The 20th Annual Gathering of Games – 20 Years of Looking Forward

My colleague Gauri Thergaonkar wrote in March about Open Book Management (OBM) – the innovative business practice we use here at Zingerman’s based on the Great Game of Business which was developed by Jack Stack (you can read more about it in his book, The Great Game of Business, co-written with Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large of Inc. Magazine and author of Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great instead of Big)

Last week was the Gathering of Games, the 20th annual conference of OBM practitioners from around the world. It’s a pretty amazing and powerful thing to be sitting in a room with hundreds of people who are among the small percentage of organizations running their businesses using the same principles around finances that we do here at Zingerman’s. Over the three days of the conference, one of my favorite things about attending the Gathering is hearing the stories of how OBM has changed businesses substantially for the better, the unique ways OBM brings everyone together to overcome challenges, and the fun ways other folks celebrate success in their organization!

Bo Burlingham, who is a good friend to Zingerman’s and has been to Ann Arbor many times, was there, and I took the opportunity to ask him about coming to the Gathering year after year: “Having been to all but one or two of the Annual Gatherings – when we started out, the people who came to the Gathering of Games were either not yet practicing Open Book Management or had only been using it 1-2 years. Now, we have participants who have been using Open Book for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years! To me, that’s really amazing! The focus at the Gathering can be really different now – at the beginning, all of the questions were about ‘Will it work in a union business? Will it work in a small business? Will it work for me?’ Now the answers to those questions are in the variety of people and businesses that are here!”

I felt incredibly honored to be invited to be a presenter again this year – last year I led a pre-conference workshop on Zingerman’s approach to customer service, and this year I followed it up with “Keeping Score on Service,” sharing how we measure customer service, what we’ve learned by doing it, and how mini-games can help build a service culture in other organizations. The participants in my workshop were from a wide variety of different industries, but I believe that customer service is universal, so an owner of a bakery outside of Chicago can provide insights to a manager who is in software support on the East Coast, and vice versa.

One of the highlights this year for me, other than the one-on-one interactions, were hearing keynotes from Kim Jordan, CEO and President of New Belgium Brewing Company, and Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Before hearing about them being at the Gathering, I didn’t know that these were also OBM companies! It was fantastic to hear about their achievements, with the principles of Open Book at the heart of their core values, and very interesting that the business practices and philosophies of both organizations are very much in alignment with Zingerman’s.

The break-out sessions are led by practitioners, who share best practices, tools, resources, and tips for improving how we’re all “playing the game.” Ari led a session on Servant Leadership, sharing how this management style helps support great staff in OBM. One of the sessions I attended was called “OBM: Vehicle for Change,” led by Alan Kent, President and CEO of Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia, GA, (home of the delicious onions currently featured at Zingerman’s Roadhouse!) He credits Open Book in large part for turning around his non-profit hospital and helping it open a $92 million, 194,000 square foot facility with no community tax support in 2011. It was inspiring to hear him speak about the cultural change that OBM had helped bring about, and to see the dramatic change in the numbers once everyone on the team was playing together to achieve the same results.

I’m still thinking about what I learned, and how we can put the experiences and learnings from other practitioners into use here at Zingerman’s. And I’m already looking forward to going back next year!