in.

“In individual development discussions, the ball is firmly in the team member’s court, and he or she leads the discussion. My job is just to facilitate the discussion. We played so that the team member had the game open on her phone and I had it open on my laptop so that I could take notes at the same time and show if she agreed with my notes,” Mia describes the discussion.

Mia says that in many cases, team members really have to weigh up the choices behind the cards: ‘I was surprised to get such extensive reasoning and reflection on things. It’s not always easy to articulate your own thoughts, but Topaasia makes it easier because it has a structure and a routine for moving the conversation forward.”

Efficient use of time – satisfaction on both sides

Mia feels that the use of the game in development discussions is consistent, so that discussions are conducted at the same level and quality with everyone. Depending on the person, it is possible to go deeper into the topics within the time frame.

“You don’t need a lot of time: we had 45 minutes to get through the game. In that time, you can have a discussion, get the essential ideas and decide on the actions that the team member will take to move things forward. It’s an efficient use of time, and both sides, at least so far, have had good feelings about Topaasia in the use of development discussions.”

Mia sums up her experience with Topaasia as follows:

“If you really want to go deeper in the development discussion, so that you don’t always talk about just the issues, but about causes, consequences, possibilities – sort of 360 thinking – then I would recommend using Topaasia as a discussion tool. Whether you play with team or an individual, playing gives you a broader picture of the situation.