(About a 20-minute read. This is a migration and updated post. It was initially shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuilding to organize content.)
Across Toss is a true mash up of influences. Mainly, All Catch (detailed in the footnote below) from Karl Rohnke's, The Bottomless Bag (1988), Falling Star, in my book, Portable Teambuilding Activities (inspired by another Rohnke activity called 7-Up), the phrase (and philosophy) "Keep your agreements!" from my friend West and the way I use the activity (I call) Have You Seen My Lunch, playing it the way it was described to me by Scott Goldsmith (author of Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence) when he uses it to talk about agreements - how we make, keep and break them.
My initial attempt at Across Toss was with a group of 6th & 7th graders. I wanted to weave in the idea of making agreements (as a way to develop some norms together), understanding agreements, keeping agreements, and sharing voice or 'speaking up' as I framed it. (There can also be some work on how we manage and treat mistakes within the group, but this was a secondary focus for me.)
In this What? & Why? format, I'll break down the activity step-by-step (What?) and then tell you my thinking behind each step (Why?).
Reality Check: In real time, I spent about 15 minutes on this Across Toss of the 90-minute team building activity portion of the program. After the team building three more hours were spent on the high course where 'making agreements' carried over to enhance the learning points - mainly, making and keeping agreements.
Have you ever considered how much (thinking, decision-making, choice) goes into facilitating a 15-minute activity? Here's what it's like for me at least:
(This section is about What I did, and will generally do, when leading Across Toss with Agreements.)
1. I have a game spot and two safe tossables for each participant ready to go. (My tossables were stress balls, a squeaky penguin and some inflatable orbs a little bigger than a softball.)
2. I gave everyone a game spot and asked them to circle up - about a one-arm distance apart from each other - and then instructed them to stand on their spot.
3. There were eight participants in the group, including me (I played as well). I chose to start with three tossables. I handed out the tossables to three different people.
4. I frontloaded the activity with this information: "This activity is about making agreements with your group members. For example, one will be with the person who agrees to catch the object you have to toss - when you have an object to toss. Another one I'm going to ask you to make is to agree to speak up if you are unsure of anything during the activity."
5. I interject here: "Throughout our program together, I'm going to be asking you to make other kinds of agreements. We'll have the opportunity to discuss the agreements before you commit to them. And maybe there will be some agreements you can't make - and that's okay. We will work through this as well."
6. I go on to ask for one agreement: "At this time, can you all agree to speak up any time you are unsure about something during the activity? This might be difficult to do, but I'm asking you to try. Can I get a thumbs up if you agree?" If there are any thumbs down, we talk through the concerns - I emphasize we are simply going to try and do our best to keep our agreements.
7. I provide the challenge at this point: "Here's how the activity works. As a group, our objective is to catch as many objects as we can - twice in a row. I'll explain this in a moment. We play the game in a series of Rounds. For Round 1 we have three objects to toss - hold up your object if you have one in your hand. Cool, thanks.
Each Round will have at least two toss attempts, maybe more. I, for now, will begin each toss attempt by saying, 1, 2, 3, toss. On the word 'toss' everyone must toss their object to someone else in the group - you are not allowed to toss an object to yourself. If all the objects are caught on this first toss, we go for another toss with these three objects. I will say again, 1, 2, 3, toss. All objects must be tossed at the same time - objects can't be tossed to yourself AND you may not toss it back to the person who just tossed it to you. Now, if we catch all the objects this second time, we will add another object to the challenge - this is what I mean by catching the objects in play twice in a row. When we add an object, we move into the next Round.
Again, the challenge is to see how many objects we can catch twice in a row. So, the more Rounds we play, the more objects we have caught.
If an object drops to the ground after a toss, we simply try again - starting with zero catches. There might be time to discuss some questions after a drop: If we view a drop as a mistake, will it be okay to make a mistake during the activity? Who's made a mistake before? How do you like to be treated after making a mistake? How do you treat yourself after making a mistake? How do we want to treat ourselves and each other after making a mistake? Again, if a drop happens, we get to try again. The bottom line is that we will play each Round until we can catch the object in play twice in a row."ttempt at
NOTE: During the first attempt at Across Toss, I did take a little time to 'check in' on (process) the drops. I asked if they could tell me why an object dropped and what could be done to prevent this type of drop in the future - again, just a quick check.
8. I let the everyone know, "I am part of the group for this activity, so I am available to make an agreement."
9. At this point I ask if there are any questions about the challenge or directions.
10. It's time to toss. "Okay, let's give this a try. Everyone with an object, please make an agreement with someone in the group that will try to catch your toss. Then, you all let me know when you are ready for the toss."
11. I confirm, "Is everyone ready? Are you sure? Tossers, who is your agreement with?" I have them each point out who they have an agreement with. "Okay, here we go. 1, 2, 3, toss." In this Round I am calling the toss, until the group catches the objects twice in a row.
12. When the group is successful, we celebrate with hoots and claps!!
13. Here we discuss: "Let's check in - what agreements did you make so far? Were you able to keep your agreements? What happened if an agreement was not kept? Are there any questions or concerns about our agreements so far?"
14. At this point, I ask everyone to make another agreement. "Before moving on, I'd like to ask you to make another agreement with me and the group. I would like you to agree to speak your truth as we move on through the activity. There might be times when your truth is different than those of other group members - so it might be difficult to speak your truth, but I'm asking you to try. Do you have any questions about what I'm asking? Please give me a thumbs up if you can agree to try and speak your truth."
15. After our new agreement I introduce another object. I ask, "Do you all want to add in another object, all the same rules apply, or do you believe three objects is the best we can do at this time? What is your truth on this?" After some discussion we go to the next Round or decide together to stop and move on to another activity. If the group decides to move on to the next activity, we process our Across Toss experience (see below, Step 17) before moving on.
16. Playing the next Rounds: Rounds continue until the group 'agrees' that they have done the best they can do, at that time, and want to move to another activity. For each Round the rules are the same - when a player has an object (or two) to toss, they make an agreement with a catcher (or catchers). Then, everyone tosses on the word 'toss.' After the first Round the group decides who will count down the toss ("1, 2, 3, toss.") The group makes tosses until they can catch the objects twice in a row OR they decide, during a Round, they have achieved their best effort.
17. Processing Across Toss: After the decided end of the activity, I focused on one area of understanding - making and keeping agreements (the purpose of this specific set up). Even though I did (and will in the future) bring up some other learning moments (like, how we plan to treat each other when a mistake is made and preventing future drops - problem solving), I focused on the one topic for the processing take aways. Here are some of the questions to ask:
(In this section I give you the Why behind what I did for each step.)
1. I like using games spots if I have them - they provide clear information about where to stand when I want to keep this a constant. For Across Toss you don't need game spots.
I chose to use a variety of tossable objects because I like the visual diversity and it provides an opportunity for participants to speak their truth. For example, in this first attempt at Across Toss one of the participants (during Round 4 I think) did ask if someone else would be willing to make an agreement with her tosser because the ball he had was small (stress ball) and hard to catch. To solve this, someone in the group traded objects with the tosser so he could have a larger object - the catcher was then comfortable enough to make an agreement with her tosser. Good Stuff!!
2. The circle with one-arm spacing is good, in my opinion, for tossing-types of activities. Players are not tossing over anyone. I decided if they asked to resize the circle I would let them, but if they ask to change the shape of their formation, I would not let them. In my thinking, I took away some problem-solving options (not an objective I was working on at the time, to focus on the topic of making agreements.
3. Starting with three objects saved some time - we could have started with one object, progressing from there. But I believed the group could handle three at the get-go. In a different situation I would go up to half the group starting out with an object - half are catching, and half are tossing. However, I wanted to have a couple Rounds of practice and confidence building before someone in the group had to both toss and catch. And I included myself in the action because this one seemed easy to observe while playing due to the controlled nature of tosses. I felt confident that I could, toss, catch and observe all at the same time.
4. Here I simply told them about what we would be working on during the activity so they could anticipate (a bit) what they would be talking about (known as frontloading the experience) during and after the experience. This can be considered the 'WHY they are doing this' part of the introduction. Providing some examples jump-starts the brain towards what to expect. I also knew that this middle school age group would understand what an agreement is so I didn't go into defining an agreement - but this could be done if needed.
5. This 'interjection' is considered framing the experience (different from a frontload). Framing is information about the structure of the program - "Throughout the program I'll be asking you to make other agreements..." Using Across Toss to introduce agreements gives us an experience to go back to during the program when we made new agreements or were still keeping our initial agreements. For example, I used this during the high course part of the day, "Remember during Across Toss I asked you to make the agreement to speak your truth, even if it would be difficult to do? Well, I'm still asking you to keep this agreement - to speak your truth about the Leap of Faith. What is your truth?" (A participant was feeling pressured by a friend to climb the pole, but I could tell he really didn't want to. So, I asked him for his truth.) He chose not to climb and instead, chose to be the anchor for the belay team. Again, good stuff!
6. Here I asked them to make their first agreement. I felt it was a reasonable first step - basically asking them to ask questions if they had them. In my experience, this is an easy agreement to make ("Sure I can ask questions."), AND it can be difficult to keep this agreement ("I'll look stupid to others if I ask this question."). This makes for a good processing question - "How many of you had a question or a concern you wanted to voice, but didn't? Why do you think we hold back questions?" A good thread to tease out.
7. This step is about flushing out the directions. I chose to start out saying the countdown ("1, 2, 3, toss.") so I could model this role. NOTE: In my plan, I was prepared to pass on this role to someone in the group - giving the group more responsibility. However, it didn't feel right relinquishing the role with this particular group. As described (Step 7 above), by all means, pass off this role if it feels right to do so.
I didn't (and usually don't) get into super detail with the rules right away, I want to get my groups playing. Playing allows a group the chance to collect some data and then ask better questions.
When talking about drops, I don't spend tons of time here either - I don't make a big deal about it. I did tell my group, "...a drop can be seen as a mistake - so how will we treat each other if this happens." We discuss and move on. Again, my focus for the activity was on making agreements. One of the agreements was to TRY and catch a toss - so, essentially, catching was not required, only a try-to-catch. Now, with that said, could there be some embarrassment around not catching? Yes. But a reminder about making the try is what's important. "Did you try? Awesome. Then you kept your agreement. Now, we get to TRY again - we get more practice. Isn't this great?!"
8. Here I remind everyone I get to play as well - I can make agreements with them. I also share that I will not always get to play because my responsibilities will change depending on what we're doing. But, whenever I can, I'll play. I believe 'playing' with the group provides me with the opportunity to build rapport - be a part of the successes and limitations. We can be in it together. And adults are great resources and very willing to make agreements and show (sharing experience) that it's hard for us as well, to keep agreements all the time. For example.... I share stories about myself so my participants will (hopefully) get the scenes that I'm human, just like them.
9. I believe it's always important to provide the group opportunities to ask questions - and this was an agreement I asked them to make. My process is this - after asking if anyone has any questions, I look at everyone in the circle, making eye contact with each person for about three seconds. I go around twice (the second time a bit faster). This allows time for everyone to think about a question they have and then formulate how they want to phrase their question. I find this process produces more interaction from the group - they are more willing to share if they have a little time to think and decide.
10. Here I'm asking them to make their first agreement with someone in the group. I don't tell them how to do this - I want them to figure this part out. And it's not easy for everyone to 'ask' something of another person. This is part of the learning. If a solid agreement isn't made, there is confusion and drops. So, I let this play out on its own.
11. Now, before we tossed, I asked everyone to confirm who they made an agreement with. I want to hold them accountable for at least Round 1. NOTE: During this initial attempt with Across Toss I did not ask for confirmation in the subsequent Rounds - we saw more drops occur than the first Round. And the group did come to realize that without clear agreement drops were more likely.
Round 1 only needed two tosses - I believe checking in with their agreements helped. We were able to clear up any misunderstandings before tossing. I facilitated the process.
12. We celebrate after the first Round - I celebrated a bit more than they did, they didn't think it was a big deal, yet. And we did take some time to talk about the importance of celebration and what celebrating can do for motivation. Not a ton of time on this, just planting seeds for later.
13. Here we did a little check in to see where we stood. We had two agreements so far - agreeing to speak up if they had questions or concerns and making agreements between a tosser and a catcher. Then we talked, briefly, about how everyone did with their agreements. After the first successful Round with no drops, everyone felt they kept their agreements. We were feeling good.
14. Before moving into the second Round, I introduced the group to a new process in the challenge. I'm telling them, at this particular time, because this is where it's most relevant. I didn't ask them to make this new agreement right away - they didn't need to at the beginning. So, I saved some time in the beginning. I didn't overload them with information. Give what is needed at the onset and add as you go.
At this point they are asked to make another agreement about speaking their truth - even if it's difficult to do. Others might have a different truth. It's about reaching consensus as a group - everyone agreeing to keep going or stop and move on to the next activity.
15. So, when adding one more object to the challenge with each new Round, I asked everyone to speak their truth, whether or not they thought they could be successful - two catches in a row - with another object. Or were they at their best number of objects.
16. In this initial attempt of Across Toss, the group had no issues with adding another object - up to Round 4 where some participants were now tossing and catching objects. There were drops in Rounds 2 and 3, but the group quickly realized their agreements were not always clear, leading to 'mistakes.' they did a good job supporting each other, as well, as they tried again. I facilitated some questions about agreements to help them consider solutions.
During Round 4, there were successful catches, but then failed second attempts. After six failed twice-in-a-row attempts, I asked if this was the best they could do at that time. Some were very vocal about staying the course and trying again, other stepped up and spoke their truth, stating they thought this was good enough and they would like to move on to something new.
After processing a little around the point of 'making agreements' they all felt they got the message and were ready to move on to something else. I stepped in with processing due to the limited time we had with our team building portion of the program. Another choice I can make in the future is to let the group hash out their truths a bit longer to see if they can come to a decision on their own - keep trying or move on.
17. After deciding to move on we processed for about five minutes. Again, only focusing on agreements - this was the main lesson I wanted to take forward with this group because more agreements were ahead. And we were still going to keep our agreements of asking questions and speaking our truth!
Programming Notes: As noted, this was the first time I tried this activity, and it met my expectations - my desired outcome to talk about agreements.
Now, I don't know how far a group can get with this one. We were a group of eight and made it to six objects (to Round 4). That was two people tossing and catching. So, what is possible? This has yet to be determined. Let me know how far you get.
All Catch (original verbatim description) from Karl Rohnke,The Bottomless Bag: The group stands in the jump circle in the center of the gym. Group numbers about 25 and holds 10 balls. When the instructor calls "Throw," all release the balls (volleyball type) up to a height of at least 10 feet. If you throw a ball, you cannot catch a ball. Throws are made only on command. Only catchers have to be in the circle. If a ball touches the floor, it is out of play. When three balls are left, the game is over. Count the number of catches made to establish a score.
Have FUN out there my friends! Keep me posted.
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
(About a 7-minute read. The first volume in this 'Skills and Abilities' series is a slightly updated version of an interview I had with John Losey in 2017 - still relevant today. It was originally posted at the FUNdoing blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuilding to organize content.)
After introduction material for John's Growing People Podcast, he dove right into his main question: What are a few vital skills and abilities good facilitators possess?
Don't Take Things Personally
In my opinion, the most important ability of a team building educator is referenced by don Miguel Ruiz in, The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book - Don't take anything personally.* As a young educator (back in the day), this was not easy - I did take things very personally. I was just trying to help, after all!
Luckily, during my first (real) Adventure Education job my new mentor told me that taking things personally - especially when working with at-risk youth, young people struggling to fit in - influences our decision making. They're going to project, they're going to blame me, they're going to make me the bad guy for 'making' them do things [pushing them out of their comfort zone] they don't want to do.
Yes, I chose to feel horrible. My mentor noticed I was avoiding learning opportunities, not pushing enough. I was avoiding my own discomfort. I was avoiding the hard work that goes into behavior change.
Our job, he said, was to get the kids to do that difficult stuff, to get mad at us, to blame us. Then we could help them understand there are other choices, other ways to respond to discomfort. My mentor's feedback, that moment of learning for me, was very important. It stuck. Not right away, but slowly over time I got better and better at doing the hard work, avoiding my personal suffering.
As we dive into team building [and team development], to really help our participants/students to know and 'get' what they have asked us to learn, we need to be able to create experiences where discomfort is going to show up [this is our job!]. Participants may lash out at us. And yes, it's not pleasant. There is a physiological response - we get knotted up inside. It throws us off our game if we let it. So, the practiced ability is to not take it personally.
Here's an analogy I use to make the point: As educators we are tasked (hired) to provide our groups with a rollercoaster ride [this, of course, does depend on the kind of program a group is looking for]. We are the operators, we don't get on the ride. We are skilled in setting up the ride, buckling them in, and sending them on their way. This ability to separate ourselves from the group's experiences is not easy, but a vital ability. Maintaining objectivity (disconnection) is essential to noticing the behaviors that arise in our groups and then helping them to discover and internalize their learnings.
Concepts and Behaviors
Another ability, or maybe even more of a skill, is for team building educators to understand the difference between a concept and a behavior.
For example, concepts tend to be the typical objectives we get from our clients. They want to work out their challenges with teamwork, communication, trust and/or leadership (to name a few). Specifically, they will tell us they have a hard time communicating with each other, or there is a lack of communication, or they are not listening to each other which is leading to misunderstanding. There is some sort of communication issue. Communication is a concept. What I call a BIG word.
To change, or help mitigate a problem concept, we need to identify the behaviors that make up the concept. Here's the analogy I like to use for this idea: Let's grab a jar of peanut butter. It says PEANUT BUTTER real big on the label. This equates to a concept. It's the name for all the stuff inside the jar - peanuts, sugar, salt, preservatives, etc. In our analogy, the 'stuff' equates to behaviors, the things that make up peanut butter.
So, if a client wants us to work on improving communication, we need to identify the behaviors involved (the stuff) in communication like intonation, body language, eye contact, turn-taking, repeating what was heard (in active listening), use of words and how many words used, along with the kinds of words used.
Identification of behaviors could be done during the pre-assessment (in some cases) or behaviors can be discovered during the program itself. Behaviors are things we can see and hear. When we can point out behaviors within a group, get them to see what they are doing and hear what they saying, we can help them change what isn't working and practice what is.
Understanding the behaviors within a concept also helps us choose (plan) activities we know will bring up these behaviors. When we're asked to work on improving communication, we'll choose the activities we know that involve communication between participants. For example, I'll have my group line up alphabetically using verbal communication versus asking them to line up without talking. I'll require five minutes of planning before an activity instead of letting them jump right into it - I'm 'forcing' some communication so we can process how it goes.
Ultimately, if participants can learn how to see the behaviors within their group and not just say, "We don't communicate well," they can help each other change the specific behaviors that are not working for them. In my experience it's often just one behavior that needs to change in order to reach the outcome desired.
Asking Tough Questions
Being comfortable (and appropriate) asking tough questions is another important skill and ability of a team building educator. It goes back to not taking things personally. When an educator is ready and willing to work with the resistance that may occur, powerful learning can take place from tough questions.
When we're asking questions, we're processing experiences. When I train team builders, I encourage them to find a processing method they are comfortable with - one that can include tough questions. (For example, "I noticed one person in the group did most of the talking throughout the activity, how did this influence the participation of others in the group?") We train on some methods, for example the, What? So What? Now What? and Open to Outcome models. We practice a bit, work on other techniques, and reference even more. I always emphasize that getting comfortable with processing (and asking tough questions) takes time, it's an art. Observe other educators asking questions, get feedback on your processing from experienced team builders, dive into books and online resources for ideas. Mistakes will be made; we'll learn from them and promise to do better next time.
Tough questions don't have to be bad experiences with groups when they are woven into a program with positive intent. On that note, it’s important to find out (e.g., pre-assessment) how 'deep' a group wants to go during a program. Don't take them down a path they are not willing to travel. Bringing up tough questions during a team development program is more common than asking tough questions during a team bonding program. Find out how much work a group is willing to put in and temper your questions to their desired outcomes.
The most important thing to remember is if you're willing to put in the time and effort at developing your skills and abilities as a team building educator, improvement is bound to take place. Be patient. Anything worth attaining takes time.
* The other three agreements shared by Ruiz (very relevant to good educators): Be Implacable with Your Word; Don't Make Assumptions; Always Do Your Best.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
My good friend John Losey shared a piece in one of his recent IntoWisdom monthly newsletters (sign up HERE to follow John's thought provoking work). He let me repost here at OnTeamBuilding - it fits in well with our ongoing conversations. Even though 'novel' (or 'Cool') activities are enticing, John reminds us to keep our focus on the outcomes, the purpose of what the activities are for - to learn and grow together. It's about what happens within the group during the activity. It's not about the activity itself.
Avoiding the Novelty Trap by John Losey
When asked to create a program, course, or event, I get excited. I want to build the most unique and compelling experience possible. Too often, I go directly to inventing something new or novel. Something that nobody has experienced and is uniquely mine.
I avoid things I've done before, even the ones that work, for something novel and original. I want to "Wow" them with something cool.
The pursuit of something "cool" is a dangerous and time-consuming practice. This pursuit of originality can distract me from meeting the client's desired outcomes. I prioritize the novelty and uniqueness of an activity, presentation, or exercise overlooking for the successful things I've done before that are far more likely to be effective.
Stephen Covey's second habit of highly effective people is "begin with the end in mind." I've encountered these words of wisdom in several different forms. "Management by Objective," "Focus on the Outcomes," and "Start your planning by focusing on success."
When I focus on "Wowing" the client with unique and novel programming, I toss out the wisdom of focusing first on the outcomes and objectives.
Instead of clearly defining success and looking for the best approaches to reaching that success, I spend time, energy, and resources building something that may or may not take the program in the right direction. It may be cool, but it may not work.
With a clear understanding of the outcomes, my first step should be to look back on similar successful programs. What have I done before that will take me toward success? Can I use any of these or adapt them to fit into this program? If you've been designing or delivering programs for any amount of time, your experience has created a rich resource of options.
This bank of proven ideas should be the first place you look as you construct a path to success.
You will, most likely, find something that fits or can be adapted. If not, you may want to explore more novel and creative options. You don't have to start from scratch or totally "reinvent the wheel." Can you combine existing ideas or frame existing resources in new ways? Before you post to the internet for ideas, seek out trusted advisors and admired professionals to ask for insights and bouncing ideas off. If you still feel stumped, you may want to turn to social media for as a last resort.
Another option you may want to consider is if you're a good fit for this project. Just because you're asked doesn't mean you should take it. If you are struggling to find successful experiences from your past, you may want to think about who you know might fit better. See if they would be willing to collaborate with you or even take over the project. Referrals offer a great way to build strong professional connections. If you're in over your head, ask for help.
While the allure of creating something completely new and unique can be tempting, it is crucial to approach program, course, or event design with a focus on the desired outcomes and objectives.
By heeding Stephen Covey's wisdom to "begin with the end in mind," we can avoid the pitfalls of chasing novelty at the expense of effectiveness. Instead, we should tap into our wealth of past successful experiences, drawing from a bank of proven ideas and approaches. We can explore more innovative options, seeking insights from trusted advisors and professionals if necessary. Remember, starting from scratch is not always the best path; combining existing ideas or reaching out for collaboration can yield fruitful results. If the project proves overwhelming or outside our expertise, it is wise to consider alternative collaborators or seek help.
We can build strong connections and deliver impactful experiences by prioritizing outcomes and leveraging past successes.
Thank you John. We appreciate the share!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
P.S. Would you like a super-quick update when new OnTeamBuilding content is posted? Just fill out the form below and then click the big blue button. I'll keep you posted.
(About a 24-minute read. This is a migration and updated post. It was initially shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuilding to organize content.)
The What? & Why? Series (more to come), is my attempt to document the things I think about when programming and leading team building activities. (At this time there are three in the series moving over from FUNdoing.)
I've been using Name Cards since teaching middle school. I initially wrote about how I use them in, Portable Teambuilding Activities (as one way to practice and learn names, among other things). I then starting doing team building activities with the Name Cards as a way to get more use from the prop. One of the activities is Name Card Exchange. (Another way is Name Card Scramble, used with groups who already know each other well.)
When I decided to try my hand at writing out my reasoning for the 'things' I think about, Name Card Exchange was my first choice. On one hand it was another way for me to document my thoughts. On the other hand, I was thinking, maybe those of you who train team building facilitators could use this format as a training exercise in the spirit of 'Purposeful Program Design' (a practice I've been flushing out for a few years now).
The idea is to first share 'what' you do - teaching the activity (not revealing 'why' you do it right away). Lead your trainees in a discussion about what they think the activity is about (the why) - the 'purposeful' reasons they might have for leading the activity in the way they were shown. Then reveal your 'why' as one professional's perspective (as we know there's more than one way to peel an orange). Let's give it a try. (Buckle up, this is an epic long-form post. My hope is that you find it worth the ride.)
Name Card Exchange is an activity for a group of 12 to 50 participants middle school age and older. (Younger groups can make it through the basics of this one as well.) I use it to start learning names and introduce the concepts of Team Building and Problem Solving - simple directions and lots to talk about. Typically it lasts about 15 to 20 minutes.
What? - Name Card Exchange
The following will be the 'thinking' behind each step. To reiterate, there can be a wide range of thinking points related to Name Card Exchange depending on a facilitators goals and program outcomes.
Why? - Name Card Exchange
1. As participants are starting to gather, I can introduce myself quickly and ask them to do something for me - creating an opportunity for them to help me out. This is one way to start building a relationship with my group. Most people are used to making name tags, so the task is not new to them - they have prior knowledge. It's a bit different since we are making name "cards" but it's not too much of a stretch. I also provide an example and a simple expectation - "Your first name nice and BIG, like the example on the table." As the leader (or educator) of the program I can take a role of "expectation setter" for the group - often associated with leadership (as a group may see me initially). Participants still have a choice, and some exercise the choice, of not making their name nice and BIG. This might come up later when in the problem-solving mode of the activity. If the name was written with smaller letters, it's a bit more challenging to see the name on the card when others are looking at/for it. If this happens, I can point out that I did share an expectation early on that, as an educator, I thought might help them in the future. Part of my role, I tell them, (as a "teacher" educator) could be to offer up some information that might help during the program. (If you are reacting to me 'helping' my group, keep in mind, as I always say, "there's more than one way to peel an orange!")
2. I like circles. As we know, this formation allows for everyone in the group to see everyone else. It's also the best configuration to share your voice - sound waves move around within a circle much better than any other shape. I also remind everyone to have their name card in hand. There will be people in the group who will want to know what to do with the name card when they get done making it.
3. My participants (no matter what age) will want to know what's going on. I use this time to share a VERY brief introduction and logistical information (e.g., where are the restrooms - ease some anxiety of the environment when possible) - no more than 90 seconds. If you dive into educational theory, "short boughts of instruction" are preferred over long boughts. It's all about keeping attention. Before I move on (to Step 4) I note that we will be doing our first activity in a moment, something that will help them understand, even more, what will be happening.
4. When I change the topic to "challenge by choice" (or whatever you use to inform your group about choice), I get another 90 seconds of my group's attention. I use the example of making the name cards as a reference to some choices - I ask my participants to hold up their cards and look around (this engages some physical activity). Even with the expectation of making their first name nice and BIG, they made choices - I look around at the cards they are holding and point out the different choices made (e.g., color of marker, style of lettering, the position of the name on the card, etc.). In my "choice" presentation, I do ask everyone in the group to "stay" with his/her group in some way. "One of my responsibilities," I tell them, “Is for me to know where everyone is. If you stay with your group, it's easier for me to focus on the other parts of my job so you can have the best experience as possible. So, thanks for helping me with this." (Again, I asked for their "help" - continuing to build my relationship with most of the group - some might not be engaged by my invitation to help me out. Before moving on I do ask if anyone has any questions up to this point - and, of course, provide the answers I can.
5. Again, I change the topic, letting them know we are going to do our first challenge together. Back to educational theory, I'm providing a brief "anticipatory set" (information) about what's to come. In adventure education we often call this "front loading". I want my group to know that what we're doing next is like what we'll be doing together for the program. Now, I don't say much here, I want to get my group moving by this time. [Note: We're only about five minutes into the program.]
6. In this step I emphasize that there will be times when we have to do some "skill development" before moving into an activity - "we'll need some particular skills to increase our chances of success." "For some of you, the skills might be easy to pick up, for others the skills might not be easy - they might be a challenge to work through. That's part of why we're here - to work through the challenges we'll be facing together." I want my group to know that there will be some unknown ahead and we're here to support each other. Before I move into Step 7, I remind my group of the perfect circle expectation, that they cannot move until I say "perfect circle". This is often forgotten when additional information is provided after directions are given - it's just how the brain works.
7. I've moved to a location in the activity space that allows for the same size circle to be formed (I don't need to add a challenge here of adapting to a smaller space - not the purpose for the activity), THEN I say, "perfect circle." Again, I don't say anything else. I stay quiet (maybe look at them a bit with "questioning" body language), so the group has the opportunity to figure out what's next. I want to start transferring the "power" of decision making over to the group. At first, most (if not all) groups will look to the main facilitator (the person who often talks first) to lead the way. In our team building programs, we want the group to lead the way - right? So, again, I want them to start problem solving together. Every time I do this, no matter what age, at least one person will take an initiative to try something.
8. Once the circle is formed (so far, for me, it always gets there), I ask if anyone has questions about forming the Perfect Circle. I ask at this point, and not during Step 6, because I want the questions to come from experience and not speculation, and I want them to get moving. Then I add the new rule to the Perfect Circle. As often as I can, I like to provide directions in increments. When I can first anchor, with some action, one (or two) direction(s) it's easier for the brain to take in new information. Note: I added the, "I can only call perfect circle" after one of my groups decided to "overuse" the term - you know what I'm talking about.
9. Then, another call to action. This second attempt is always better (time and process) than the first. At this point I ask them how they're doing. I let my group know I will be asking this question throughout the program. I want to know how things are going for them. I tell them, “This helps me to know where to take you next - I want to give you good challenges, not overdo it." (You noticed, I asked for their help again - building my relationship with them.) With a little "group" experience under their belt, questions are easier to "see". This is the time where I often tell my group, "Questions are free today. So, ask away. Now, it's not my role to solve 'problems' that come up, that's your job. But don't be afraid to ask, clarification might lead to solving a problem." With this information I let my group know a little bit more about my role and "officially" let them know it's their job to problem solve - a point I then get to reiterate during the program.
10. One more call to action - usually fast this time. This physical action anchors some of the information we just talked about and opens the brain back up for the new information in Step 11. Some of you might not agree with my choice to congratulate my group. However, I believe "validation" is a good thing - validation is another way to build relationship. I am specific. I say something like, "excellent perfect circle - everyone is where they need to be." Or, I might say, "WOW, that was fast! Good job. As we move forward, this might be important." Again, Educational Theorists will say specific feedback can be internalized better. Then, I let my group know we have one more thing to learn before we play the game. This adds to the anticipation about what's to come.
11. Here I teach the Blind Shuffle - the first part of Name Card Return. I call it "skill development" because I'm pretty sure everyone is about to do something they've never done before (unless they have been in a team building program with me before). So, "when learning something new we want to be nice to each other and ourselves - this might be very important to remember as we work together today." When I teach the Blind Shuffle, I let my group know that "part of the challenge" is not to look at their cards before I say "GO!" I set the expectation and tell them how it fits into the activity. I also let them know that if they "accidentally" look at their card after they stop moving, simply exchange it with someone. This lets my group know (or starts to anyway), that sometimes we'll do something we're asked NOT to do. "It's important to do our best, if we can, but know that mistakes are part of learning. Most mistakes are not done on purpose. The idea here is to recognize our mistakes and do something about it" - in this case, I've given my group the opportunity to fix the mistake - exchange cards with someone near them. Then we can move on - enough said. I also provide some time to clarify the expectation of "stopping" after exchanging with five different people. This is confusing for some people - somethings I give an example. I walk around the group, exchange with five different people (while everyone is watching me) and then stop. (I know this might sound silly, but it happens every time. Some get it. Some don't.) And I make sure they understand they can continue to exchange cards with others even if they have stopped moving. I tell them they are "helping" others finish up their exchanges. (This information is also difficult for some people to understand - they believe they must stop everything they are doing).
12. When I see everyone has stopped moving, I give them one more opportunity to exchange name cards with someone if they accidentally peeked at the name on their card. Again, my purpose is to start/continue building a safe learning environment. Now, of course some people will not "admit" they peeked because of prior "shamed" experiences. If anyone does make an exchange, I'm sure to thank them for doing so. I don't make a big deal out of it (like, "thanks for having integrity" - this qualification takes you down another relationship path), I simply say, "Thank you."
13. In this Step I've shared the directions to Name Card Exchange. This activity is what I consider to be an introductory challenge. It has only two parts (or, you might say, rules) - return the card to the person it belongs to and form a perfect circle in relation to where I'm standing. I also tell my group that the process will be evaluated by time. I then share that during the program there may be this or other types of evaluation processes. Here I open the floor to questions about the expectations. At this time, I don't bring up anything more about "evaluation" unless they do. And if they do, I'll ask them, "at this time, please hold that thought. I would love to bring this up again in a little bit." In most cases we can forego this conversation. If needed, open up talks. So, once the group understands they will be timed, as you can imagine, the energy begins to change. There's something on the line. For some it's exciting, for others, not so much. (All good things that can come up during the program.) Here again I'll say, "Questions are free. does anyone need help understanding what's about to happen?" It's also good to note here that I don't ask the group if they want some time to talk amongst themselves before this first attempt. I want to give them an experience, get them moving, give them something to talk about. When it seems like the time...
14. Once I say "GO!", I first start the time - DON"T FORGET THIS PART! (You know why!) I usually don't know many of the names of my group members yet, so I use, what I consider to be, a helpful behavior. I start calling out the name of the person on my card. By doing this, maybe I'm role modeling a positive behavior and maybe I'm continuing to build my relationship with the group - now, that is if anyone notices. (Here's the counter point. What do they notice if I'm standing off to the side? I like to "play" at first and then slowly step back.) As soon as I can hand off the name card I have I move to a place outside the clump of players who have often mobbed together in the center area of the original circle. At some point between handing off the card I had and stopping the time, someone has found me and returned my name card. Since I am part of the solution, I choose to move to my Perfect Circle spot instead of looking for my name card. I don't say anything during the "return" and "circle up" action. I just wait for movement to stop - then I stop the time. (Sometimes movement might start up again when players realize something is not right. I simply restart my stopwatch and stop it again when movement stops.
15. I purposefully hold back sharing the time with the group until after I find out how they believe they did, and if they thought they were successful. This sense is more related to a "process" evaluation of how a task is done rather than the "product" evaluation of time. When I hear different answers about how they thought they did I like to point out that, "We will have differences of opinion during the program - this is part of being a diverse group of people." Often we talk about this for a while and why diversity can be a good thing and even why diversity could be a bad thing. Before sharing the time, I also like to share other responsibilities that I have, '...provide activities that will challenge you and ask questions..." Again, letting my group know what they can expect of me is another way to build my relationship with them. Throughout the program I will often refer to what I've told them about my responsibilities in order to curb any false expectations that might be showing up. Note: This step only takes a few minutes - I want to keep them in "action" mode but engage the mind a bit.
16. At this point, after our quick discussions, I share the time achieved and ask if this is the best they can do? Be mindful here of your voice intonation. I keep my voice neutral; I don't use my voice to imply that they can do better. The way we ask questions can be just as powerful as the question itself. In research interviewing terms, we don't want to "lead" the interviewee (group) into an answer we want to hear - we want to be as neutral as possible. Since it was only the first attempt at the activity most of the groups I've worked with believe they can do better. They want to try again. Now, be ready for one or more participants ready to voice their desire to move on. They, for any number of reasons, what to do something else. If this happens you have a wonderful opportunity to talk about, "How do we move forward when we don't have a consensus within the group?" Now, again, I don't spend too much time here at the beginning of a program to teach about consensus building or compromising. I like to put this on the group - what ideas do they have for moving forward? At this point I've done one of two things so far. I've asked those who do not want to try again if it would be okay with them if we could try again to see how it goes. This usually is okay with them. I've also proposed that it is perfectly okay to choose not to try again - those who do not want to try can step out to the side and observe the process and offer feedback during the discussion. This is an example of offering choice. However, I have yet to have any takers on this option. Think about it, what kind of choice is it? Most people will not choose to step away from the "safety" of the group even if they don't want to do what everyone else is doing. They will choose to stay with the group. (Now, if anyone decides to step out before the next round, ask everyone to look at their name card. The player(s) stepping out switch cards with the player(s) who have their card. Then, cards are turned back face down before the shuffle. Also, the perfect circle will include empty spaces left open by those who have stepped out - it works just fine.)
17. Before we begin the process of Name Card Return (and any activity in the future), I ask the group if they are "ready" to start the process again? The Ready Check is meant to "suggest" they can take time to talk about the activity - do some problem solving and planning. I don't tell them at this point what I'm suggesting. I want to see if anyone steps up and says, "No, we're not ready yet." Sometimes players will ask, "Can we talk a little before we start?" The answer is always, "Of course!" (Note: Be prepared for ready check responses from participants that might sound a bit rude - some "reactions" from the group/individuals come across in different ways. All good things to talk about.) In most cases, my group will tell me they are ready to try again without any discussion.
18. Here we start the process again with the Blind Shuffle. I simply repeat the directions again - "Exchange cards with five different people, then stop moving." Sometimes, I also need to remind the group that this shuffle part is not timed - some players tend to jump to this assumption, creating an environment that's not necessary. Another nice discussion topic if the behaviors show up.
19. After movement stops and before time starts, I invite them to change cards with someone near them if they happened to peek at the card they are holding. I assure them that, "there is no penalty - it's just part of the challenge not to know what card you are holding." I what my group to know, again, that mistakes will be made from time-to-time. It's our responsibility to learn from them and do something about them if needed. (This is working on the "safe" environment aspect of the program.)
20. Here I start the second attempt of Name Card Return. (Don't forget to start the time once you say, "GO!") I personally follow the same steps from the first attempt - I want to stay consistent with my process. I hold up my card, showing the name on it to the crowd as I call out the name of the person on the card I'm holding. Once I get this card back to the person it belongs to, I find a new place to stand on the outskirts of the crowd. Once I'm at my new spot I look for the player with my card - the player looking for me. Once I take back my card, I quietly watch the group finish up their card returning and movement into the perfect circle. When movement stops, I stop the timer. Here I (still) quietly wait just a bit to see if anyone recognizes anyone out of order. If movement resumes, I start the time again. When everyone believes we are all in the correct place, time is stopped.
21. Again, I ask the "How did you do?" questions, keeping the process consistent for the group - they begin to know what to expect from me at this point, in this process. Hopefully, we begin to feel a bit more comfortable with each other and more participants share in the discussion. At this point my group realizes I will not "call" on people or expect any answers to the questions proposed - there is a degree of safety and freedom to participate. This tends to make people more comfortable and willing to share. After some brief sharing I tell them the second time they achieved.
22. When the group finds out their second time, we will discuss their reaction to a better time or their reaction to a slower time. During either of these discussions, I let my group know that we will be experiencing these possible outcomes during the program. Then we might talk a bit more about how we might use these experiences throughout the program - "What can they teach us?" Then again, I ask the group if this is the best they can do? If they agree it's their best, we can recap the process and how it relates to the program ahead. Then move forward into the program.
23. If they choose to go for another attempt, I let them know we have time for one more try. Since we are still just getting started, I don't provide endless attempts - I want them to get into the program. This "last attempt" information tends to motive more problem-solving behaviors. At this stage of the process, I change the way I suggest the Ready Check. I say, "Let me know when you are ready to start your final attempt." Putting it this way often leads them into the idea that they have space to talk about the activity. If someone in the group speaks up right away and says, "We ready!" I will ask everyone, "So, is everyone ready to begin?" This provides another opening for someone to step up and ask for time to talk.
24. I call out the Blind Shuffle here - reminding the group of the procedure. Again, being consistent, telling them the same information about the shuffle as before. I don't want to introduce the "concept" of change at this point in the program. Change behaviors might be part of the program later, but this beginning is about an introduction to the program not behavior awareness or working on any of their other objectives. Once the group knows more about the structure of the process it will be easier for them to focus on the specific reasons for their participation in the program. (This is related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - basic needs met before any complex learning can take place.)
25. After everyone has stopped moving and any final exchanges are made, I do add one more ready check. This opens one more chance for the group to do any last moment problem solving. Be sure to let them know, they cannot move until "GO!" is called (part of the rules) - some players might consider solving a problem by moving before "GO!" is called. On another note, there have been times, for me, when groups have determined my movement is a "problem" to solve. Some have asked me to tell them where I'm going. Others have asked me to stay right where I'm standing so they know where I am. In either case I honor their request. This brings up a little discussion about another role I can take within the group. There are times when I can be a resource. As noted earlier - there are certain questions I might not answer, but in many cases I can be a resource. Interestingly enough, educators are often overlooked as resources in the learning process (don't get me started). So, when the group is determined and ready, I say, "GO!" and follow my same card return, move, and look for my card procedure - unless I was asked to do something different. Once all the movement stops, I stop the timer.
26. As before I ask how they did before I share their time. Since it was the final attempt, I might spend a little more focused time here on the discussion points. I might also bring up some of the specific goals the group is here to work through and how they will fit into the activities ahead.
27. Before closing I'll do a little review of the program points - reiterating what the group can expect in the time ahead. Before answering any questions, they have (the final point), I bring up the concept of challenge by choice, so, moving forward they have this at the forefront of their mind.
28. Finally, I remind the group that, "Questions are free." I make sure to spend some time answering any questions they have - if I can. I have been known to ask participants to, "Hold that thought - I'll be asking you to bring this up again soon." In this situation, I know we'll be covering the answers to certain questions soon - I'm waiting for a more "experiential" moment to provide new information.
Yes. A long journey. Was there value in it for you?
I'm going to guess, most of us simply move through our programming efforts using our historical knowledge about what works and what doesn't, from one group to the next (I certainly do, most of the time). This What? & Why? practice is not for everyone. But what if we did it more often? What if we talked out the thinking? Would our programming be better? Would our facilitation bring about more meaning? I wonder.
If you decide to try a What? & Why? I would love to see it. And would be happy to discuss it with you. Drop me an email.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
P.S. Would you like a super-quick update when new OnTeamBuilding content is posted? Just fill out the form below and then click the big blue button. I'll keep you posted.
(About a 5-minute read.)
If you are anywhere near social media I'll assume you heard about the AI wave and how we can "chat" with it to explore topics and concepts. I didn't dive into it like some other team builder friends did to explore how we can enhance our work by chatting with AI until one of them said to me, "the idea is to start a conversation, chat with it - it's fun." Well, if something's FUN... I trust the source, so I spend a little time having some fun. Here is one of my chats with ChatGPT (from Open AI - the free version has worked well for me).
I've been using quotes in my programming for a while and recently I've been running into the idea of 'Thought Experiments' and thought, "can quotes be used as Thought Experiments?" So I went in for a chat with AI that you'll find below.
NOTE: Now that you know AI is providing information to this post, what are you thinking about? Resistant? Curious? Do I, as the 'prompter,' have any value in the conversation? Will the information be more or less credible? Will you be more or less prone to use the ideas shared by the AI? Would you consider this: AI is pulling from information that has been contributed by 'humans' in an ever-growing digital ecosystem - are AI responses less or more valid?
Quotes as Thought Experiments (the Chat with an AI)
Chris: What is a Thought Experiment?
Chat: A thought experiment is a mental exercise, or an imaginary scenario used to explore and illustrate a particular concept or hypothesis. It involves the use of the imagination to visualize a situation, and then examining the consequences that arise from it, without actually physically carrying out the experiment.
Thought experiments are often used in philosophy, physics, mathematics, and other disciplines to explore the implications of a particular idea or theory. They allow for the testing of different hypotheses, the exploration of alternative possibilities, and the clarification of complex concepts.
[Note from Chris - sounds like what we do as team builders, but we experiment with the thoughts.]
Chris: Give me five bullet points on the benefits of thought experiments.
Chat: Certainly! Here are five potential benefits of thought experiments:
1. Promoting Creativity: Thought experiments can help individuals generate new ideas, perspectives, and approaches to problem-solving by challenging conventional thinking and assumptions.
2. Testing Hypotheses: Thought experiments allow individuals to explore the consequences of different hypotheses or theories without having to perform physical experiments. This can be especially useful in fields where it is difficult or impossible to conduct experiments in real life, such as in astrophysics.
3. Clarifying Concepts: Thought experiments can help to clarify complex concepts by presenting them in a simplified, concrete scenario that can be more easily understood and analyzed.
4. Encouraging Reflection: Thought experiments often require individuals to reflect on their own values, beliefs, and assumptions, leading to a deeper understanding of themselves and their worldviews.
5. Enriching Discussions: Thought experiments can be used to spark engaging and thought-provoking discussions in group settings, encouraging individuals to share and explore different perspectives and ideas.
Chris: Give me five quotes on leadership that could be used as thought experiments.
Chat: Certainly! Here are five potential quotes on leadership that could be used as thought experiments:
1. "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." - John C. Maxwell
Thought experiment: Imagine a leader who knows the way but fails to go the way or show the way. What are the consequences of such leadership?
2. "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams
Thought experiment: Imagine a leader who inspires others but fails to follow through on their own actions. What impact does this have on the motivation and performance of their team?
3. "The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." - Ralph Nader
Thought experiment: Imagine a leader who prioritizes the development of their team members, rather than focusing solely on their own accomplishments. What benefits might this have for the team and the organization as a whole?
4. "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." - Ronald Reagan
Thought experiment: Imagine a leader who achieves great success on their own but fails to engage and inspire their team. How does this impact the sustainability and longevity of their success?
5. "Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge." - Simon Sinek
Thought experiment: Imagine a leader who prioritizes their own interests or ego, rather than the well-being and development of their team. How does this impact trust, loyalty, and performance within the team?
What are you thinking about chatting with AI now? (Any changes from your initial thoughts?)
We'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave us a Comment.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
P.S. Would you like a super-quick update when new OnTeamBuilding content is posted? Just fill out the form below and then click the big blue button. I'll keep you posted.
(About a 5-minute read.)
If you've been around the team building world I'm sure you've used various thumb gauges. A simple 'thumbs up' gets a lot of use (hopefully more than the thumbs down). I frequently use (and share) two thumb gauges with my groups - they are TOOLS to transmit information quickly. One is Thumb Voting and the other is the Thumbometer.
I learned Thumb Voting from my friend Tom Leahy. He uses it as a 'Consensus-Building' tool. When faced with a decision where consensus is desired (meaning everyone agrees to something at some level), groups can use this tool to quickly see everyone’s position on a proposed decision.
For example: A group works together before a particular challenge to come up with a plan. When a plan seems to be formulated, someone verbalizes the plan to all group members. Then (knowing about the Thumb Vote tool), they take a Thump Vote - everyone votes at the same time with one thumb so everyone can see.
A thumbs up indicates the person understands the plan and is ready to support the plan. A thumb to the side means the person may not be completely clear about the plan but is ready and willing to do their part and figure out how to help as they go. A thumbs down indicates the person needs some clarity about the plan in order to understand what's going to happen and how they can be a part of the group's success. In other words, this person has a question (or two) about the plan.
(Note: I use this tool with groups who possess some average communication skills - willing to let everyone share information and willing to listen to each other. If used too early, Thumb Voting can be used by someone to hold the group 'hostage' by using a thumbs down vote to indicate they don't like the plan and they want their own plan put in place.)
In most cases, Thumb Voting is a quick way to 'see' who has questions and then answer the questions in a way to help the group move forward. Using our example above, after someone asks a question the plan might change. Then another Thumb Vote is needed to see if everyone is on board, at some level of consensus, before implementing the plan.
The Thumbometer tool is used to gauge how much someone liked (or likes) something or how much someone valued (or values) something. After I show my participants what the Thumbometer scale is ("10" is a thumbs up, "0" is thumbs down, and the other numbers in between) here are some questions I might ask using the Thumbometer:
On a scale of Zero to 10, 10 being the highest score...
As a way to enhance understanding and group improvement you can follow up with this question: If you're not at a 10, what would you like to see from the group in order to bump your score up one point? We find out where people are at and then determine where they want to go.
Thumb Gauges are quick ways you and your group can check in with each other in order to determine next steps.
What other Thumb Gauges are out there? Leave us a Comment below.
I could use your help spreading the knowledge. If you know someone who could benefit from OnTeamBuilding information, please forward them this email. Thank You!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
P.S. Would you like a super-quick update when new OnTeamBuilding content is posted? Just fill out the form below and then click the big blue button. I'll keep you posted.
(About a 15-minute read. This is a migration and updated post. It was first shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuidling in an effort to organize content. Thanks for being here!)
The following conversation about muting participants was initiated by my friend (and fellow team builder), Floyd. He is a deep thinker so I love picking his brain.
Floyd: I'd like to take some time and delve deeper into a topic I've been thinking about and see if I can't get some thoughts from more experienced folks I trust and respect. It is about muting people who speak the most or the loudest in a community. If you are up to it, I would love to get your input.
Often when I see facilitators muting individuals it is with hope that the people who don't speak up as much will have their voices heard by the folks that talk a lot, and the ones who talk a lot will develop skills in listening and communicating in new ways. Do you have thoughts on this topic, or ways you have used it as a tool?
Chris: Thanks for reaching out Floyd! First, I agree with your initial assertion. I too believe, in most cases, people are muted by the facilitator with the "hope that the people who don't speak up as much will have their voices heard by folks that talk a lot." (I wonder, where a group would be if they muted the talk-to-muchers? And what would this look like in a safe environment?)
So, we both agree that the hope is others will speak up. Now, as we ultimately find out, muting someone (or more than someone), does not guarantee others will speak up. (We could start with the whole extrovert/introvert dynamics here as just one reason why.) So, as an educative practice, it's not the best tool to use to get others to speak up more. However, when you are newer to facilitation muting can be an introductory tool. And, you never know. I'm sure there are success stories after implementing the basic mute. To this day, I still threaten to mute when it seems like a "heads up" might nudge the group (or particular person) into a way of behaving (e.g., listening more). I will say something like this:
"You know Steve, I noticing the muting bees have started circling you. They are attracted to a lot of sentences strung together by one person. If you happened to get stung by one of these bees I'll let you know. The bee toxin will swell up your vocal cords for a certain amount of time. I would hate for this to happen - just wanted you to know."
Most of the time this light-hearted information gets the point across in that moment.
Let's go to the second assertion you mentioned, "...and the ones who talk a lot will develop skills in listening and communicating in new ways." Here's my reaction to this. If someone is talking so much that you must mute them so that others in the group can get some space to talk, it is "inconceivable" (to quote my favorite movie) that this person will make the leap to changing their behavior to be a better listener or communicator. It is more likely, when muted (if they stay muted) that they are simply formulating and rehearsing what they will say when they get the chance to talk again.
Now, my response (after some thinking) to this assertion. If a facilitator uses the muting tool, on purpose, to encourage better listening and better communication behaviors it would be educationally prudent to frontload the expectation. Here's what I would say: "If I end up muting you during the activity, meaning you cannot talk, it does not mean you did anything wrong. It simply means I would like you to turn on your listening behaviors and soak up the information that fills the room while you're muted. Combine the information you hear with the information you have in your head about the situation. Blend this up and see what you get. When you are ready to jump in and verbally share with the group again, go right ahead."
I see this way of muting as specifically inviting someone to experience a particular behavior - listening - at a specific time. Also, when I use this tool I don't use it only with the over-talkers. I use it with different people over a progression of activities. Then, we have another talking point to bring up during the processing experience. "What was it like for you going into listening mode after I muted you? Was there any benefit to you or the group when you went into listening mode?"
Why do I mute in this way? When I share my process and say you have done nothing wrong, it (tends) to reduce the defensiveness from participants. They are not embarrassed after being muted (in most cases!) it is simply a part of the experience. The group knows someone in the group is practicing a particular behavior and are often very supportive. As an educator, I want to encourage (and sometimes require) a certain behavior, letting the student practice to see how it works for them.
Floyd: Thanks for getting back to me Chris! First, to answer some of your questions, I am a long-time user (abuser) of the mute tool. A few years ago, however, I was placed in a position in a group where I was the only one not muted. This was a facilitator training at a course in the Midwest I had no experience with, but training as a contractor. The lead facilitator knew I had a lot of facilitation experience. The rest of the community I was working with knew each other (worked together in a residential treatment facility), but were unaware of my experience. As the day progressed, I realized that the lead was using a lot of "one right answer" methods and activities but, instead of encouraging an answer collaboratively devised by the community, he kept looking for me to "speak up" and solve the challenge. Finally as the group was working to come up with [their] answer to an activity, he muted everyone except me and expected that I would then bring the group to a good answer. This on-the-spot feeling has since then challenged my philosophy on its use.
Currently I use muting in a general way. I offer it as the consequence for stepping in the muting river, or as the theme of one of the islands on a triangle tension traverse, or use a half-blind half-mute twist to a challenge adding some unique dynamics. I have, however, stopped using muting on the loud ones. My hope with discontinuing the practice is that I can come up with something that offers groups some tools when they leave. I have come close to something I like, but it certainly needs to be refined. That is, I use an activity as a sort of pathways or grid. We get to the initiative and I will introduce safety concerns that must be addressed during the challenge, but it is up to the group to figure out how to complete the challenge, and by the end, they know all or as many of the rules of the activity as they can figure out.
As they experiment with things I will let them know when they have done something outside of the rules of play. So far I have had some good success with this and have noticed that the [talkers] might start out speaking loudly, but when the rules are nothing like they expected, they have to rely on listening to other people for ideas to experiment with, and as the community starts running out of solutions they then find themselves asking the quiet ones to speak up. As an introvert myself, I’ve noticed this invitation from my peers is often what motivates us [me] to share ideas. These ideas might still not be the solution, but everyone sharing and being heard, and everyone experimenting with ideas always gets people further. Again, needs to be refined, but something I am using in place of the mute.
Much more to the point, I stopped using the mute because I feel communities are performing at a level they reached through storming and norming in their every-day environment in one way or another. When I mute a person I feel like your description is exactly what happens. That person is not likely to spend time listening (if they stay muted at all), but instead, will be trying to figure out what to say when they get a chance, or how to communicate their idea above all else happening in the group anyway. When they go back to their community environment, the loud ones will continue to be loud and heard, the ones with perceived power will continue to have the perceived power, and the quiet ones will continue to keep their ideas to themselves.
This takes me back to my years working with kids. We would take kids out of the pool to teach them lessons about behaving in the pool. In my experience, I have not seen either strategy work. It is not my responsibility as an educator to remove the challenges or to remove members from the challenge while I'm working with communities. My responsibility is to help the community identify problem areas occurring in their community, and then work with them to come up with actionable solutions they can use back in their own environment.
I agree with you that muting can be a tool for new educators. My hope for these types of tools for facilitators is just as everything with facilitation; That they will be considered often, and from other points of view. (Today I may not like using the mute, but in conversations with others I am shown that it is a useful tool when we know why and how to use it).
I used to work with a fellow that challenged me daily to know why I did what I did, how it affected the group, if the group walked away with the outcomes they were looking for and then some, and to find new ways to interact with groups and initiatives. This has been paramount to my growth as a facilitator. While I know this is the environment with many experiential programs, I know, and have worked in those situations, where those early tools just become the rule, and no one really knows why.
I like your ideas about offering muting and listening as tools to the group. I want to write "LISTEN" on a polyspot, and frontload it at the beginning of the day:
"If anyone is feeling like they are talking too much, or if anyone has been unable to hear the rest of the community, you are welcome to stand on this LISTENING spot for as long as it takes to reach the goal you are looking for. If, as a member of this community, you need to support someone else by encouraging them to use the listening spot for some reason, please feel free to offer this resource."
Likewise, if someone is feeling like they aren't being heard, or feel like someone's idea isn't being heard, this spot can be used here as well. The person can use the resource as a way of getting the attention of the group to share their ideas. While in the experience you can then process through why a community would need such a resource, and what this resource could look like back in the community environment. Man, I really like the LISTENING spot! I can see so many opportunities for communities to take advantage of this.
I fear I have grown long winded here, and running all these sentences together may be causing the muting bees to get to buzzing!
Thanks again for your time!
(Chris here...) What a journey! Floyd loves to build dendrites. Where do you sit with the idea of muting? How have your experiences been with this tool? Leave us a Comment below.
All the best,
Chris & Floyd
Podcast Listeners, interested in the topic of consequences? Check out Using Consequences During Team Building Activities at the "Ask Michelle & Chris About Team Building" podcast. Want to build more dendrites with Floyd, listen to my OnTeamBuilding Podcast Interview with Floyd.
(About an 18-minute read)
Are there benefits to 'long-form' team building activities?
If you've been around the OnTeamBuilding (ideas) and FUNdoing (activities) for a while, you know I like to take deep dives into ideas and activities. Over the last two years in particular I've been encouraging team builders to revisit the concept of 'less is more' and to consider a Stoic practice of 'do less better.' Think about these two ideas for just a moment. What do they mean to you? Less is more. Do less better.
I know, and have lived the argument, that if we do a lot of activities we have done a lot and can justify our time together with our clients - we gave them 'a lot' for their money. (Have you ever been in that position where you want to get that "one more" activity in and then you run out of time to reflect over the program in a meaningful way? So then it's, "Oh, we have time for the 'One Word' Whip." I've been there. I've done the Whip. And what did I miss? What did my clients miss?)
I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this? Before we continue the exploration, let me frame my thinking about activity 'form' (in other words, the length of time it usually takes to go through an activity). I've recently begun using the terms 'long-form,' 'short-form,' and 'mid-form' activities when talking about program design with team builders (it sounds more methodological). Long- and short-form are common terms in journalism, blogging and publishing. Mid-form I made up to designate an amount of time between long and short. In my mental model, short-form activities take 10 to 15 minutes (e.g., energizers and warm ups). Mid-form activities take 20 to 50 minutes. And long-form activities can take 60 minutes or more.
As I mentioned above, we are very familiar with short-form and mid-form activities. We like 'changing it up' to keep everyone's attention and meet different learning styles and 'kinds of smarts' - the more we change it, the more people we can connect with - so the argument goes. And it's a good argument. And it works. And what else can we do? I'm suggesting here, more long-form programming.
How about an example? I invited my friend and colleague Bill (Ph.D.) into my "College is an Adventure" course when I was teaching in higher ed. (The course was for college freshman - I taught college success strategies using team building activities.) I heard about his multiple-session "Swing-To" activity and wanted to learn how to facilitate it. He joined us for three 50-minute class periods and it was well worth the time. The experience was, without a doubt, a genuine example (metaphorically speaking) of getting through college.
The Swing-To is a version of 'Prouty's Landing' - a swinging rope to a platform activity. Bill used Hula-Hoops as safe landing areas and the apex of our swinging rope was about 25 feet high which gave us a lot of room to swing. The goal was the same for each of his three meetings, "Get everyone into a hoop. Each hoop needed at least one person in it." The only way to get into a hoop was to swing.
The insights these students had and the connections/transfers they made to life as a college student was exactly why Bill designed Swing To. And designing it to take a long time was on purpose. It takes a while to 'get it' - challenges in life are not always in short-form. It's good to practice for the long-form challenges every now and then.
I left out a number of the finer details of the activity, but I hope you can see my intent. Over those three classes, think about the 'obstacles' the students had to navigate. Just like college. Think about how they evolved into a group to achieve more success on one particular goal. How does this relate to college? (It's much harder to do it alone.) What are all the things they had to overcome. What was ahead of them, what did they need to overcome throughout their years in college. How long does it take to 'see' and 'feel' what's possible? Can we help our learners practice what it takes? Which leads me to my current interest in long-form team (human) building activities.
Concepts we can dive into with long-form activities:
Long-Form Activity Ideas:
I'd love to add more activities to my long-form list - what do you/would you do in long-form? Please share in the Comments.
If you made it this far, you just experienced a long-form blog post. Worth it? Waist of time? Benefits? Drawbacks? Did it make you think or roll your eyes? Both? Needed? For what?
Keep doing the good work out there!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
(About a 10-minute read. This is a migration and updated post. It was first shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuidling in an effort to organize content. Thanks for being here!)
Fast Ball is published in, Portable Teambuilding Activities (Cavert, 2015). (I've also posted the full description at the FUNdoing Blog site.) It's a challenging "mental model" activity where groups initially define (via Groupthink) a word (or direction) in one way and in order to be more successful they need to redefine something to break through a barrier or problem. (One of the strategies to innovate is to redefine something you believe is true in order to discover a more beneficial solution.)
After using this activity a few times, Jeremy, a fellow FUN Follower (and good friend) wrote me, asking:
I have a question for you about the game Fastball. I have facilitated this activity mostly with college and adult groups and it does tend to take a while 30 min – 1 hr. for groups to complete. When the group finally gets it and is able to complete the challenge, there has been a common reaction of great let down and almost the look from participants like “You tricked us”. How have you led this activity so that it does not take so long that group members check out or become so frustrated by the end? It doesn’t bother me to frustrate a group or to raise the tension, but I’ve found it hard to bring the processing back around and be productive because the group is just done with it.
Early on in my team building career, I struggled with this same issue when learning about and working with activities like Fast Ball. (Group Juggle to Warp Speed comes to mind - you create a tossing "order" standing in a circle but remaining in a circle is not a rule - forming a line in the same tossing order can lead to a faster time.)
I tend to lead activities like this with adult groups (college age or older) in one of three ways:
1) When I have time (like Jeremy) I let the activity play out until the shift is made. And, as Jeremy found out, it can take up to an hour. I have experienced group reactions of success and powerful learnings, and frustration and projected blame on me, their facilitator. (Lots to talk about in both situations.)
There have been times during the 'blaming' reaction where the group felt tricked and it was difficult to get them to focus back on any learnings that could be surfaced. These groups were not ready to see the learning(s) underneath the challenge. I'm sure I did my best, at the time, to move forward, but these (or any) reactions cannot be predicted. We do the best we can to program activities that will meet the objectives of our groups.
(Here is another interesting topic to explore at another time: What are some strategies to bring a group "back" from a "negative" experience?)
2) Here is the way I lead Fast Ball most of the time (mostly because I don't have the time to let this play out). I frontload the activity with some information that might move the group to the shift in thinking quicker. I tell them:
"On the surface, this activity might seem relatively easy to accomplish. And it could be. You might "get it" right away. However, I've seen a lot of groups struggle with this one for one reason or another. The activity is designed to make you think. Remember, when approaching a challenge or task be mindful of the "problems" you encounter. Solve one problem at a time and keep moving. If you reach an impasse see this as an opportunity to be creative and innovative. I will hold you accountable to the rules and you are free to clarify my expectations about them at any time."
After this frontload I let them play. I usually will remind them of some of the points in the frontload when they seem to be "stuck" - but for the most part, groups will make the shift and produce their fastest time within 30 minutes.
3) When I program experiences involving objectives related to mental models, paradigms, phantom rules, or simply making assumptions, I will use Fast Ball as one experience of many, to touch on the learning points. I will move into the "Educator as Teacher" role from time-to-time. I will ask more pointed questions like:
Depending on your experiential philosophy, asking these types of questions will not be your preference. As I've learned, there are a wide range of tools we can use, as educators, to reach our objectives (i.e., the objectives you have for the group or the objectives a group brings with them), other than giving a group the answers (there is less experiential learning in this method, but it could serve a purpose from time-to-time). However, I don't want to limit the tools at my disposal.
Again, if I choose to point the group in a direction with Fast Ball (or another other mental model activity), it is by design. I've planned a number of these 'shifty' activities with the hope that my groups will move to different ways of defining and thinking on their own - a skill or behavior I want them to pick up and practice.
A BIG thanks to Jeremy for sending me the inquiry. I hope I've provided some insight.
Let me know what you thinking about these approaches. Leave a Comment below.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
(About a 12-minute read - plus a little thinking time if you have some. This is a migration and updated post. It was first shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuidling in an effort to organize content. Thanks for being here!)
Preface: This post is a bit of a journey. And if I may say so, an important one. It relates to diversity. Diversity is never going away - nor should it. We need it. I'm guessing you've heard this before, "Diversity makes us stronger!" The challenge is (and this is where team builders can help), we have to do some work, to make it work. Grab a warm beverage and let's dive in...
I received this question from a fellow team builder, let's call him John:
John: I was wondering if you have come across/created any activities for groups that are interested in exploring generational issues/awareness?
(I didn't have any specific activities to share with John, but I countered with a question and some reflection.)
Chris: John, let me ask you this: What problems (or concepts) do you want to dive into with such activities? (I have a pretty good idea, but I'm interested in your perspective.) When I know what I'm working on, or towards, it's easier for me to find activities that may surface the desired behaviors and outcomes.
I've had clients in the past expressing concern over the dynamics between the "older" and "newer" (i.e., younger) employees. When I worked with them, we explored the behaviors that were showing up (things seen and heard) during the program activities. I would ask which behaviors were working for them and which ones where not? Then, it was all about deciding what the group wanted to keep doing and what they wanted to change (or start doing). Some behaviors (good or bad) did relate to different ways of thinking, which could have been attributed to generational differences - but is that the REAL issue?
From my point of view, it's about diversity.
John, you and I know diversity is an important topic in the workplace and in educational settings around the world. Age gaps (that might include different ways of thinking, acting and being) are, as I have experienced, diverse groups of people challenged to find ways to work together.
John: I am not trying to solve any problem per se. I look at generational stuff as generational intelligence, like emotional intelligence with four categories:
3. social awareness
4. social management
[Note from Chris: See the CASEL website for more on EI.]
I would like to raise "generational intelligence." [from Chris: I love this term!] Is all this generational stuff just different behaviors as you mentioned? Is it different cultural dimensions? Is it a hoax? Or is it more?
My leaning is toward more. I've worked with groups (7th graders, MBA students, etc.) for decades. I am getting older, and they remain the same age. So, it could be me being different/older but I see a difference in these groups. For one, they all seem nicer. And less strategic. And they jump to a solution...I call this firing...and they keep on firing without any sense of ready or aim (their world is one of velocity). They also do not seem strategically interested in going in a straight line from A to B and would rather go out in some tangential direction away from B but thinking that it still leads to B (don't know if I am clear here?). Do you see any of this?
So, I am big on raising awareness and managing that new awareness for a different result.
I was recently taught two new words. Ethnocentric (believing that your way is the only way or the best way) and ethnorelative (believing that there are many ways/thoughts/cultural preferences which are different than yours yet valid and important for you to master in order to be a great leader). This has changed my thinking immensely. My awareness and management of self and others has shifted because of this. I have moved away from binary thinking to dialectic (AND)...that multiple ways are both/all right. I would like to investigate generational issues with the same light.
I am not a researcher [but I do] like to test things and collect data. Which ties into the experiential activity field we are in. Why not divide groups by generations and see how they solve problems/think? Is there any correlation across generations?
Reflecting on my observations, people from different generations seem to look at each other as if they were aliens. How to shine light here?
Chris: It just so happens that (based on a recommendation from Michael Cardus) I started reading the book, Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2009) by Edgar Schein. So far, it's been an engaging read since I can correlate a lot of the teambuilding I do directly to helping behaviors. Here are a few points from the first two sections of the book that, I believe, can relate to our generational issues/awareness discussion:
This social economics concept (or social theory) struck a chord with me in relation to generational issues/awareness. Let's consider a group of multi-generational participants (e.g., co-workers). If one generation thinks ethnocentrically and the other thinks ethnorelatively the communication between the generations may not mesh with the social economics expectations of each generation thus causing friction.
I'm sure it's also possible for two different generations within a group to be the same types of thinkers. What if both groups (generations) had an ethnocentric point of view - each thought their way was the best way. How would we work with that situation (or those behaviors)? What if both generations were ethnorelative thinkers? Maybe the group doesn't have any problems? (Other than maybe, deciding what to do because everyone has a good idea!)
Questions arise: How do we know what kind of thinkers we're working with? Is this about generational issues or is it about diversity? Where do you choose to focus?
For reasons of time, my conversation with John is on hold - but still on the table. I am grateful for his inquiry and the conversation. Our thinking helps us expand our understandings. Do we ever find the answers? Sometimes. At other times we just need to keep talking, staying in dialogue with the curious.
I'd like to invite you into a little reflection:
It's easy to understand this discussion of generational awareness and the work we do to foster its awareness is an ongoing journey. For now, I'd like to let these ideas take some hold and see how they grow.
Discussions or dialogues like this can help us learn and grow in ways we might have never considered. I believe it's vital to bring up the questions that matter to us and engage in conversations with 'like' and 'other' perspectives to gain deeper understanding of different points of view and the people who carry them.
I believe this to be true: It's not about against, it's about together.
How do we help make this happen?
Please, keep doing the good work. We need you!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.