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Team Building - Activity of the Month
December 2010, Easy Knot
12/1/2010 6:39:16 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

communication, planning, rope

This is a great team building activity which challenges a group to think together, plan together, communicate and work together. It involves the team in trying to tie a simple knot in a rope. With many teams, they will jump right in, expecting the solution to be simple, only to find that it is more difficult than it first appears. (This is a good comparison to real-life projects that are more complex than they seem at first.)

Set-up is quite simple. You need two ropes:
-          10 ft. length of small diameter rope—3/8” to 1/2” dia.
-          40 ft. length of rope that is slightly larger in diameter—1/2” to 5/8” dia.
Use soft nylon braided rope if possible.
Join the two ropes together with a simple knot. Next, tie the free end of the shorter section of rope to something solid, such as a tree trunk, table leg, etc. You should now have the 10 ft. rope anchored to a tree, etc, and connected to the 40 ft. rope.
Have the team members all pick up the longer section of rope. Give them the following objective and rules, and let them begin.
Objective: Tie a simple overhand knot in the smaller section of rope—the section closest to the tree, table, etc.
-          They cannot let go of the rope.
-          They cannot change their relative positions to each other on the rope.
-          They cannot touch the smaller section of rope.
The team will discover that they must move together to tie the knot in the long rope that they are holding. They will actually need to create the loop and pass team members through it. The challenge then is to somehow transition the knot onto the smaller section of rope, without touching the smaller rope or letting go of the larger rope.
Processing possibilities include:
The need for planning
Ask:  How did you plan? 
          How do you plan new projects at work?
          Did you have to adapt your plans as you went?  How did that go?
          How do you adapt at work when things are complex?
Ask:  How were you communicating as you went? 
          How effective was the communication?
          Was everyone communicating and participating?  Describe it.
          What are common communication challenges at work?
Ask:  How was the overall cooperation in the activity?  Explain.
          When is cooperation critical in your real work?  Why?
          How do you encourage cooperation on the team day-to-day?
As with any experiential team building activity, be prepared to discuss any actions and behaviors that occur during the activity. Relate those activities back to their work settings. For example, if people get frustrated, discuss the impact of frustration levels on real work projects, etc.



August 2010, Giant Lizard Eggs

(Credit for this creative activity goes to our friend Sam Sikes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sam thought this up because he was wanting an activity that he could use bowling balls in. Well, as you’ll see, we have substituted basketballs for the bowling balls—a safer alternative. None the less, it is a great activity.)

-          One basketball per small group. (The activity works best with several small groups. You can do it with a single team, however.)
-          One 6-10 foot soft rope per person. 
-          A laundry basket or other receptacle for the "nest."
-          Have the lizard eggs—basketballs—scattered around the room or outdoor area, on the floor or ground.
-          Stage the basket in a central location. We like to elevate it somewhat for extra challenge. Setting it on an end table or chair works great.
-          Give each team member one of the ropes.
-          Share a scenario with the team, such as, “We have a real crisis here. A giant lizard has made a nest here—the basket—but her eggs have fallen and rolled away from the nest. This species is endangered, so we need to get the eggs back into the nest, so that she won’t abandon them. Unfortunately, the eggs are toxic. Fortunately, we have some material handling devices—the ropes—that will protect us from their toxin.
Objectives and rules:
-          The team’s (groups’) objective is to use the ropes to transport the eggs back to the nest.
-          Participants cannot touch the eggs with their hands or other body parts.
-          Only the ropes can be used.
-          The nest—basket—cannot be moved.
-          Additional rule, if you want to increase the challenge—participants can only touch their own rope with one of their hands. (They will have to discover that they can touch/handle the ropes of their teammates. This forces them to get creative in how they use each other’s ropes.)

Processing points will include:  

-          How did we team together to accomplish the objectives?
-          What was the communication like?
-          Could we have improved the communication and teamwork? How?
-          How did the group diverge for ideas?
-          How did the group converge on a plan?
-          What was done that was innovative? How? Why?
-          What sparked creativity and innovation?
-          Where at work do we need creativity and innovation?
-          How can we facilitate creative ideas in the workplace?
-          What was the team’s focus like on the mission? Why?
-          How well do we focus on our real business mission, day to day? Why or why not?
-          How can we create the focus needed to succeed?
May 2010 , The Envelope

Welcome back for another team building activity.  This particular challenge once again uses a rope to form a shape.  When you are facilitating a team building day for a group, it can be an advantage to sometimes have several activities/challenges that utilize the same props.  You can combine these similar activities back-to-back for ease and efficiency of facilitation, or you may choose to spread them out over the day so that you can provoke the team to think about using past experience and learning as they tackle new assignments and problems.

This activity, as an example, can use the sampe prop (the long rope) that you might have used for other activities we have described in past months on this blog:

  • The Blind Polygon
  • The Star 
This is another great activity that can be done with a rope. Many activities such as Blind Polygon, require that participants be blindfolded. For this particular challenge, blindfolds are not necessary.

The challenge is for the group to create the above shape, which looks like the underside of an envelope with the flap open, with the rope. The rope can never retrace the same line. In other words, it is like one of those puzzles with a pencil and paper, where you must draw the shape without lifting your pencil or re-tracing a line.
Equipment: 50 ft. or greater, soft nylon rope.
Setup: Have the team line up along the rope, and all grasp the rope. Instruct the team about their objective. (I’ll usually show them an index card with the shape.) Tell them that they must each keep their same location on the rope. They can slide up and down the rope, but they cannot hand the rope back and forth to each other. In other words, the rope and the people must move to create the shape. Also advise them that they cannot retrace any line, or double the rope back on a line.
Some groups take quite a bit of time to solve this. Others get very innovative, such as drawing out a sketch on the ground, etc., to create a plan of action.
Ask the team how they began.
Have them describe their planning efforts. Did they plan, or just proceed with trying ideas?
Did leadership emerge? If so, have the team discuss how this occurred, and the importance of it.
How was cooperation during the activity?
Did everyone share a vision about how to complete the task? How did they arrive at this shared understanding? Or, what would have helped them arrive at a shared understanding?
Did the team apply "lessons learned" from previous exercises?  How important is it in the real work of the group, to be able to apply the collective learning and experience of the team to new problems and challenges that confront them?



Stick - Stack

Stick-stack is a great table top activity that can be used in a wide variety of applications. It is especially useful when you want a team or group to discover the importance of having a solid foundation to build their team upon.

  • Gum drops (approximately 16 per team)
  •  10”-12” bamboo skewers  (approximately 16 per team)
Have the group divide into pairs. If you have an odd number of people, allow one team of three people to participate.
Give each pair approximately 15-16 skewers, and about that many gum drops.
Their objective is to build the tallest free standing structure that they can, using only the gum drops and skewers.
Inform them that it is a timed event, and that they will have five minutes to complete their structure.
 Also, each participant can use only one hand. (This adds to the fun, and requires much more teamwork.)
(Caution team members to be careful not to stick each other with the skewers.)
Start the clock and have them begin. Notify them of the time remaining after each minute has elapsed.
At the end of 5-6 minutes, call time. Have team members let go of their creations. This will determine if their structures are “free standing.”
Processing points: 
  •  Ask the group how they approached the challenge?
  • What elements of teamwork were required for success?
  • Was any planning required/performed?
  • How were they impacted by the pressures of time/deadlines? Relate this to their actual work.
  • Ask them to identify what structural characteristics were necessary to meet the “free standing” objective. This will always lead to comments about the base, or foundation. This is perhaps the strongest processing point from the activity, as it lets you shift to a discussion regarding the foundation necessary for successful teams, etc.

 Simple, but powerful in lessons discovered.





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