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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.



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?



Blind Polygon

This is a wonderful classic experiential team building initiative that can be done just about anywhere and with any number of people. Have the rope joined at the ends with a simple knot and lay it on the ground. Organize the team into a loose circle around the rope.  Inform them that they will be blindfolded for the exercise.  Give each person a bandana for that purpose.

Once they have their blindfolds in place ask them to hold their hands out so that you can hand them the rope.  Request that each person hold the rope loosely with both hands.  Next, instruct the team to form some shape. For example, ask them to form a right triangle, without letting go of the rope. Other shapes will work, too. Creating a square is a pretty good challenge. If you want a simpler task, simply ask them to produce a triangle. One of the more difficult forms is an equilateral triangle.

Team members are allowed to slide their hands along the rope as they shift positions, but they are not allowed to hand the rope back and forth, or to take up a different position on the rope. Once they have what they think is a pretty nice looking triangle, ask them to lay it on the ground and remove their blindfolds to view their masterpiece.

Equipment required:

  • 40 ft. rope (groups up to 15 members) - Use a good quality, soft nylon rope, approximately 1/2 “ diameter. A longer rope is necessary for large groups
  • Bandanna/blindfold for each participant

Safety tips:

  • Moving with blindfolds should always be done carefully
  • Nobody should pull the rope quickly as it could cause rope burns
  • Set this up in an area that is free of obstacles
  • If there is a team member who is uncomfortable being blindfolded, you can still let them participate. Just have them work in silence.


  • The importance of adequate information when working on projects.
    • Ask them about how they began their process. 
    • Did they assess the information at hand? 
    • Did they clarify the understanding among the team about the goal of the exercise and the constraints?
  • Leadership
    • How did leadership emerge on the team?
    • Did the team allow leadership to shift as other members had ideas?
  • Decision making
    • What was the decision making process like?
    • Describe the level to which all team members were involved.
  • Communication
    • At the start of the activity, how might you describe the communication within the team?
    • How did the communication progress as the activity got underway?
    • What helped the flow of ideas and information?
    • Were there examples of things that were not effective in the communications?  Explain

Best of luck with this great activity!




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