January 2010 -- The Human Knot
Six to ten people can participate in each group. Eight is a great number. The level of difficulty goes up considerably as group size increases. We often will do the exercise with six in each circle, then follow it with eight in each circle. This allows you to facilitate regarding how complexity on a team tends to increase with group size.
Have the members of each group form a loose circle, more or less shoulder to shoulder. Have each person raise their right hand. Instruct them to reach across and grab one person's hand. Make sure not to grab the person's hand on either side of you.
Next, have them reach their left hand up in the air and again grab one person's hand. They should not grab the person on either side, or the same person they already have.
Now they will be in a big knot! Explain that the challenge is to untangle into one circle, with no crossed arms, without letting go of hands. (Sometimes you may end up with two interlocking circles or two separate circles.) Remind them to be careful when stepping over arms, especially for contact between knees and noses. Then, step back and watch them work.
If after awhile little progress has been made, offer to give them one re-grip. Often times this clears up the problem and they continue with renewed enthusiasm. Pay attention to the attitude of the group and use your judgment when giving re-grips. When the team accomplishes the task, celebration abounds!
- Lead the group in some stretches for the upper body before this initiative.
- Do not allow "inter-digitation" (when fingers are intertwined)- Be extra careful when someone is stepping over the arms of other people. A knee can easily crunch a nose.
- The facilitator should follow the movement, spotting when anyone is moving and anticipating the team's moves.
- Allow anyone to change their grip if they are uncomfortable, but not to gain an advantage.
- Problem solving skills
- Ask how they tackled the problem.
- How did the problem solving evolve as they tried different ideas?
- Are there real-life problems where you must experiment and try many potential solutions? Examples?
- Team celebration
- Ask the group about how it felt when they met with success.
- Do they take time to celebrate real work accomplishments in their day-to-day workplace?
- "Accomplishing what looked like the impossible"
- When you face a challenge or problem that at first seems "impossible," what is important for team success?
- What are some examples of this in your group's experience together? Explain.
- Ask them to describe how leadership took shape in the group for this exercise.
- What worked well in regards to leadership? Explain.
- What seemed to hinder progress? Explain.
- Team size, and how complexity can increase as group size goes up.
- If you do this exercise as suggested, beginning with group size of six, then following with an interation including more people, ask the team members to describe the differences in complexity as the size of the group increased.
- When working with larger teams, or multiple teams, what are keys to success?
This is a powerful activity. It can be done indoors or out. It requires no equipment, which gives facilitators a lot of flexibility regarding where and when they can lead this exercise with a group.