(About a 12-minute read – and lots of exploring when you have the time.)
My OnTeamBuilding year-end post is inspired by Matt Mullenweg (with a heads up from Tim Farriss) who shares “What’s in My Bag, 2023” – his travel tech and personal comforts. Matt is a founding developer of WordPress.
This is the teambuilding gear (kit) I used for most of my programs in 2023. I worked out of my onsite housing in Ohio, programming with this equipment, then putting the kit on my back and walking out the door to programs (sometimes a quick car trip to our second site). During the last part of the year this kit stayed in my car traveling with me to the handful of programs I did in Colorado.
Karl Rohnke often recommended to his training groups (I witnessed this more than a dozen times), “Find ten good [teambuilding] activities that you can use with any group and you’re good to go.” Early on in my career I didn’t buy into this idea – I loved my 100+ list of activities I curated over the years. However, year after year I’m finding myself programming with fewer activities – I’ve found activities I can adjust for almost any group to practice the most popular ‘concepts’ (outcomes) requested by them (e.g., teamwork, leadership, trust, collaboration and problem-solving). To be fully transparent, I have at least 20 activities at the top of my ‘versatile’ list currently. Maybe it will get to ten at some point.
One final piece of transparency. The gear in my kit can cover about 80% of what I program with up to 24 participants of middle school age and older. I still love the ‘one-off’ activities that help me spice things up or the ones that are ‘perfect’ for the program outcomes. After the numbered list, I’ve added some of my favorite gear off the shelf.
This gear works for me at this time. Sixteen pounds of ‘stuff’ (actual weight) can go a long way done the teambuilding road! What gear works for your top 20? Let us know in the Comments. Our 2024 kits might include some changes!
This list includes links to gear resources and some activities found on the FUNdoing and OnTeamBuilding blog sites. Let me know if you have any questions. (Please let me know if a link is broken. I've checked them all, but you never know. Thanks.)
1. Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 60L. Updated look, still the same size and features – my favorites: U-shaped zipper opening to main compartment, two end compartments, and removable backpack straps.
2. Two 50-foot activity ropes. Use for boundary lines and activities like Rope Shapes and Group Jump.
3. Activity Spots (in a zipper bag). I use ‘Shelf Cabinet Liner’ cut into 12 by 12-inch circles or squares – light weight and non-skid. (FYI: I learned in my 50s, ‘spots’ don’t have to be round! Life is short, cut squares.) I also carry six vinal spots I picked up years ago. They are made from scrap vinyl awning material (gifted to me by Jim Cain). There are times when I need a different color to signify specific places in an activity, for example, Corner-to-Corner (One of my Top 20 found in Portable Teambuilding Activities) or the ‘Question’ spot in Have You Ever. Any ‘other’ colored spot works – there are a few Shelf Liner colors to choose from.
4. Qwirkle Pieces or Cards This is a ‘one-off’ the shelf that stayed in my kit all year. The square game pieces are my favorite for What’s Missing? and I use the Qwirkle Rummy cards (HERE at Mindware) with the ‘dots’ if there is color-blind diversity in the group. What’s Missing is a great communication, mental model activity I use with almost every program to warm up the problem-solving parts of the brain.
5. Trango Rope Tarp from REI. Protects my gear from the dirt and rain. When I take stuff out of my kit to prep for use, I love a good tarp. And when it start to rain I can quickly cover up the gear for short-term protection.
6. 24 Buddy Ropes, each 5-feet long, ¼-inch diameter from Atwood Rope. For years I carried around 5-foot lengths of P-Cord (and I still do in my light-weight kit), but when I found this ¼-inch rope I switched. It’s a bit bulkier, but the feel of it for activity use and for knot tying is worth it. (NOTE: I did invest in a hot knife to cut rope since I cut a lot of rope. P-Cord is easier to cut by hand and burn with a lighter. The ¼-inch rope takes more time to cut and burn by hand.)
Lots to do with Buddy Ropes, especially teaching knots – don’t forget that learning a new skill is all about problem-solving. Add Buddy Ropes to the Human Knot with larger groups and to ‘open’ things up a bit. Then try Objectable Human Knot for an advanced challenge.
7. Tossables – I carry 10 soft lightweight tossables for all sorts of activities. Every Other Group Juggle was my favorite variation in 2023 (the post includes links to other Group Juggles). Years ago, I was able to find the red, yellow, and green tossables (HERE) to use for the Traffic Light Colors (a.k.a., Stop 'N Go from Brain Brolin) norm-setting and processing activities.
8. Image Cards – I carry Chiji Cards and Climer Cards (I’m excited to add the Climer Cards 2 deck in 2024). Most of the activities I lead with image cards come from The Chiji Guidebook. The new ones I’ve developed over the years can be found at the FUNdoing Blog – just search Image Cards. Some favorites: That Person Over There Stories and Image Perspectives highlighting diversity.
9. Webbing (Raccoon) Circles – I carry four 15-foot lengths of 1-inch tubular webbing. The Revised Book of Raccoon Circles is my go-to collection. Grand Prix Racing is a fun energizer to open an engaging session with webbing circles. Check out Jim Cain’s free Raccoon Circle Handout for a great collection of activities.
10. Noisy Rubber Chicken – What is a teambuilding kit without a noisy toy of some kind. And, as I was told when I first started in this field, “You gotta have a rubber chicken!” I mainly use it as a Group Juggle addition, it gets some good reactions. The chicken also serves as a group ‘mascot’ from time to time. It’s something the group is responsible for. And it does add some ‘Fun Factor’ to the adventures. I found my small RC at the Scheels in Colorado Springs (they have a ‘jumbo’ size online).
11. CrowdWord Cards – I like the versatility of large letter tiles. I was a big fan of Jumbo Bananagrams for years, but we can’t get them any longer. Thank goodness for CrowdWords. There are 26 activities in the manual, Doing A lot with a Little (at the link) and lots of ‘letter tile’ ideas at FUNdoing (search Jumbo Bananagrams and CrowdWords). Here are two of my favorites: Word Building and Take Two. NOTE: I have one of the original CrowdWord sets, unlaminated. They are now laminated.
12. Index Cards and Markers – Lots to do with index cards and markers. I carry about 12 'Flip Chart' markers and a pack of 100 four-color index cards and about 50 white index cards. With just about every program I facilitate, I have my participants make ‘Name Cards.’ I can use them as activity props and I can use them to practice names after I collect them post-activity. One of my Top 20 is Name Card Exchange (this is a long-form post if you’re interested in a deep dive). Then there is Jim Cain's book Teambuilding with Index Cards I pull from.
13. Numbered Spots – I carry three sets of numbered spots, from 1 to 25, in three different colors. Search ‘Livestock Tags’ for a variety of sizes and shapes. They are a bit pricey, but I’ve had them now for over 20 years, so they have earned their place in all my kits.
I like programming Key Punch with multiple groups playing at the same time (a Top 20 activity for me). I use the two ropes and three webbings tied together to make three boundary areas for the ‘keys’ and one webbing for the starting line. I use Key Pad Express and Thread the Needle with smaller groups and combine the numbered spots with cups for Cup Switch found in Cup It Up. (See Tube Switch for the original version).
14. Jumbo Playing Cards – Probably the most versatile prop in the teambuilding world. The best collection of activities is in Playing with a Full Deck by Michelle Cummings. And this year I was reintroduced to Michelle's Stack the Deck cards – a combination of standard playing cards on one side and Ice Breaker Questions, Debriefing Images and the activity '52 Card Pick Up' on the other side of the cards. This will be my 'playing card' deck of choice for 2024.
Here are some go-tos from the FUNdoing blog: Pressure Play Too, Quad Team Flip and Find (new in 2023), and Quadistictions (along with Chiji Cards). Search 'Playing Cards' and the FUNdoing Blog for more.
15. Weatherproof Notebook and ‘Space’ Pen – A few years ago I made this weatherproof notebook and ‘space’ pen part of my kit. I went through too many instances where the ‘old’ paper pocket spiral notebook and Bic pen failed me. After the change, never a problem. I like to jot notes about group observations, quick game Tweaks, and questions I want to ask the group. Sometimes I’ll need to diagram something for a visual aid (e.g., a five-pointed star). I also take self-reflection and (if I’m working with one) facilitation-team notes about programs. Caveat: I write out my program activity sequence on large index cards for quick access. I record my final program sequence in my Programs folder on my computer. I do this to save room in my weatherproof notebook for ‘in time’ information (these notebooks are an investment).
And the 'Space' pen? Worth every penny. It's compact design fits nicely in any pocket and it just writes ALL THE TIME, in any weather. Invest in a spare ink cartridge right away since it's not possible to see when the ink is getting low.
Search: ‘Rite in the Rain Journal’ and ‘Space Pen’ for purchase site options.
16: We! Connect Cards – This is another 'one off' the shelf, but they are just the best, compact set of icebreaker question cards I’ve ever used. So, I keep them with me. (Transparency: I keep my kit WE Cards in a zipper pouch without the box. The box was just better for the picture.) And Chad Littlefield's stuff is just GOOD! I plan to add Chad's We! Engage Cards to my kit in 2024 for something new to explore.
17: Large Cow Bell – You know what they say, “You can never get enough Cow Bell!” (In truth, you actually can get enough.) I use my bell to get my group’s attention. I combine this ‘noise’ with a few other attention-getters to save my voice over a long program day. Again, I don’t use it all the time because it can be irritating when overutilized (a great metaphor to work with!)
Search ‘Livestock Bell’ for lots of choices.
Here are several resources I used on a regular basis in 2023 for the other 20% of my programming:
And thank you for all the important work you did in 2023. Keep it going, we need it more than ever.
I wish you all the best in 2024! Keep me posted….
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
(About a 12-minute read and a few minutes for the Practice session.)
I’ve been working on editing activity descriptions for an organization's database. Each activity includes some “possible reflection questions.” Anyone familiar with asking educationally-minded questions would see both closed-ended and open-ended questions in the mix.
Over the years, my perspective on these two forms of questioning has been molded into the belief that one is not better than the other (contrary to some of the training philosophies I’ve been exposed to throughout my career). It comes down to purpose. When you plan for using a questioning method and it works, it serves, well, the purpose. If unsuccessful, you consider (reflect upon) how you could use the method better or what could serve you better next time and try that. As Maya Angelou tells us, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
Working through the database of activities I’ve been adjusting some of the reflection questions to (in my experience and opinion) open up more/deeper conversations. I started saving some examples of the changes I was making to share my thinking with other educationally-minded questioners like you.
Before we get to the examples, I want to share some information about closed-ended and open-ended questioning. Personally, I want to reemphasize, that one form is not better than the other. These two methods are tools. And, like literal tools, each has specialized (intended) applications. I flat head screwdriver turns, in or out, flat-slotted screws. A hammer is intended to hammer in or take out nails. Yes, both can be used to do other things but were initially designed for a particular purpose. Just like questioning.
For some additional perspective, I asked ChatGPT (another tool with an intended purpose): What would you tell someone who wanted to know the value of both closed-ended questioning and open-ended questioning?
Here are a few replies that support our exploration (use my prompt to see all the responses):
Both closed-ended and open-ended questioning have their own merits and are valuable in different contexts.
Balancing the Two
Here are some question examples I saved under a few categories – each explained below. The final ‘Practice’ category is for you to reshape the questions in order to open up some deeper conversations (on purpose).
Closed-ended adjusted to Open-ended Question
These are examples of adjustments I made to closed-ended questions – I would use the open-ended questions to get the same information with more conversation.
C: Did anything surprise you about this activity?
O: What surprised you during the activity?
C: Was it difficult to remember the names of the opposing team?
O: What makes it difficult to remember people’s names?
C: Does this activity remind you of anything in your everyday life?
O: What things in your everyday life does this activity remind you of?
C: Did everyone make it to their final destination?
O: What did it take from everyone to make it to your destination safely?
C: What was your reaction when we switched to a new tangle of rope?
O: When you found out you had to untangle someone else’s knot, what came to mind for you?
C: How would it feel to constantly be cleaning up someone else’s mess?
O: What are some of the choices we can make when we find someone else’s mess? Which one of these choices is common for you? Which one of these choices would be your preference?
C: Did you ever help a person in need of a ship? [A place to stand safely.]
O: Think about this first before answering – did you see someone in need? What did you do about it? Where do you believe you picked up this trait? Why do you use this trait?
C: Think about how the group communicated during the activity. Do you see any connections to communication trends on your team?
O: Think about how your team communicated during the activity. What connections do you see to the communication that takes place in your everyday lives?
C: How important was empathy in this activity?
O: What is your understanding of empathy? How does empathy fit into an activity like this? (What did it look like, or sound like during the activity? What are some other ways we could have been more empathetic? What does empathy look like in some of your other teams?)
C: What behaviours did you notice going on during the activity?
O: Describe some of the things people were doing during the activity that made you uncomfortable. What were people doing to make you feel comfortable?
C: How important was trust in this activity? Who did you have to trust?
O: In what ways did you have to trust your partner? What did you do to maintain the trust with your partner? What did you do to diminish trust with your partner? What commitment can you make with the whole group to build trust?
C: How did it feel to be holding a lower-value card?
O: When you had a pretty good idea about the value of your card, what conversation were you having in your head? [Self-talk objective.]
C: How did you get into your groups?
O: What did it take from everyone to get into your smaller groups?
Closed & Why?
It’s common to follow up closed-ended questions with an open “Why?” Here are some adjustments to using an open question right off the bat.
C: Is it easy or hard to talk about how you’re feeling? Why?
O: What are the things that make it easy for us to talk about our emotions? What are the things that make it challenging for us to talk about our emotions?
C: Did your thinking change throughout the activity? Why?
O: How did your thinking have to change in order to achieve the goal?
C: Were you worried about slowing the group down when the hoop came to you? Why or why not?
O: What concerns did you have during the activity? Where do you believe these concerns come from?
C: Did your process change at all? Why?
O: What changes took place during your transition from one side of the tarp to the other? In your opinion, why did these changes occur?
C: Are there things you would change about the way you treat other people? Why?
O: From this point on, what would you like to change about the way you treat others?
C: Did anything change in how you communicated? Why?
O: In what ways did your communication change during the activity? What caused these changes?
Closed with Follow-up to Open
Use closed-ended questions to “gather data” and then follow up with an open question to dive deeper.
C to O: What were some feelings you experienced during this activity? How did any of these feelings influence your participation in the challenge?
C to O: Did you feel uncomfortable at any time during the activity? What did you do about it? What are some other ways we can respond when we’re feeling uncomfortable?
C to O: Raise your hand if this was your first experience with a Lycra Tube. When we’re trying something for the first time, what do we want to keep in mind?
C to O: How were you being treated during the mingle? What did you do about it? What would you like to do about it in the future?
C to O: What were some feelings you experienced during this activity? How did any of these feelings influence your participation in the challenge?
Open to Closed
How about flipping the script? Start with an open-ended question, then finish with a closed to emphasize a final position.
C: Was your group successful?
O to C: How did you all define ‘success’ for this activity? Based on this definition, were you successful?
C: Were everyone’s ideas heard?
O to C: Describe the process you had for sharing ideas. Were everyone’s ideas heard? How do you know?
O: How did the group agree to try an idea?
O to C: Describe how the group agreed to try an idea. Is this the way you want to continue making decisions? How would you like to make decisions in the future?
C: Did anyone feel left out?
O: What feelings did you experience during the different rounds? Were the feelings the same for each round or did they change? What influenced the change?
How would you adjust each closed-ended question below to dive a little deeper?
There are many ways to form and use questions in educational settings. Have a purpose. Reflect on the efficacy. Keep doing what works for you, change it up if needed. When we know better, we can do better.
Keep doing the good work out there. We need you!
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.