(About a 24-minute read. This is a migration and updated post. It was initially shared on the FUNdoing.com Blog. We have moved theoretical posts to OnTeamBuilding to organize content.)
The What? & Why? Series is my attempt to document some of the things I think about when programming and leading teambuilding activities. This learning tool is an example of one way to think about leading this particular activity, providing the why underlines some of the purpose behind my choices. Things to ponder.
Have You Ever...stood in a circle with 50 middle school students playing Have You Ever…?
I'm guessing most of you know this classic, "Have You Ever...?" icebreaker activity (Rohnke, 1988 & 2004) - I'm sure it's been played by millions! Here’s a review. (Of course, skip this part if you don’t need it.)
Our group, of 12 to 50 players, form a circle. Each player is standing on a game spot. We (the facilitator) start by standing with the group, part of the circle, so everyone has a spot for a while, as we explain and then play the game with the group. Now we’re going to say something true for us, something we’ve done/experienced. We preface this information with, "Have you ever..." For example, you might say, "Have you ever been to Canada?" (Again, the statement must be true for us.) If anyone in the group (players forming the circle) has been to Canada, they are invited (but not required) to leave their spot and move to another spot that is not directly to their right or left.
While this movement is happening everyone wants to go stand on one of the spots left vacant by another player in the circle – during the first three or four rounds there will always be a spot open in the circle – the facilitator is sharing the Have You Ever…? (HYE?) questions to model the process. On the fourth or fifth round, we move our spot to the middle of the circle as described below – we start this new process by asking another HYE? question. When there is a spot in the middle there will be a player left without a spot to stand on within the circle (because, in this game, there is no sharing spots). The player who gets the center spot, is the next person to share a HYE? question from the center of the circle. The moving, getting a spot process ensues after every, HYE? question from the player standing in the middle of the circle.
If the player in the middle shares a, HYE? question, and no one moves, they take a bow and ask another question. Remembering the idea is to get players to move - asking questions that are likely to produce movement is a good strategic play (that is, of course, the player wants to get out of the middle).
NOTE: Believe it or not, the step-by-step process detailed below takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to lead. It's a lot of writing for 15 minutes, and an interesting process (for me) to go through.
Okay, let's get this one started:
(This section describes one way I lead Have You Ever...? What I say and do.)
(This section is about the Why of what I did throughout the activity. The numbered comments below match up with the numbers from the What?)
1. I like to have participants help me whenever I can - it's a nice social skill to practice (and it saves me time as well). By clumping together, I can hand out five or six game spots to several participants near me so they can also help me hand out spots - or pass along the spots after taking one for themselves. Being together in a "clump" saves us steps and time in the long run. Another option is to set down the game spots in a circle formation before your participants arrive. In my experience, setting up a circle of spots by myself takes more time than getting help.
2. When everyone has a game spot I collect the extras, and then together we form our circle. Doing this together might become our first "problem-solving" activity! I might give a visual image suggestion, like, "We want to form a circle, like a big pizza, or a basketball." Then, I'll ask my group, "Do you like the shape of this circle, or do we want to change it? What do we need to do to change it?" After asking these questions I listen to how participants are communicating with each other - is it positive, constructive, negative, sarcastic, useful? If some coaching is required, I will add some thoughts while we're getting circlized. I also make sure to praise the useful behaviors and positive feedback participants are engaging in and sharing - I'm starting the norming process with the group. I too am working on forming the circle with my group, because I am also standing on a game spot as part of the circle (remember, this version of, "Have you ever..." does not start with someone in the middle of the circle).
For this game of "Have you ever..." (HYE?), I think the circle formation works the best. I've tried HYE? in a square, a triangle, and scattered formations (that was interesting). The circle is best for hearing the HYE? questions and a circle provides more space for moving from one spot to another (again, in my experience). (BTW: Playing HYE?, just as an ice breaker, is really interesting from a scattered formation, but it increases the level of risk. So, if you are norming for safety with your group scattered HYE? might be an option so you can talk about it.)
3. In this step, I'm frontloading the idea of choice. Even though we will be discovering things about each other - some similarities and differences - my main facilitated objective is to emphasize the concept of choice and how choice fits into the program we are in together. Some participants might recognize the game once I share the part about saying, "Have you ever..." When participants speak up, sharing they've played before, I often say, "That's great. In a moment you will be able to help me out since you have some experience with this one. For the moment you might notice some differences in the way I play, so please go along with me on this version and have some fun." I use the example of, "...eaten a slice of pepperoni pizza" because I'm pretty sure there are a few people in the group who have done so.
I'm choosing to use an example of something that more than a few people have done so I can get some movement when we try. Now, depending on where you are in the world, you might use a different example. If I use something too unique, like, "Have you ever swam with dolphins?" I might not get any movement during my test run - and I want movement for the example.
4. I come back to the idea of choice at this point. I present choice as an invitation - an invitation to move off of their spots or not if they have done the Have you ever...? I know I picked up the idea of choice as an invitation from someone in my past, but I don't remember who. So, thank you - whoever you are! I suppose being "invited" could be seen as someone with power opening the door for others with less power - and an argument to explore at some point. For me, I like being invited. It shows me I'm being recognized, and seen by others. "Chris, I'd like to invite you to my party!" Thanks! I'll be there." It's an opening, a way of thinking that can work for a lot of people. During discussions with more groups than I can remember, participants have told me that they liked the idea of being invited - they felt included and part of the group.
5. By now I want my participants to lock in the directions with practice. I use the example, "Have you ever eaten a slice of pepperoni pizza?" because they've already been thinking about it. It's not something new at this point - in educational thinking, I'm (sort of) reviewing. Participants already thought about my question, and they've probably answered it, in their heads at least. Now, we're moving (literally) to the next part of the learning process. We're adding something to what we know. We've also heard the directions, now we're putting them into action.
6. I choose to move with the pepperoni pizza eaters at this point, and I also keep an eye on the movement of others. Most participants will recognize that they don't have to move quickly because there is a spot for everyone (at this point). However, some energetic players (e.g., younger participants) might choose to move quickly, so I'm watching for safety issues.
Now, as the facilitator, you can choose to frontload the practice step by reminding participants they don't have to run - "there is a spot for everyone." If you think your group needs this information, let um have it. By leaving out the safety frontload I get the chance to observe my groups participate in some natural behaviors. They might already have a good sense of how to behave safely - I might not need to bring it up (just yet). After we are all back on our spots, I can ask the question about choices. (This is where we can talk about "safety" choices if they were observed.)
During this first bought of choice recognition, I don't push too much. I like to get into more action before digging deeper. So, here I just ask five or six times, "What choices did you have the opportunity to make?" I don't share any of my observations and choice options I know about at this time - I want to give my group the first opportunity to share what they observed and practiced. However, there is one exception. If I observed any safety issues, we will open this discussion and create some norms (rules) for moving (literally) forward. I will often add, at this point, that one of my roles as a facilitator is to monitor safety issues and help the group develop norms and behaviors around safety concerns.
7. We need to move again. Asking my participants if they have participated in a teambuilding program before is one of my favorite questions. It usually (these days) produces lots of movement and it lets me find out if there are those in the group who have not been in a teambuilding program before - I observe this information in the next step. Again, I'm observing my groups for behaviors (e.g., safety) that may need to be addressed right away. In most cases, I stay on my spot so I can watch the movement.
If someone (and this happens quite a bit for me) brings up the fact that I didn't move and asks, "You haven't been in a teambuilding program before? (they are ALWAYS watching us!) I share my choice to stay on my spot so I could observe the group in action (another role I have as a facilitator that I might share with my group at this time). In educational terms, I am modeling choice.
8. After this second practice, I add some new information and action. As a way to now recognize others, we have something in common with. I ask participants to raise a hand if they moved to a new spot. Now, we can look around the circle (again, the best formation to see everyone), to see who has been in a teambuilding program before and who has not. We can also see that we have a difference among us - some have, and some have not. (This is where I might find out who is teambuilding for the first time. Why is this important? I might change my language a bit or define more of the terms I use with my participants. This thinking is another topic we can get into at some point.)
And, I do like to invite participants to put their hands down when we're done looking around to avoid any discomfort and confusion about when it's time (okay) to put their hands down. ("Have you ever..." been in one of those situations where you weren't sure, then you just put your hand down because others were putting their hands down? Doing what others are doing because you don't know what to do....now that's something to talk about!)
9. Okay. We're now getting the idea, so I want to prepare my participants for a change coming up. I let them know that, after I ask one more "Have you ever..." question, I will be inviting them to ask the questions. In this way, I'm giving participants a heads-up, and some time to think about something they might want to ask. Even though they'll be listening and possibly moving around, they will have some time to think. In educational terms this is called an anticipatory set - I'm setting up my group for something about to happen. Something they can anticipate.
The next new thing will not be new - they "knew" it was on the way. This prepares the brain for some action. Along with my next question, there is a chance that I might be the only one who has done the "Have you ever..." (If you've played "Have you ever..." you know that if you ask a question, it must be true for you. I have not shared this rule yet - but it's on the way.)
If I don't see anyone else making a move from a spot, I will take one step into the middle and take a bow. Then, step back onto my spot. (Again, another "rule" - invitation - I have yet to share, but it's on the way.) More often than not, since I'm taking a bow, participants will clap for me - it's a pretty common cultural norm. I didn't set up the bow-clap process yet, but if I have the opportunity to demonstrate it, I take it. Again, depending on the question I ask, there will be more, less, or no movement at all.
10. If there was some movement, I ask the movers to raise a hand. Then we all look around to see who we have something in common with. Again, this action is about providing an opportunity to recognize others. If I have a hand up, I recognize that I have something in common with others who have their hand up. I also recognize there are others I might not have something in common with - there are differences in the group.
The participants who did not move, and do not have a hand up, can also assume that they have something in common with others in the group - the non-movers. Now, since there is a chance that one or more of the non-movers could have moved but chose not to, I like to make a short point about assumptions. "We can assume we have something in common with others through observation, but how do we know for sure?" This will often produce comments about "talking" to each other, asking questions, and listening. This, more often than not, is part of a teambuilding program - getting to know each other beyond observations and assumptions.
11. After the movement stops, I invite participants to ask a "Have you ever..." question. But, before they start, I share the information (rules) about how the play will continue - the questions have to be something they've done and if no one moves after a question, the asker is invited to step into the circle and take a bow, at which point we will all clap. I also like to add the option of simply waving as well - stepping into the circle and bowing might not be comfortable for everyone. Again, I like to provide choices when possible and give permission to make choices they are comfortable with. The reason I let someone else ask a question after a bow or wave is to save time. In my experience, if I let the same person ask another question, they often have to take time to think of something new, whereas others in the group might already be prepared to ask a question.
Depending on my group, I might give the "Rated G" guideline here as well. "Please share 'Have you ever...' questions suitable for a G-rated movie audience." This will often produce some laughter because they know what you're talking about. This is a choice I do take away. Another role I have as a facilitator is to help create an emotionally safe learning environment. If I let my group make choices that make others uncomfortable and unwilling to open up and connect with the group, the learning environment will be altered. This can be tricky, but important to consider. We (us facilitators) are challenged to provide learning experiences that help groups move forward together as a community, not hinder the process. "Guiding" the process with appropriate activities and purposeful language is our responsibility.
12. Okay. Here I ask for someone in the group to share a question and I remind them about the context of the question - it must be something they've done. Some groups I work with naturally raise hands (it is a norm they've adopted) and I'll pick by pointing at them. In other groups, someone will simply speak up before someone else. Depending on your group, you might need to set up the guideline (rule) that you will pick someone who has a hand up - you might need to structure the sharing (you might want to establish this communication norm). This could be a norm that you want to manage or let the group manage. Will they set up the structure or do they want/need you to set it up?
A facilitated objective I have at this point is to move "control" of some of the processes to the group - get them talking and interacting as soon as possible. (Note: By this time in the game, we are only about 4 minutes in! Yeah, lots of words and thinking in 4 minutes!) And, even if I could move to a new spot on some of their questions, I usually stay on my spot and watch the interaction in the game. I'm looking for "things" to talk about - things I need to talk about (e.g., safety issues), and things I would like them to recognize (e.g., group behaviors) that I can bring up in a processing discussion. Purposeful observation leads me to more appropriate questions. (Another good blog topic to explore at some point.)
13. When everyone is back on a spot and I notice (I can see and hear) the group may be ready to give me their attention, I ask the players that moved to raise a hand. Then I ask everyone to look around. Again, this time (space) is provided for participants to look around and see others in the group they (may) have something in common with.
During these first few movements and the "raise-the-hand" request, I'll point out that those people with hands up are sharing something about themselves and we can assume that they all have something in common (e.g., they've all eaten a slice of pepperoni pizza, or have been part of a teambuilding program before). The participants who did not raise a hand may or may not share something in common (e.g., they didn't do what the asker did), because they could have chosen not to move even if they could have. "As we move forward together in the program, we'll find out more about each other through talking and taking on tasks and challenges." After the first two or three reminders, to look around, I will leave it up to the participants to process the information on their own - we just get into the game and raise a hand if we move.
14. Overall, I have about six participants share a, Have you ever... question to get some good movement and interaction and to notice some commonalities. I don't go on too long at this level because I want to change it up a bit and get back to talking about and experiencing, choice.
15. Before changing the dynamics of the activity I take some time with the group to explore the choices that were made during the last several rounds. It's easy, at this point, to take in a few responses and move on. I like to stick with this "choice thinking" for a while. The first five or six responses are usually easy to come up with, then when it goes quiet (that, quiet discomfort) we often just move right on to the next part of our process. I like the discomfort. In this discomfort, we are also making choices. "Should I say something?" "This is boring, let's move on?" "Oh, maybe there is more we are not seeing. I wonder. Let me think. What else is there?" I believe there is a skill development process that can be experienced and practiced when in quiet discomfort. What skills can we practice? Patience? Cognitive engagement? Managing frustration? Participation? Respect? I believe providing more time to think about more possibilities to one question there is more time to practice community-building behaviors. And providing more time also gets us to deeper thinking and more answers - answers that are often more interesting than our first reactions.
During this discussion, I also ask my group what choices they "didn't" make. It's wording that stimulates a different way of thinking. Yes, we can frame choice answers in the positive (so to speak). For example, "I chose to be quiet during the game so I could concentrate more on finding a spot." This could also be worded in this way, "I chose not to talk during the game so I could..." I found this option ("I chose not to...") helps me when I'm working with people (especially young people) working on specific behavior changes. Here is my favorite (true) example, "I chose not to make fun of someone when I felt the urge during the game because I knew I wanted to work on this." Another, very common one I've heard several times is, "I chose not to run to a spot because I know I might hurt someone if I ran into them." Again, it seems some brains are wired to see what was "not" done as opposed to what "was" done. Now, do we direct skill development towards "I chose to..." and away from "I chose not to..."? I don't know if it matters. We'll have to propose this question to others more qualified to answer (e.g., mental health professionals). If you have an idea, please share!!
16. After I point out the fact that everyone had a spot around the circle during the first round of questions, I make the physical move to the center with my spot to show everyone things are about to change. Now, I could simply stay on my spot as part of the circle and explain what is going to happen. It is arguable that by staying as part of the circle I will be able to see everyone while I’m talking – my back will not be turned to anyone in the circle. However, I believe this physical change provides some visual preparation for the change. (And I use a nice loud voice, turn often, and repeat the directions at least a couple of times to get the change across.)
17. By simply moving into the center of the circle there are usually a handful of participants that can figure out what’s ahead. And, by changing the game configuration participants are starting to prepare themselves for something to change. If I sense some strong reactions to this physical change, I might take a brief moment (before I provide details about the change) to check in with my group to find out what emotions are surfacing. Some people have physiological reactions to change that are challenging to manage. “I was comfortable, now I have to do something new. I’d rather stay where I’m comfortable.” This is an example of one type of comment made several times in my experience. Even playing a (seemingly) simple game, change aversion can come up for people. So, I keep myself mindful of reactions during my move to the middle.
When I sense I can provide the group with new information I share the change in the game. During the directs to the change, I do say that the person in the center is, “…obligated to ask a, Have you ever… question.” This can be interpreted as not having a choice in the matter. But do they? There is often an assumption of a consequence without checking. I love it when participants ask about the “obligation” when left in the center. “Well, what choices do you have? Do you have to move?” On more than one occasion, I’ve been involved in a conversation about obligation. Even though a participant does not want to be caught in the middle (they don’t want to be “on the spot”), they still feel obligated to move if the question is true for them. The ensuing behaviors related to avoiding getting caught in the middle tend to be on the assertive side and have caused uncomfortable emotions, reactions, and even consequences. Again, so much can happen in a “simple” game if one pays attention. And, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to share insights, feelings, and feedback.
18. Before playing the new version of, Have you ever… we take some time to look at the changes ahead and possible choices we have moving forward. Again, what we’ll be choosing to do and what might we choose NOT to do? I also slip in some possible norming behaviors, “How do we want to play during this part?” There are usually some warnings related to increased movement (speed) that might show up and suggestions as to what behaviors might be considered during play. I don’t push this question too much; I just like to introduce the idea of considering how we want to BE together. I will continue with norming discussions later if it’s within the scope of the program goals.
19. Now we get into the new version of the game. After each question, we raise our hands and recognize similarities. I also choose to stay on my spot (for the most part) and observe the behaviors of my group in play. (What’s that quote? You can learn more about people in an hour of play than a day of conversation – something like that.)
First and foremost, I’m looking for safety concerns and I address this right away. I will push safety-related norms if needed and hold my group to these norms. I’m also looking and listening for (and at) the behaviors I see and hear. I want to start getting a picture of the individuals in the group and the group as a whole. How are they playing together? Are players exhibiting more individual (selfish) behaviors or group (thinking of others) behaviors? Are players asking for help? Are players talkative or quiet? These observations, prompts, and behavior data will help me adjust the activities ahead (if needed) and help me frame questions during processing sessions that are related to what’s happening (as opposed to being related to program objectives that might not be relevant to the group at the time).
20. I wove the issue about safety concerns above – if I see something, I say something. There have been times when I explored the choices made around unsafe behavior. Excitement and high-energy individuals often “blame” the context of the game for their behaviors – “Well, you didn’t say we couldn’t run.” “I didn’t want to lose (i.e., be in the middle), so I made every effort to get to a spot.” Lots of great opportunities to discuss group interaction, behaviors, and norms. And why certain behaviors are more acceptable within a group than others.
21. After about six to eight questions from participants, I stop the activity to readdress our choices one more time. During this third round of choice thinking, I often hear more insightful responses. The group has practice and experience with the question. They are ready to add more to their answers – and expand their thinking.
At this point, I will also share some of the observations I made related to choices being made if the participants do not bring up what I’m thinking about. I do like to check in with participants (in general) about what I saw. Like, “Why do you think some players chose to move quickly to an open spot? Did anyone notice this?” “Why do you think some players offered help during the game and others did not? What helpful behaviors did you notice during the game?” “Why might it be difficult for someone to come up with a, Have you ever… question when they ended up in the middle? What would this be like for you if this happened?” My general approach is meant to build some empathy for some of the behaviors we might see within a group and to open the door to developing some norms around how we want to be together. It’s an opportunity to recognize what’s going on, even if everyone does not see what is going on. Playing and observing are difficult to do at the same time – a good reason to have a facilitator in the group.
22. At this point I want to frontload some of the possible experiences ahead. If (and more often than not) there are participants who have been in teambuilding programs before, I ask them what choices they’ve made in the past during similar programs – I like to get them talking first. Then, I can add to the conversation with some of my experiences. Again, in educational terms, I’m providing an anticipatory set – things people will (or might be) faced with in everyday life.
Maybe I’m planting seeds? Maybe I’m “setting” the group (and participants) up for a predetermined outcome? As I see it, with the time I have, it’s a way for me to get closer to desired outcomes. If you have more time (e.g., working with students over the school year), you can do less frontloading and provide more exploration and discovery. Letting my group know there will be lots of choices ahead is the intent of this final look at choice.
23. My caveat – my philosophy about choice (developed during my work with “at-risk” youth populations). I am partially responsible (my participants share in this responsibility) for my group's wellbeing. I need to know where everyone is at all times. Yes, at ALL TIMES. The choice to “disappear” is not an option for my participants. Now, if I relinquish my responsibility to another responsible party (e.g., a teacher or chaperone with the group), then the participant (or participants) is no longer my responsibility. So, I share my expectations about this choice right away. As you see it’s worded that someone can step away from the group when needed (and it can be needed), but I need to have everyone in my sights. And I word it as “helping me” with this. Most of us are very willing to help someone when asked respectfully and with reason. There might be some questions about this and even pushback on not having the choice to walk away, out of sight. But I respectfully make it clear that, as in life, there are often limits to our choices.
24. Now we need the rally cry. I want to ignite a little energy to move forward. I’m always excited to get into the program after a good foundation and understanding (hopefully) of the choices ahead. As we move forward together, choice-thinking conversations continue since we’ve laid the groundwork for thinking about choice on purpose.
As you can see, a lot of thinking can go into one simple activity. My purpose here, again, is to simply share (in a long-form way), what I do and why I do it – just one way to approach group interactions. Maybe, just maybe, it's a good idea, from time to time, to look at our 'why' so we don't lose track of our purpose.
I'd love to get your thoughts. Leave us a Comment.
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.