The Electronic Discussion on
Ice Breakers, Energizers, And Other Experiential Exercises
From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation
Revised April 19, 1998
A special thanks to Michael Kane and Karen Shuler for forwarding
many of the exercises initially used to populate this FAQ and to
Mary Margaret Palmer for the initial collection.
A commonly used activity in r.o.p.e.s. is the group juggle;
it encourages rethinking of paradigms to solve a problems. Start
with all participants in a circle, standing. Have 4 to 10 objects
tucked into your pockets. Begin with one object; toss it to one
person, asking them to say their name and then toss it to someone
who has not yet received it. After everyone in the group has
received it, ask that it be tossed back to you. Now explain that
this is a ________test (memory, IQ, training whatever fits your
program or provides comic relief), that you will toss again,
keeping the same sequence, and this go around will be timed. Start
timing as you toss the first object and keep pulling objects out
of your pockets, throwing them to the same person, and end the
timing when the last object has returned to you. Announce the time
as the 'benchmark' and explain that competition in their industry
is getting fierce and they are going to cut the time in half (or
let them choose a goal). Start again, announce the time, encourage
a signification reduction and observe the process the group uses
to find solutions. The size of the group is not a major factor
in determining the time, nor is the number of objects (aha, one of
the limiting paradigms!). Sometimes it helps to ask the group
to refresh its knowledge of the rules (there's only one), especially
if they have assumed lots of rules. It has been amazing to watch
groups struggle with this seemingly simple exercise as they whittle
their time from 1 or 2 minutes to 3 seconds (yes, 3, but don't tell
them that, just challenge them to significantly improve their
performance.) HINT: The participants move to touch the objectives
instead of the objectives being tossed to them.
Give the participants the following instructions: On a blank piece
of paper draw a pig. Tell them not to look at their neighbor's pig
and give no further instructions other than to say the pig is of
the animal variety! Do not influence how the pigs are drawn. After
they have completed the assignment give a good lead in about
personality typing, M-B, etc and tell them this is a similar test.
Their drawing will serve to interpret their personalities.
The results are as follows: (Don't shoot the messenger, I didn't
draw your pig!)
1. If the pig is drawn toward the top of the paper you are a
positive & optimistic person.
2. If the pig is drawn towards the middle of the page you are a
3. If the pig is drawn toward the bottom of the page, you are
pessimistic & and have a tendency to behave negatively.
4. If the pig is facing left, you believe in tradition, are
friendly, and remember dates and birthdays.
5. If the picture is facing forward (towards you) you are direct,
enjoy playing the devil's advocate and neither fear nor avoid
6. If the pig is facing right, you are innovative and active, but
have neither a sense of family, nor remember dates.
7. If the pig is drawn with many details, you are analytical,
cautious, and distrustful.
8. If the pig is drawn with few details, you are emotional, naive,
care little for detail, and take risks.
9. If the pig is drawn with four legs showing, you are secure,
stubborn, and stick to your ideals.
10. If the pig is drawn with less than four legs showing, you
are insecure, or are living through a period of major change.
11. The larger the pig's ears you have drawn, the better listener
12. And last but not least . . . the longer the pig's tail you
have drawn, the more satisfied you are with the quality of your
A variation on the sinking ship used in r.o.p.e.s. is called the
Porthole or Through the Tire (everyone has to get through a
suspended tire - with certain limitations - in x amount of
A classroom exercise toward consensus that can be highly
challenging is the following. Seat everyone in circles, with up
to 14 people in each circle. Heads are bowed and no communication
other than the following may take place: one at at time, going
clockwise around the circle, each person says one word to
express ______ (e.g. the highlight of this training, the best thing
about our company, the prettiest place in the world, or you make up
something). After going around the circle one time, there will
undoubtedly be a variety of words. Now tell them to continue
the circling, each person saying one word, until they have reached
a consensus (i.e. everyone is saying the same word). If you have
some strong people, that may take a dozen or more rounds. The folks
who hold out the longest are often the visionaries of the group
(sometimes instigators or rebels). It seems so simple but you may
Here's an icebreaker I made up when I was faced with a group of 26
people. "What does the number 26 bring to mind?" I asked myself
and came up with The Alphabet Game.
1. Give each person a letter on a post-it, and ask them to place it
somewhere on the front of their bodies (you might want to give more
vowels, no x's, z's, q's. I also made the vowels a different color
than the consonants).
2. Give them five minutes to form one word with at least 3 other
letters/people (a minimum of 4 letters/people per word)
3. At the end of 5 minutes, take a look at all or some of the words
formed, depending on the time you have.
4. Give each word-group a sheet of flip-chart paper and ask them to
form a sentence using that word to describe their expectations of the
course (if done at the beginning) or how they felt about the course
(if done at the end).
NOTE: This reminds me of an ice breaker I experienced once at a
GroupSystem conference. Everyone was given a letter and told that
the letters went with other letters that form a word that in turn went
with other word to create a slogan. There was enough to form the
slogan 8 or 10 times. Good for large group facilitation.
Hand out decks of cards to teams. Each team shuffles the pack of 52
cards (no jokers) and take 25 cards - one at a time - off the top of
the stack, placing each card on one "square" in a five by five grid.
Once placed a card may not be moved. After all have been placed, each
row or column of five is scored like a poker hand (see below) and all
those are totaled to provide the score for that round. Hoyle states
"the usual plan is to try for flushes in the columns and full houses
or fours in the rows.
In the beginning of teambuilding you might see a lot of conflict
around decision-making, requiring an hour or more, depending on
what additional work you chose to do with conflict resolution.
If several teams involved this can also lead to discussion of
competition. You can have teams do it several times, timing it
as they work more and more as a team.
A fun team building activity that I have used that runs about 45
min to 1 hour goes like this: get enough sets of tinder toys for
a many 4-6 person groups that you have. Break up into groups and
ask each small team to create a symbol of whatever it is you want
to get into (i.e. how the team should work together, the attitude
about customer service, etc.) Give each group about 15-25
minutes to create and then have each group present to the whole
group. Debrief by pointing out how different or similar the
structures were, what the experience was like, etc.
I facilitate a class (adapted from Faultless Facilitation by Lois B.
Hart, available from HRD Press) on basic facilitation skills which
reviews three mainstay skills: observing, listening and questioning
For me, these are also three key skills in communication. In the class,
we practice these skills in these short, simple, yet effective ways.
Observing - One group member role plays (non-verbally) a behavior or
feeling (provided by the facilitator on a 3 x 5 card) such as sad,
happy, frustrated, etc. Other group members must use observation
skills to guess what the felling or behavior is.
Listening - In this practice session the facilitator begins by giving
an example of a time when they were distracted when trying to listen to
someone. The next person paraphrases what the facilitator said and
asks for confirmation. This person then gives an example of when
they were distracted and the person to their right paraphrases, and
so on round robin style. The main point the group usually picks up
on is how hard it is to really listen when they are trying to think
of their own *story* which they must tell next. This is in fact
what we as humans do most of the time. We forget that it is okay to
listen first, take time to think of our response and then reply.
Instead we are always thinking of our *rebuttal* as the the person is
talking. We also talk about when it is appropriate to paraphrase,
why and how.
Questioning - We use the game *20 Questions* to help teach us the
importance of open ended questions. We then discuss how to phrase
and direct questions, and how to handle and respond to answers.
A short group facilitated practice session follows with a facilitator
practicing questioning and an observer taking notes for feedback.
Blindfold participants and put them in a space where they can't
bump into anything dangerous, tell them to line up in order of their
mother's birth dates SILENTLY. Sometimes the biggest hurdle to
learning for highly educated, very accomplished professionals is
admitting they NEED to learn something. This is a great, and safe,
way for them to experience "hindered communication", similar to
what might happen with people whose first language is not English
or people new to their workgroup or people outside of their professional
field. It can launch some good discussions of communication paradigms,
barriers to good communication, etc.
Have the participants to pair up with someone else. If you would
like the added benefit of using this as an ice breaker or a networking
opportunity make sure they are pairing up with someone they do not
know. Ask them to decide which one of the pair is A and which is B.
Ask the A's to leave the room. Give the B's these instructions,
"When the A's come back into the room they will be blindfolded.
Your job is to take them by the arm (like if you were leading a
blind person) on a little field trip. You may give them instructions;
such as, "walk forward five feet". Explain that their job is to get
their A safely back to his or her seat. (This takes a little advance
planning. You must decide on the route ahead of time. We did this
at a hotel and the route was around the pool.)
To the group of A's give these instructions, "You will be blind
folded and your B partner will lead you on a little field trip.
They may give you instructions and lead you by the arm but you are
not to ask questions or give them any feedback whatsoever. Their
goal is to get you safely back to your seat."
After, the first half of the exercise is accomplished, the roles
should be reversed and a different route established. Only this
time the there should be two way communication. This will go much
faster and easier with less stumbling by the blindfolded participant.
This was a fun, easy, interactive way for participants to see first
hand the difference between one way and two way communication. We
used it to make a point and as an ice breaker. It was extremely
Have an ambiguous photo or picture. Take a
volunteer aside to show the picture. The group doesn't get to see it.
They note (he/she can write it down) 10 things (or # time permits)
about the picture. When the volunteer rejoins the group, tell the
group and volunteer that the volunteer is going to whisper information
about the picture to the person on their right. The person listening
can only take in the information without questions and without writing.
The information is repeated in this way until all people have heard.
The last person receiving the information tells the group what they
heard. Then the facilitator can read the initial 10 things the
volunteer wrote and show the picture. Laugh --- and discuss from here!
Lay a jacket or shoe or some piece of clothing on a table/chair and get
a volunteer. Tell them you don't know what _this_ is or what to do
with it and you want them to train you as to its use. Usually people
jump right into telling behaviors! As the "trainee", you can distort
the instructions like grabbing a button when told to grab the collar.
And have the volunteer turn their back on you when giving instructions
(like with the line drawings) and don't ask or answer questions. Make
it last just long enough to show minimal progress. Difficult times,
no feedback, no interaction--- I guess one could be very cold if we
needed _this_ in subzero weather!
Give each member of the group an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper, the
facilitator needs one too. Have them close their eyes. The
facilitator issues the instructions and follows them as well.
No questions are allowed. Instructions:
Fold the paper in half.
Rip off a corner
Fold the paper in half
Rip off a corner
Fold the paper in half
Rip off a corner
The group can now open their eyes and find that there are many
different shapes of paper. The debrief covers the need for two
way communication and that the different perceptions of the people
caused the many different designs.
If time permits the group can be put in pairs. Have the pairs sit
back to back and repeat the exercise using two way communications
and find that the patterns come out closer
A common purpose is an essential foundation for a successful team.
I have worked with a group in establishing a mission and value
statement. Now, I want to introduce the finished product to the
entire group and begin ground work for future team building activities.
I plan to try an activity that I designed called "This & That" The
activity is based on the concept that a team is not transformed
instantly into a high performing work group -- improvement is gradual
Team development is a process of becoming "more of THIS and less of THAT"
The staff will (hopefully) identify the THIS (the positive
attributes the team needs to perform) and the THAT (the negative
attributes that we need to leave behind).
To break the ice the activity will start with the staff identifying the
THIS and THAT values and behaviors in the following statements.
To show respect for co-workers
we must be more like ____________
and less like ____________
To cooperate we must be more like ____________
and less like ____________
To listen more effectively we must be more like ____________
and less like ____________
The staff is encouraged to add as many ideas they can to the lists
of THIS and THAT. The staff responses are used a diagnosis of the
training needs. For example staff identify "trust" as a THIS and
"distrust or suspicion" as a THAT; then a future activity would be
based on establishing and building trust. A copy of the final product
is given to all staff. You can also wanted to tie this activity into
establishing group norms.
1. As an icebreaker, I ask people to sketch a portrait of
themselves and then explain it to the group. I've often discovered
the most interesting and surprising things about my colleagues in
2. In group sessions, I ask each group member to draw how they
perceive themselves in relation to the group. This I do at different
intervals in the development/maturity of the group and then get the
group to look at their pictorial depiction of their forming, storming,
norming process. This is also a good activity for drawing out the more
reticent people in a group.
3. I ask the group to make a collage to depict ideas or concepts.
In one session, I asked a group to depict their ideas for their future
strategies and direction. The resulting collage was a powerful
discussion tool for the whole group and resulted in the generation of
lots of new ideas!
One of the most energetic energizers I've seen recently was at a train
the trainer session locally. The lady that was to conduct the session
snuck in and sat at the back of the class. When she was introduced she
stood up and greeted everybody by saying that those who purposely sat
in the back of the room were now in the "front" of the room. (good
chuckle and got their attention).
She then threw out wadded up "balls" of brightly colored paper and told
the group if they caught one to throw it to someone else. They were to
keep throwing the "balls" around until she said stop. If they were
caught with one of the "balls" at that point they came to the "front"
of the room.
They then opened up the "balls" to find words written on them in big
letters. Next they were given 3 minutes to arrange the words to form
a sentence. The correct answer was "If you do what you always did
you'll get what you always got." She then got into "changing"
classroom situations to keep the learners involved.
#1 On a flip chart, divide the page into four equal parts. In the
upper left corner draw a big square. In the upper right a big triangle.
In the lower left a large Z, and in the lower right a large circle. Then
ask participants which symbol they feel most represents continuous
improvement (or life-long learning, or some similar concept) be sure
to tell them there is no right or wrong answer. Then ask for a show
of hands of who thinks its the square.
Turn to another page that has the square drawn and some words like:
Explain that a good team (group, etc.) should have some of these people
on it. In fact it should have some of each group on it.
Next ask for a show of hands for the triangle. Go through the same
process for each symbol. The pages should have the following:
Triangle: Leadership, Visionary, Determined
Z: Creative, Risk taker, Fun loving
Now ask for a show of hands for the circle (usually most people select
this one). Now turn to the circle page and have the following written:
Constantly preoccupied with partying and sex.
Explain that you just wanted to get a feel for the types of people in
class and now you have.
NOTE: If you don't like partying and sex, or think it's inappropriate
you can substitute things like sports and shopping, or anything else.
Tell participants you want to do a quick psychological profile to
help them learn more about themselves. They will grade their own
papers at the end and no one else will see the results. It's strictly
confidential. NOTE: I will put the grading information further down
this letter in case you want to take this test yourself, it's kind of
fun. There will be four questions in all.
1. If you died and could come back as any animal you wanted,
what would that animal be? When you have decided what animal
you would like to be, write down 3 adjectives describing that animal.
2. What is your favorite color? Now write 3 adjectives describing
3. What is your favorite river? (You don't have to have ever been
there) Now write 3 adjectives that describe that river.
4. Close your eyes and try to imagine being in the situation I will
describe. You are surrounded by a brilliant whiteness. Everywhere
you turn, all you see is whiteness. Think about being in this situation
for a few seconds. Now open your eyes and write 3 adjectives that
describe your feelings when you thought about being in that situation.
Now we will grade the papers. Answers to follow
Question #1 The 3 adjectives you wrote are how you perceive yourself.
Question #2. The 3 adjectives are how other people perceive you.
Question #3. The 3 adjectives are how you perceive sex. (or making love)
Question #4. The 3 adjectives are how you perceive death. I had a
psychology teacher do this in her class many years ago and went on
to explain the validity of the test. It's not very valid but the
reasoning goes something like this.
Question #1 - We usually want to come back as an animal with
characteristics we admire. example: I said porpoise and wrote:
intelligent, graceful, free. (I have a high I.Q., have always been
very active in sports, and I'm an independent thinker. When we
admire certain characteristics we tend to want to emulate them.
Question #2 - We again usually like colors because they have
characteristics we identify with. I wrote red at the time but
can't remember why. I've have since change to purple. An example
would be a person who chooses sky blue because its peaceful, calm,
relaxing, or red because its exciting, dangerous, energetic.
Question #3. - Had something to do with Freud.
Question #4. - Based on stories of people dying and coming back to
life and walking towards a bright light or being bathed in a bright
The reason I like this icebreaker is that everyone writes good things
about themselves and gets them excited about taking it home and doing
it to their spouse. Feel free to leave out the river one or even the
death one if you like but I have never had any problems and get the
greatest laughter on the river question.
Ask participants to draw 2 pictures. The first as they see it now.
The second. If this conference is successful, how will it look in
10 years. They then comment on the differences.
The facilitator interviews each participant prior to the initial
session, asking them what unusual thing they have done in their
life or something unusual that has happened to them. Things like
"lived for 8 months in a tent" or "I got shot once" have come up
in my interviews. Then, you take one item per person and put
together a list, leaving a blank space next to the event. The
list looks like this:
Got shot once __________________________
Lived in a tent for 8 months __________________________
As the icebreaker, people have 5-10 minutes to fill in as many
blanks as possible with the name of the person who did the thing.
The person who gets the most names gets a little prize for their
efforts. Afterwards, we discuss 2 main points of the activity -
1) people have done more unusual things than they think and these
life experiences will help them in having new experiences at
work, and 2) the people who do know each other usually discover
something new about the other person so it brings home the point
not to assume you know someone so well that is why they do the
things they do or make the decisions they make.
One I have used is to "toss the ball around." Get some sort of
safe ball, (kush ball, plush ball,...). Facilitator tosses the
ball to someone and that person says their name as the catch it.
Then they toss it to a second someone who says their name as the
catch it, and so on, til everyone has caught the ball and said
their name. Then you go around again, only the person throwing
the ball has to say the name of the person they're throwing to.
Keep doing that until everyone can throw the ball to anyone and
say the name as they throw. . . . There is another wrinkle to
"toss the ball around" that does this. As in the "going around
the circle," time how long it takes for everyone to touch the
ball and say their name, and tell them to improve their
performance. That wording of the instructions is extremely
important. They will probably come to the idea of getting close
together, each touching the ball, and saying their name all at
Here's a "new" one that I came across this week, and have tried
it with four groups so far. I don't know the author but it is
someone who presented at a Teaching & Learning Forum in South
Africa last year.
It's purpose is two-fold. Firstly, to encourage everyone to
remember everyone's name and secondly, to illustrate that the
only way to complete this exercise is for everyone to participate
(like in the new company structure). Also, since the participants
seem to be the managers, you can use the principles of management
to illustrate any of the "learnings" that may arise.
1. Group members form a circle, preferable not seated at desks.
2. The facilitator says their own name and each person then says
their's, going in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction.
3. Repeat step 2 but time it and record the time on a board.
4. Repeat step 3 until the times become consistently the same.
5. Repeat step 2 but in the opposite direction and time it, record it.
6. Repeat step 4.
Points can be highlighted like "what happened when there was a
break in the group?" "how could we improve the time?" "what are
we doing to facilitate this process?" "how is this activity like
managing a business?" etc.
Then we have the fun learning part :-)
7. Facilitator to say their own name and the people on either
side of them are to say theirs. The idea is to have the names
going in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction at the
8. Record the time (and differences) when both names get back to
the facilitator. Often there is a 10-20 second difference.
9. Repeat step 7 & 8 until the times become consistently the
Obviously the first time step 7 is attempted, the group usually
breaks down because several people have to say their own name
very quickly, twice, and indicate which direction the "work" is
going. You can illustrate the learning points here in many ways.
One is to highlight the fact that double the amount of work was
done by the group in roughly the same time as when they only went
in one direction. i.e. productivity has increased (output
increased for the same costs). Another is to focus on what the
group did differently when the names were going in both
directions. You can have a ball with this. I used it in some
management courses this week and I had the participants plan
their targets before we started, measure the actuals and then
examine the variances. You can even give a brief introduction
into statistical process control.
Hope this is clear because it is hard to describe such a dynamic
process. As a rule-of thumb, with 10-20 participants expect the
times to be around 7-12 seconds, even when the names go both ways
round. It's fast, furious, energizing and certainly different.
I admit that my favorite learning names ice-breaker is incredibly simple.
You probably already know it. It is this to simple have each
person introduce themselves with some relevant data . . . and a
word that describes themselves that starts with the same letter
as the letter that starts their first name. It breaks the ice in
a direct way and it's fun. If an individual gets stuck others are
allowed to help. The exercise allows people to see each other in
a new light. It doesn't take too long, you can use the years data
in a variety of ways i.e., how long you've been doing it the old
way... patterns developed are hard to change.. that's why we are
Addendum >From Facilitated Solutions <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Annamaire's response can be taken a step further, especially if
the [participants] have been strong competitors. Instead of
introducing themselves, they have to introduce someone else.
However, to make it non-threatening, they have to find out
something about the other person that no-one else in the room
knows!!! This usually ends up being quite hilarious and "frees"
up the big group.
Also, if there are more than 20 people in the room, get them to
share the information in smaller groups to save time, and then
ask for one of the the most unusual things from each group that
was discovered about one of their members.
Respect each other
Attach ideas not people
Comments made here stay here
Comments belong to the group
One person talks at a time
Avoid passing judgment
Avoid killer phrases like "we already tried that"
and "it will never work" and "yes, but . . ."
Be supportive of the other team members and their contributions
Silence and absence is consensus
Practice active listening
Keep discussion relevant
No side talking
One conversation at a time
No backtracking for people who are late
No beepers/cellular phones
5-minute rule (any one can call 5 min rule--to close out a discussion
going no where)
Everyone is equal
One person speaks at a time
Allow people to change
Balance consistency with flexibility
Check assumptions before acting
Criticize ideas, not people
Do not retaliate
Keep an open mind
Keep communication lines open
Speak for yourself
Be open to the ideas of others
Take responsibility for your own learning
Keep things specific, real, here.
You have the right to pass
Be as open as possible but honor the right of privacy.
Information discussed in our group is confidential.
Don't discount others' ideas.
Be supportive rather than judgmental.
Give feedback directly and openly;
You are responsible for what we get from this team experience.
Ask for what you need
Use your time wisely
Focus on goals, avoid sidetracking, personality conflicts and hidden agendas.
Start and end meeting on time.
Absenteeism permitted if scheduled in advance with the leader.
Review and agree on agenda at start of meeting and then stick to it.
Publish agenda and outcomes.
Everyone is expected to help facilitate the meeting.
Everyone is expected to participate and to respect and support the
right to be heard.
100% focus and attention while meeting.
Be willing to forgive.
Share air time
Phones and/or pagers on vibrate, instead of ring or beep
Be open to new concepts and to concepts presented in new ways.
One person talks at a time.
Job titles are left at the door.
No finger pointing - address the process not the individual.
Frequently check for understanding - summarize and/or paraphrase
Work towards understanding consensus.
Include everyone in the discussion
Do not accept the first idea - go for the second and even better
Start and end on time.
Everyone is responsible for the success of the meeting.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Don't interrupt someone talking.
No killer statements (don't shoot down ideas).
Be open to ideas
Differences or conflicts are handled positively.
Share your knowledge.
Ensure everyone participates at least every hour.
Provide key point notes to participants.
Respect each person.
Criticize only ideas, not people.
Keep an open mind.
Question and participate.
Attend all meetings.
Ask a question when you have one.
Feel free to share an illustration.
Request an example if a point is not clear.
Be an "Adventurer" not a "Prisoner".
Practice active listening.
Be a team player.
Have a different opinion.
Listen alertly and take accurate notes.
Confine your discussion to the current topic.
Give freely of your experience.
Appreciate other points of view.
Keep confidences and assume others will.
Share the limelight.
Say "Thank You".
Stay focused on the task and the person of the moment.
(1/2 to 2 hours) Scatter stuff on the floor or the ground (things
symbolic of the company or the people are nice, otherwise use
nerf balls, hula hoops, cans, boxes, etc.); use rope or sticks
or chalk to mark boundaries around the field (usually a rectangle
but another shape may be more metaphoric for your group). The
task is for some or all of the group members to move from one end
of the field to the other touching none or X number of objects
(e.g. the people are the raw product, the field is the
manufacturing process, the objects represent defects in the
process). This can be run through a number of times, with
various 'handicaps' (personal challenges) which usually encourage
participants to experience from different perspectives.
Arrangements of people can include: any number of people going
through the field at one time; any number of coaches for the
person/people in the field (e.g. one-on-one, 7-on-one).
Handicaps range from communication (non-verbal,one-syllable
words, "hard- nosed" (as the group defines that - maybe one
chance to go through and that's all?), only positive but vague
feedback, only one coach speaks at a time) to physical (no
touching by coaches, coach has to be outside of the field, person
inside the field must be "blind"). My experience with this
exercise is that going through it a number of times, allowing the
group more and more control of some parameters while the
handicaps are made tougher (even putting more objects in the
field to lessen the empty space) has often resulted in an
appreciation for different needs and different strengths.
I've done this using the TV game show "Family Feud" as a format.
Using this with Commercial Bankers, I asked questions like "what
are the top five things customers like to hear from a teller?"
answers included "thank you", their own names, "how may I help
you today", etc. Also, did the "what do customers NOT want to
hear?" answers "you'll have to go see . . .", "that's against
our policy", "NO". etc. Ideas are unlimited and participants
really enjoyed it. Debrief as appropriate.
The exercise below, called "House" can also be used to
demonstrate the value of two way communication. Before
presenting it, the instructor draws a figure on a flip chart or
overhead and conceals it. The figure should look something like
He or she then tells the group that they will be given instructions to
perform a simple task and that questions are not permitted.(If someone
asks a question, I usually answer it by repeating word-for-word what I
just said). The instructor then repeats the following:
"Place your pencils on the blank space on your page. Draw two
parallel lines. At one end of the parallel lines, draw a line
at right angles to to them. At the other end of the parallel
lines, draw an inverted 'V.' On one leg of the 'V,' draw two
parallel lines. At one end of the two parallel lines you just
drew, draw a horizontal line at right angles to them."
After the pencils are down, the instructor asks how many got it right,
then reveals the picture. Take the discussion to communication, to
giving orders, to all types of topics.
There are FOUR kinds of participants in most training events.
There are PRISONERS, who are there against their will (usually)
because their boss told them to show up. There are VACATIONERS,
who are there because training is like having time off from work
- they are relaxed and (hopefully) refreshed and renewed as as
result of their attendance. There are CONSUMERS, who are
trainees who have a specific learning agenda ("really want to
learn how to coach my subordinates"), and there are ADVENTURERS,
who are like Consumers without a narrow, specific agenda. They
want to learn whatever is available. I've asked people to choose
which role most closely resembles themselves, which two roles
most closely resemble themselves, which role the trainer becomes
if the group is comprised primarily of one type or another, etc.
I've had groups in mandatory training reveal they are ALL
prisoners, and so we've used a few minutes to acknowledge what
that is like before plunging into the material.
from Creating Culture Change: The Key to Successful Total Quality Management by Philip E Atkinson
If you haven't encountered this before, give it a go now, and count the
"f"s. The solution is at the end of the text. I normally allow 40 seconds
(using an OHP) for this, then repeat the exercise, allowing 50 seconds.
"The necessity of training farm hands for first class farms in the
fatherly handling of first class farm livestock is foremost in the
minds of farm owners. Since the forefathers of the farm owners trained
the farm hands for first class farms in the fatherly handling of farm
livestock, the farm owners feel they should carry on with the family
tradition of fundamental training of farm hands of first class farms in
the fatherly handling of livestock because they believe it is the basis
of good fundamental farm management."
Hope I spelt everything correctly! If I did, there are 38 "f"s in the
above text. In my experience, most people count between 26 and 32.
Some get part way through, and guess the rest!
Give each group a box of straws (not flexible straws) and a box
of paperclips. Check that the paperclips can fit snuggly into
the end of the straws.
Give each group a task (you can use the same one for each group
if you want) and let them go.
Sample tasks: Build the __________ structure as a group.
most functional etc.
Debriefing included describing teamwork and situational
leadership skills used as well as how different models are needed
to accomplish different tasks.
A couple of years ago I attended the Ventana conference and where
I attended a presentation by Eugene J. Quidort of Samovar
Consulting on a facilitation technique called Music As Metaphor
where he used music for problem solving. Of course he oriented
the process using GroupSystems V but you don't need electronic
meetingware to use it.
When working with a group the intent is to establish a working
vocabulary of musical type definitions. Each type of music has
distinctive elements: rhythm and meter, melody, harmony, and
texture. Each type produces a distinct impression on the
individual members of the group.
Play a musical passage that reflects the type of music (15-30
sec). Ask the group to record their impressions. Repeat playing
and recording for five to seven different types of music.
Briefly ask each member of the group to review their impressions
and definitions for each musical type" Then have them share with
the other members. "The intent is not to reach consensus on the
music but to explore the breath or similarity of feelings in the
Next ask the group a series of questions about the problem the
group is facing. Ask them to relate the problem to a type of
music previously defined and most important ask them to identify
why this type of music applies. Discuss the issues that arise.
It is not important what type of music the group identifies.
What is important is the reasons for choosing that type and the
agreement or lack of agreement within the group as to why the
type applies. This technique will surface problems and other
areas for discussion that do not surface under normal probing.
Ideas for type of music: jazz, bluegrass, Rhythm and Blues, Rock
n Roll, Disco, Caribbean, classical, country, folk, modern,
cajun, etc. You get the idea. The information come from the
paper in the proceedings and written by Mr. Quidort. For more
information call 607-754-3534 he does train the facilitator
Hold up cup. Ask audience to look at it and call out what it is.
Ask "we all agree this is a cup?" Hold up cup again walking
around room. Ask audience what we use it for. Ask "we all agree
that this is a cup and it's used to hold liquid (drink from,
whatever group consensus is).
Explain principles of "generalization." We as a group
"generalize" that this is a cup. Some generalizations are good --
if we had to rediscover the purpose of a cup or door each time we
encountered one, it'd be a tough world. Some generalities are not
so good -- such as "all blondes are dumb" usually gets laughter
because I'm blonde -- use other examples pertinent to group --
maybe "teams don't work here"
(Get creative here!) Say: While we generalized that this is a
cup, it could also be a hat (place on head), a toy (walk it
across table top), half of a modern telecommunications system (my
client happened to be in that business), etc..
Then say: Today, we need you to set aside your generalizations
of the way things are done, the way the organization is
structured, the way people do their work, etc. Now, I'd like to
introduce you to the future of XX Corporation.
Tell them this exercise is about cooperation, and how it works.
Get them to stand in a circle, facing in, groups from 6-12,
shoulder to shoulder, closer,closer.! Then tell them to close
their eyes, and put both hands into the center of the circle.
Then say "with your right hand, take one hand of one other
person. pause "Now with your other hand, take a hand of someone
else" When all hands are taken 1:1, say "open eyes, and you will
see that you are in a Human knot"
Ask, "Do you think that it is possible to undo this knot without
breaking hands?" (Subtle suggestion of a rule, and a challenge)
Very often they will start immediately to try and undo it as a
group task, and will have a lot of fun doing it. At the end they
will often stand around for some time, still holding hands.
Process the activity by asking the group what they did, what
happened, and after getting a couple of whiteboards full, how
this is like their working together in work terms. A very
powerful experience, and informative about the actual group
I always have fun with the toilet paper opener! Pass a roll of
TP to the first person closest to you and merely say "Take as
much as you think you need and pass the TP to the next person".
Don't offer any more information. Once the TP has gone around
the room. Say to the group, "For every square that you tore off,
tell the group something about yourself". Then watch their
faces, I get a charge out of who is proud that they only picked
one square, and the others that picked 20 squares! This works at
any level of people in the room.
Objective: The objective of the game is to land your respective
aircraft (or to be landed) safely and efficiently.
Room set-up: Each person is designated to be either an air
traffic controller or an airplane (max. 3 airplanes per
controller). Airplanes are blindfolded. Air traffic controllers
and airplanes are placed around the room. The airplanes will not
be allowed to talk. Air traffic controllers will guide the
airplanes to a safe landing. There will be obstacles around the
room. Bumping into them would be bad for the customers and will
cause a delay in the arrival time of the plane (i.e., facilitator
detains airplane or walks them to a more distant location).
NOTE: Depending on numbers of people, this can take up to 20
minutes to setup. It is a good idea to have an assistant to help
in both setup and policing quality during the exercise.
Facilitator role: The facilitator will have pause exercises and
stop questions during the run of the game. Pause exercises may
include the use of more effective ways to communicate and
creative approaches as well as recognizing what does work. Some
stop provoking questions are: If you are a front line person,
can you see what might be frustrating your attempts? What is
working? What is not working?
Strategems and considerations: Front line people must often
perform in the midst of chaos and land the plane. In other
words, walk in their shoes.
- Efficiency - The sooner you land the plane the better because
more are coming in.
- Quality - Delays will occur when airplanes bump into things.
- Multi-task - Can you handle more than one thing at a time?
And if so, at what sacrifice? Who will suffer or get the short end?
- How good a communicator are you?
- How much initiative will you take when risk is involved?
- What about quality vs. efficiency trade offs?
My idea for an ice breaker is to break into smaller groups
(tables) and have each person write down two things that the
others do not know about them and a third that is made up, or not
true. Have each individual share their 3 items with the group
and the group tries to guess which one is not true. Its fun and
get's people to know one another better.
One idea which we used in teambuilding was to have everyone form
in a circle. Then you would start with one person introducing
themselves using their first name preceded by a descriptive
adjective - for instance - you might be "Marvelous Mary" and I
might be "Righteous Roy."
Now here is the catch, when it is your turn, you first have to
say everybody's name before you. If I was the 2nd person after
you, I would have to say "Marvelous Mary", "Righteous Roy." If
ticklish TOM" were the 3rd person, he would have to say "M..
M...", "R... R...", "Ticklish Tom." Needless to say, it does
provide some interesting results, it breaks the ice, and it gets
people to know each other on a more informal, first name basis.
It is also good for improving memory skills through association.
The second method I have used in more informal, social functions
when there are a bunch of folks. Get out a bunch of labels and
start writing down the names of well known characters such as:
Mickey Mouse, Caesar, Humphrey Bogart, Julia Roberts, Roy
Orbison, Michael Jackson and on and on... As the group gathers
together, you give them the instructions that they need to figure
out the name of the character that is written on their label. To
do that, they are allowed to ask one question only of each person
they talk to. Then you simply walk around and place the labels
on their backs. This forces them to mingle and it is really a
great ice-breaker. When someone successfully figures out the
name, they get to move the label to the front - then you put
another label on their back -- no one gets off too easily. The
one with the most labels wins if you even care about winning --
most people just enjoy talking to each other by that time.
You can try a set of cards with 15 values written on and given to
each person. Then, have them order by priority, discard five,
discard 5 more. Then, they can discuss in groups of 5-7 what
their remaining 5 are and how they relate to their own views of
project management. Each group can report to the whole group.
Have participants count off by fours to get into four groups of
10. The topic for each group is to have each person give a 60
second introduction of himself or herself and tell what they want
to accomplish at the meeting. Then each group selects a
spokesperson who gives the entire bunch of 40 a summary from
his/her group of (1) generically who is in the group and the
non-overlapping list of what the members of his/her group want to
This gets them going with each other, helps them get to know each
other a bit and, most important of all, gets the various needs
and agendas out in the open.
Give a flipchart page to each participant and ask them to
complete the following statement 10 times:
" I am the kind of person who..."
This statement is difficult to answer with work-related responses
and forces members to share more intimate information. Using less
than 10 responses becomes too simple and does not achieve
intimacy. Participants then place their page on their chest (like
a sandwich board) and circulate silently, reading each others'
lists. Participants generally discover things about one another
that they did not know before and have fun doing it. Charts are
then posted on the wall for the duration of the session.
Each corner of the room is labeled: Strongly agree, Agree,
Disagree, and Strongly disagree. The facilitator lists statements
related to the content of the workshop on a flipchart - one per
page. These statements should be clear and strong assertions that
will likely provoke a range of opinion. One at a time expose the
group to these statements and ask participants to go to the
corner that represents their opinion. Once there they find others
who share that opinion and they are given five minutes to discuss
the statement and their views. The facilitator then asks for a
report from each group and relates their opinions to the course
content. The next statement is shown to the group and
participants again move to the corner of their choice and repeat
the process. I usually use 3 or 4 such statements ( they might
represent common misperceptions about the topic) and by the end
of the exercise participants have engaged with most of the other
group members in a fun way. In addition they are more aware of
some of the key concepts they will be addressing during the
The group is divided into teams of 4 or 5 and asked to prepare a
flipchart that lists individual differences - things that are
unique to that individual, and similarities: qualities,
activities, interests etc., that all team members share. Third
they are asked to list each team members expectations for the
session. How this is arranged on the flipchart pages doesn't
really matter. When completed each team goes to the front and one
at a time members give their uniqueness, a similarity they share
with others, and their own individual expectation for the
session. With 40 people this will likely take too long but it is
a good multi-purpose icebreaker that I find myself using over and
Place a sheet of paper on the floor, that is the raft. Everyone
"swims" around the raft until I shout "SHARK!" and everyone has
to get onto the raft before you have counted to five. After each
"shark attack" half of the sheet of paper is removed. The group
has to find ways of surviving as a group. (You can get up to 15
people on a piece of A4 (letter size).
Everyone walks fast around the room. They must all try to be
aware of each other and, after a while they must all slow down
together and eventually come to a stop in unison.
The group stands in a circle with eyes closed and tries to count
to 21, one person after another. The rules are that the counting
must NOT go consecutively from one person to the next around the
circle, no "systems" can be used (setting up of sequences,
etc..) and no two or more people can speak at the same time. If
any of the rules are broken the group goes back to "one". Once
they have reached twenty-one they can try and get back down to
one. (The clue is - how many people are in the group and what
are you trying to do).
The group holds hands and, slowly, they move together,
intertwining, and generally getting themselves tangled up. Once
they have gone as far as they can, they pause, and then try to
untangle themselves without breaking hand contact. Then do the
exercise again closing their eyes before untangleling.
The group is split into teams, each member of each team taking a
number. Numbers one and two of the first team start an improv on
anything. Then "three" will enter when ready as another
character who will move the action in another direction. Then
"four" will enter, then "five", and so on; each "number" will
influence the action of the impro with their own ideas. The
objective is to have a lot of people on "stage" interacting
whilst keeping the improv interesting and successful - not as
simple as it sounds.
Possible Scenarios (you can make up your own).
1. A couple on a hill.
2. An under-cover KGB agent.
3. A tramp.
4. The spouses of the first couple.
5. A distraught parent looking for it's child.
1. A shoplifter.
2. The shoplifters neighbour.
3. A jogger.
4. Armed raiders.
5. A Hari Krishna devotee.
6. Someone who think's he's/she's Batman/woman.
1. A fisherperson.
2. The pilot of a broken-down airship.
3. Rowers in a boat.
4. The man who paints the Forth Road Bridge.
5. A talking dolphin.
6. A pair of evangelists.
Elicit uncertainties which members of the group have about the
future and support them in clustering groups of related
questions. We could leave the questions wide open - or focus
more narrowly on the area within which their organisation is
working. Each cluster could 'seed' two possible futures - each
represented by one set of outcomes from the uncertainties. Groups
can have a lot of fun turning such a cluster into a coherent
story of the future - drawing up a timeline to illustrate how
this future unfolds, devising newspaper headlines which bring it
to life, and dramatising their presentation of the future to the
other group(s). Moreover - the fun leads them into stretching
their imaginations in a way which will help the strategic
From Robert Fulghum (of _Everything I Need to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten_fame) gives in his book _Maybe, Maybe Not_. It is
basic musical chairs. He plays the game until someone emerges
the winner: usually the biggest, strongest, loudest, most
competitive individual (usually male.) Then he starts over
again, only with a new rule: when the music stops, everyone has
to find a place to sit. People shove over, make room, let people
sit on their knee. The pace is different. Instead of the mad
scramble and shoving, there is slow consideration of options and
choices. As the number of chairs decreases, there starts to be
interesting dynamics as to who gets to sit on whose lap. Finally
there is only one chair, and when the music stops, a slow and
deliberate process starts of one person sitting down and then
daisy-chaining person on next person's knee until the whole group
is poised on one chair. Then he takes away that chair, has
everyone form a circle and turn face-to-back all around the
circle. Then on signal they all (slowly and carefully) sit down
on the lap of the person behind them and all are sitting with no
chairs. The difference between the two games is then discussed.
Have everyone take out their wallets and spread the contents out
on the table in front of them. Offers amazing insights into
parts of self usually kept hidden and commonality of the human
The objective of this game is to count from 1 to 21 and then back
down to 1 again, as a group exercise. The Group stands in a
large circle, close but not touching. The rules are as follows:
* Anyone may call out the next number at any time but,
* It's back to 1 when two people call a number simultaneously,
* No one may call out two numbers in a row - back to 1.
* Any obvious pattern (e.g. two people alternating, bouncing
numbers between specific people,) and it's back to 1,
* No discussion beforehand,
* Silence apart from calling out numbers,
* Everyone must close their eyes.
Note to leader: This exercise requires sensitive listening,
openness, an acceptance of giving and strong teamwork. Most
groups don't get very far, particularly if one or more people
attempt any form of control - trying to call out as many times.
If the group gets stuck, you can give them a clue. Ask them to:
"think about how many people are in the circle". If they still
have a problem then add the point "What number are you trying to
count up to?" The group should be able to complete the exercise
after that. (Or at least make a significant improvement).
The group is to start moving briskly about the room. They can go
anywhere. The objective is to gradually slow down and come to a
complete stop and freeze at exactly the same moment. The only
restrictions are that there is to be complete silence and no
signals used - just be aware of what is going on around you.
This exercise is simple and feels good when it works (and usually
does). Again, the key is for nobody to try and control the
group. If it doesn't work, point this out and try again.
In pairs, standing. A & B. A starts a simple mime (e.g. ironing)
The quality of the mime is unimportant. B asks "What are you
doing?" A replies with something completely different from what
he is miming (e.g. "fishing"). B then has to mime this (fishing).
A then asks "What are you doing?" and so on. Objectives are speed
; no repetition and always unconnected ideas.
The group stands in a circle, holds hands and closes their eyes. The
objective of the exercise is for the group to send a "Pulse" around the
ring of hands in a continuos loop.
* When/if you feel your shoulder touched squeeze the hand of the
person on that side,
* When you feel your hand squeezed then squeeze the hand of the
person on the opposite side - i.e. if you right hand is squeezed then
squeeze your left hand.
The group leader/facilitator will start the process by tapping or
touching one person's shoulder.
Once the initial pulse is going further pulses can be introduced by
tapping/touching other participant's shoulders.
In the room there will be about 10 quotes/posters with
philosophical/existential thought-provokers on them. (These can
be distributed to the participants pre-day). Alternatively they
can get this on a piece of paper to read and then select - but a
bit of mingling to read the posters - physical movement - usually
gets some mental flow going - most conferences are too much mind
and not enough body.
Participants are invited to stand by or select the one that they
regard as the most interesting personally, the one that most
resonates with their vision/mission/passion, position in life at
the moment/experience - which one turns them on.
In groups of max 6 ( some popular quotes will need to have a
number of groups) invite them to:
1. Briefly describe why this one is relevant and its essence for
2 Consider what element of this that turns them on / is operating in the
organisation at the moment
3 How can they support the growth of the quality they are talkign about?
4 Group create a slogan, song, mission statement, acronym - some way of
representing how they believe this can be best recognised AND
in the organisation.
5 Groups present to other groups as a group i.e. not a spokesman doing it
6 Allow them five minutes to connect with one other person in a
group whose idea/presentationsong etc was particularly appealing
to them as individuals and find out more about the other idea.
Quotes/statements type (maybe - these are mine from a recent
training styles congress): "if my curent belief were not true,
what could be the advantages? "What is at the moment impossible
to do in your organisation, but which would fundamentally change,
vitalise and enhance the organisation if you only could do it?"
"People always succeed at over-acheiving golas they have been
allowed to create themselves." (Gordon Dryden: Our of the Red).
"You don't stop playing when you get old, you get old when you
stop playing." "Management is doing things right; leadership is
doing the right things." (Drucker/Bennis) "When I was teaching
safety in driving skills to truck-drivers, I played Dolly Parton
music as they came to the session - and they liked it. The choice
of music gave them the message that they were welcome." (charels
Schmid, founder of the LIND Institute) "having only one model of
managing and leading, rewarding and judging people is totally out
of tune with the fact that we are all individuals" (adapted From
Howard Gartner). "The only stupid question is the question you
are not asking." (Paul Macready)