How a Game of Bingo Delivers Competitive Advantage

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By Tim Youle

October 30, 2020

Spend enough time at any A-grade business school or alongside a successful business leader and you’ll hear this phrase:

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors is the only sustainable competitive advantage”

Attributed to the visionary Arie de Geus, Head of Planning at Shell in the late 80s, the quote is a clarion call for organisations – large or small – to enshrine learning as a key pillar to drive competitive advantage.

Firms that truly buy into this invest in building capacity, systems and leadership skills to drive learning effectiveness.

There are a number of tried, tested and often free approaches that you can harness to unlock the organisational value of learning.

Including Bingo.

Before we break out the bingo, here’s a question to ponder:

What are the most important factors for learning to be impactful?

Your answers may include some or all of the following:

  • relevant, stimulating learning that is easily consumed and ties to real business challenges
  • executive sponsorship of learning
  • quality and credible facilitation
  • blended delivery of learning
  • effective marketing and communications to sit around learning initiatives

At Serendis we agree with all the above and work with our clients to ensure these levers are in place.

But a game of bingo has the power to mobilise the single most important actor in unlocking the value of learning.

How does it work?

It works best with the managers of people who are doing the learning.  And it is valuable with Executives and HR practitioners too.

Provide them the 9-box bingo diagram below and ask them to rank, from 1 to 9, the boxes that have the most to least impact on unlocking the value of learning in the workplace.


The rankings often look like this…


…where the main emphasis sits with the participants and facilitators, whilst managers can largely take a back seat.

However, in a landmark study in the 1990s by Mary Broad and John Newstrom, research showed the pivotal role managers play

What does it achieve?

Having this bingo conversation can make a huge difference in driving behaviour change and unlocking value.

Serendis has used it successfully with a range of clients to help managers bring clarity to their role.

This is especially the case in today’s COVID world of short learning webinars, where informal conversations between managers and their direct reports are less common.

Simple statements prior to the learning can make a world of difference in positioning the value of the learning, such as:

  • I’m really pleased you are taking part in these leadership programs. I know you will find the learning valuable.  Let’s discuss afterwards how I can help you apply what you have learnt
  • I’m looking forward to hearing what you get out of the upcoming learning. Let’s put some time in our diaries so you can share this with me and discuss what I can do to support you

Impactful questions to ask after learning include:

  • What is one thing I can do to help you bring your learning into our team environment?
  • What are you most looking forward to practicing / experimenting with from the webinar?
  • What was your key take-out from the learning and how can I support you apply this learning in our team?

These small steps make a world of difference in unlocking the value of learning.

At Serendis, we amplify the impact of learning further through the use of digital “nudges”.

These bite-sized packets of information are provided to learners on a weekly basis after they complete different learning. The nudges reinforce key ideas and insights they have learned, and encourage people to complete short tasks that drive behaviour change.