(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.)
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.
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.
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.