Deceptively simple teamwork activity. Form two lines facing each other. Lay a long, thin rod on the group's index fingers. Goal: Lower to ground. Reality: It goes up!
8 to 12 ideal, but can be done with 6 to 14
(Total time ~25 mins)
~5 minute briefing and set up
~10-15 minutes of active problem-solving (until success)
~10 minutes discussion
Deceptively simple but powerful exercise for learning how to work together and communicate in small to medium sized groups.
Line up in two rows which face each other.
Introduce the Helium Stick - a long, thin, light rod.
Ask participants to point their index fingers and hold their arms out.
Lay the Helium Stick down on their fingers. Get the group to adjust their finger heights until the Helium Stick is horizontal and everyone's index fingers are touching the stick.
Explain that the challenge is to lower the Helium Stick to the ground.
The catch: Each person's fingers must be in contact with the Helium Stick at all times. Pinching or grabbing the pole in not allowed - it must rest on top of fingers.
Reiterate to the group that if anyone's finger is caught not touching the Helium Stick, the task will be restarted. Let the task begin....
Warning: Particularly in the early stages, the Helium Stick has a habit of mysteriously 'floating' up rather than coming down, causing much laughter. A bit of clever humouring can help - e.g., act surprised and ask what are they doing raising the Helium Stick instead of lowering it! For added drama, jump up and pull it down!
Participants may be confused initially about the paradoxical behaviour of the Helium Stick.
Some groups or individuals (most often larger size groups) after 5 to 10 minutes of trying may be inclined to give up, believing it not to be possible or that it is too hard.
The facilitator can offer direct suggestions or suggest the group stops the task, discusses their strategy, and then has another go.
Less often, a group may appear to be succeeding too fast. In response, be particularly vigilant about fingers not touching the pole. Also make sure participants lower the pole all the way onto the ground. You can add further difficulty by adding a large washer to each end of the stick and explain that the washers should not fall off during the exercise, otherwise it's a restart.
Eventually the group needs to calm down, concentrate, and very slowly, patiently lower the Helium Stick - easier said than done.
How Does it Work?
The stick does not contain helium. The secret (keep it to yourself) is that the collective upwards pressure created by everyone's fingers tends to be greater than the weight of the stick. As a result, the more a group tries, the more the stick tends to 'float' upwards.
What was the initial reaction of the group?
How well did the group cope with this challenge?
What skills did it take to be successful as a group?
What creative solutions were suggested and how were they received?
What would an outside observer have seen as the strengths and weaknesses of the group?
What did each group member learn about him/her self as an individual?
What other situations (e.g., at school, home or work) are like the Helium Stick?
1 bucket filled with “Toxic Waste” (balls)
1 neutralisation bucket
Red herring objects (optional)
Equipped with a bungee cord and rope, a group must work out how to transport a bucket of "Toxic Waste" and tip it into the neutralization bucket. Toxic Waste can be used to highlight almost any aspect of teamwork or leadership.
Total time ~30-50 minutes, consisting of:
~5 minute briefing
~5 minutes group planning time, no action
~15-30 minutes of active problem-solving
~10 minutes discussion/debrief
Group sizes of approximately 7 to 9 are ideal, but the activity can be done with as few as 4 or as many as 12
This is a popular, engaging small group initiative activity which always "works", providing a rich teamwork challenge for about 30-45 minutes. Involves thinking, imagination, action, fantasy, risk and an attractive solution.
The challenge is to move the toxic waste contents to the neutralization container using minimal equipment and maintaining a safe distance within a time limit.
Moderately difficult - avoid using with groups who are still in the early stages of group development. Works best towards the end of a program and/or after the group has come together and dealt with basic teamwork issues.
Can be done indoors or outdoors; outdoors is more dramatic because water can be used as the "toxic waste" instead of balls.
Use the rope to create a circle at least 2.5m in diameter on the ground to represent the toxic waste radiation zone. The larger the radiation zone, the more difficult the activity.
Place the small bucket in the centre of the radiation zone and fill it with water or balls to represent the toxic waste.
Place the neutralization bucket approximately 10-15m away. The greater the distance, the more difficult the activity.
Put all other equipment (i.e., bungee, cords, and red herring objects (optional)) in a pile near the rope circle.
The challenge is for the group to work out how to transfer the toxic waste from the small bucket into the large bucket where it will be "neutralized", using only the equipment provided and within a time frame. The waste will blow up and destroy the world after 20 minutes if it is not neutralized.
Anyone who ventures into the radiation zone will suffer injury and possibly even death, and spillage will create partial death and destruction. Therefore, the group should aim to save the world and do so without injury to any group members.
The rope circle represents the radiation zone emanating from the toxic waste in the bucket. Emphasize that everyone must maintain a distance (circle radius) from the toxic waste wherever it goes, otherwise they will suffer severe injury, such as loss of a limb or even death.
Give the group some planning time with no action e.g. 5 mins, then start the clock and indicate its time for action, e.g., 15 or 20 mins.
Toxic Waste is not an easy exercise and most groups will benefit from some coaching along the way.
The solution involves attaching the cords to the bungee loop, then guiding the bungee with the strings to sit around and grab the toxic waste bucket. Then with everyone pulling on their cord and with good coordination and care, the toxic waste bucket can be lifted, moved and tipped into the empty neutralizing bucket.
If someone breaches the toxic waste zone, indicated by the circle, enforce an appropriate penalty e.g., loss of limbs (hand behind back) or function (e.g., blindfolds if a head enters the zone) that lasts for the rest of the game. If a whole person enters the zone, they die and must then sit out for the rest of the activity.
If the group struggles to work out what to do, freeze the action and help them discuss.
If the group spills the waste entirely, make a big deal about catastrophic failure (everyone dies), invite them to discuss what went wrong and how they can do better, then refill the container and let them have another go.
Ideas for varying the level difficulty of the activity:
Adjust distance between the buckets
Include obstacles between the buckets
Include red herring objects in available equipment
There are invariably plenty of key communications and decisions during the exercise that provide for fruitful debriefing.
The exercise will tend to naturally expose processes and issues related to many aspects of teamwork, including cooperation, communication, trust, empowerment, risk-taking, support, problem-solving, decision-making, and leadership.
Can be videoed for subsequent analysis and debriefing.
How successful was the group? e.g. consider:
How long did it take?
Was there any spillage?
Were there any injuries? (Often in the euphoria of finishing participants will overlook their errors and seem unconcerned about injuries and deaths caused by carelessness along the way. Make sure there is an objective evaluation of performance - it is rarely 'perfect'.)
How well did the group cope with this challenge? (e.g., out of 10?)
What was the initial reaction of the group?
What skills did it take for the group to be successful?
What would an outside observer have seen as the strengths and weaknesses of the group?
How did the group come up with its best ideas?
What did each group member learn about him/her self as a group member?
What lessons did the group learn from this exercise which could be applied to future situations?
Can be used with large groups (with multiple kits and divided into small groups).
The toxic waste bucket can be used upside down, with a ball balanced on top.
The activity can be framed in many different ways, e.g., instead of waste, it could presented as a desirable substance, such as a life saving serum which needs be carefully transported.
Divide the group into leaders and workers. Leaders can talk but not touch equipment. Workers cannot talk but can touch equipment.
For added drama, the toxic waste can be floated on a platform in a swimming pool
A chemical reaction can be created by putting baking soda in the neutralization container and vinegar in the toxic waste container. When combined, they froth.
Object Retrieval is a variation in which a group needs to retrieve a heavy object from the middle of a circle, without touching the ground in the surrounding circle
Zoom & Re-Zoom
“Zoom” and/or “Re-Zoom” books by Istvan Banyai.
A group tries to create a unified story from a set of sequential pictures. The pictures are randomly ordered and handed out. Each person has a picture but cannot show it to others. Requires patience, communication, and perspective taking in order to recreate the story's sequence.
20 to 30 ideal, but can be done with fewer (see variations)
This engaging group activity helps develop communication skills, perspective taking, and problem solving skills.
Based on the intriguing, wordless, picture books "Zoom" and "Re-Zoom" by Istvan Banyai which consist of 30 sequential "pictures within pictures". The Zoom narrative moves from a rooster to a ship to a city street to a desert island and outer space. Zoom has been published in 18 countries. The Re-Zoom narrative moves from an Egyptian hieroglyphic to a film set to an elephant ride to a billboard to a train.
Hand out one picture per person (make sure a continuous sequence is used).
Explain that participants may only look at their own pictures and must keep their pictures hidden from others.
Encourage participants to study their picture, since it contains important information to help solve a problem.
The challenge is for the group to sequence the pictures in the correct order without looking at one another's pictures.
Participants will generally mill around talking to others to see whether their pictures have anything in common. Sometimes leadership efforts will emerge to try to understand the overall story.
When the group believes they have all the pictures in order (usually after ~15 minutes), the pictures can be turned over for everyone to see.
Works with any age group, including corporate groups.
Can be done indoors or outdoors.
Once the challenge is finished, allow everyone to see the pictures and encourage participants to sort out any mistakes in the order (can be done on a table or the floor), then let everyone walk around view the pictures in sequence so they understand the full story.
Use as a novel icebreaker by handing each participant a picture on arrival. When everyone has arrived, explain that each person is holding part of a story and that the group task is to find out what the story is by putting their pictures in sequence.
Use a time limit to increase difficulty and enhance focus on teamwork.
Team performance can be measured (e.g., for a competition) by counting how many pictures are out of sequence.
If there are a few more people than cards, then pair people up.
For larger groups, if there is enough people then have 2 or more groups running the activity at the same time or use a sequence of cards to suit the group size.
For smaller groups, try disallowing talking. This increases the difficulty and creates the need for expressive sign language. In general, allow large groups to talk because there is enough complexity sorting out all the pictures.
Another way to increase complexity with small groups is to give each person more than one picture.
To reduce complexity for young groups (e.g., pre-school), allow a small group to look through all pictures and organize the story from beginning to end.
There is usually much potential for debriefing and discussion.
Why was it hard to get the story together?
(everyone had a piece, but no-one had the big picture)
What type of communication was used in attempting to solve the problem?
What communication methods might have worked better? e.g., Imagine if, at the outset, the group had taken the time to let each person describe his/her picture to the rest of the group. What would have happened then? Would the solution have been found faster? What prevented such strategies from being considered?
Did you try to "second position" (i.e., see one's communications from the perspective of others)?
What kind of leadership was used to tackle the problem?
In addition to the above, you have salvaged a four man rubber life craft.
The total contents of your combined pocket’s amounts to a packet of cigarettes, three boxes of matches and 3 $10 notes.
Scenario Type 2: People Survival Scenario (Who will be saved?)
A nuclear bomb has been dropped...a radiation-free shelter is available, but can only take 6 people; choose who will survive...
Choose / rank people in terms of who will get to live or die in situations with limited survival resources:
Participants role play characters (a bit like a Murder Mystery)
Can lead to high emotions; people get intensely engaged, particularly when choosing who will survive, and none of the decisions are easy.
No right answers - any so-called "correct" answers are based on debatable values (e.g., ageism, sexism, racism)
Highlights individual's dispositions, group processes and decision making
Nuclear war shelter
Oxygen dwindling (space, moon, mars)
Lifeboat (described below) / Sinking ship (sea)
Sample Scenario- Lifeboat
A small aircraft crashes in the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean. There is damage to the aircraft on impact with the water which causes the electronic systems within to be damaged. The resulting radio failure means that no may-day message can be sent.
Of the sixteen passengers on the plane there are nine survivors. The location of the crash is approximately one and a half days from the nearest land. The life raft on one side of the airplane can be used, however there is only room for four persons in it.
Your group must reach a decision as to which four persons can enter the life raft. You have approximately 30 minutes to reach this decision before the aircraft sinks.
The following are the details of the nine survivors.
1 'Ace' Browning. Ace was the pilot at the time of the crash and it was his expertise which landed the aircraft in one piece, enabling it to float. 'Ace' received his pilot training and nickname when he was in the Airforce. He is the son of an Air Vice-Marshall and a decorated Gulf veteran. He is a keen golfer and collects theatre memorabilia. Recently, there has been some concern amongst his colleagues that he is showing signs of a drinking problem. He is one of a team of volunteer pilots who carry out mercy missions which drop food and medical aid in places of crises.
2 Geoff McGraw. Geoff was returning from a medical conference where he gave a paper on "Re-building Facial Features Following Accidents". He is a recent divorcee with four grown up children. At 57 he owns a plastic surgery clinic in California from which he has made a considerable fortune. Geoff has established a charitable programme which helps children with facial injuries. His hobbies include collecting vintage cars, deep sea fishing.
The Butler family - James, Patience and Prudence
3 James Butler is a 40 year old church minister. He has been a missionary in Papua New Guinea for the past 15 years. He is keen to take up the challenge of a new post in Haiti, but has not discussed the move with his wife, Patience, as he is aware that she is anxious to return to the UK and start a career. He is also torn by the wish to spend more time with his two older children. James' hobbies are bridge and fishing.
4 Patience Butler (35) did a lot of voluntary work whilst in Papua New Guinea. She established a youth club which developed skills such as orienteering and homecrafts in young people. For many years Patience has wanted to start a career; she has the manuscript of a first book which she intends to take to a publisher. Her book explores issues relating to helping indigenous peoples and their way of life survive the 21st century. She has three children.
5 PrudenceButler. Prudence Butler, an epileptic, was travelling from Papua New Guinea to London with her parents at the time of the accident. She is a very intelligent 10 year old girl and shows great talent at music and languages. She has two siblings, a fourteen year old brother and a 12 year old sister who are both at boarding school in the UK. Prudence did not want to take time out of school for this trip but her father felt that it was important that she visit her brother and sister.
6 Donald Heap. Donald Heap is a 45 year old married man with two children. He is the Conservative member for Happiburgh and currently resides on the back bench following a brief, but very public period as Junior Minister in the Department for Defence. Donald resigned from this position because of a scandal involving insider dealing. Donald is a self-made man, having made his fortune in sports clothing. He is an Olympic medallist in track events and used his world-wide reputation as a sportsman in marketing his goods. His hobbies include sailing, squash and growing hothouse orchids.
7 Sam Comfort. Sam is a 29 year old nurse and a member of Greenpeace. He abandoned plans to marry three years ago and took up a post as Nursing Officer at an Antarctic research station where he carried out work on hypothermia. He got on very well with the rest of the team at the research station and would like to renew his contract and return there. Sam is a very gifted musician, he plays the violin and enjoys swimming and badminton.
8 Professor Mu Chado. Professor Chado has been Professor of Microbiology at the University of Barkington for the past 10 years. He has developed an antibody to the HIV virus that has proved successful in combating illness in experimental animals. He is 60 years old and a bachelor. He was physically disabled when he was 30 in a riding accident and has since then been confined to a wheelchair. His hobbies include water colour painting
9 Philippa Lowes-Harrington. Philippa Lowes-Harrington is a Performance Director in the energy industry. She is a 50 year old married woman with no children. Philippa spent 12 years in the army and retired at the age of 30 at the rank of Captain. Her hobbies include skiing and collecting objet d'art. She has been involved in negotiations where the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a number of valuable pieces of British art from Japan and the United State. Currently she is the Chair of a working group which is considering how art may be used to improve inner-city environments. Philippa has recently been diagnosed as HIV positive.
Appoint a time keeper in each group and encourage them to be the person who monitors the progress of the group towards achieving consensus within the time frame.
To emphasise individual versus group decision making, split the session into three parts:
Individuals make their own selections first, on paper (5-10 minutes)
Groups (or sub-groups) then discuss and create a group decision
Compare individual and group performances, e.g.,:
For equipment scenarios, group decisions are usually more accurate than individual answers, helping to illustrate the importance of collaborative group decision-making.
For people scenarios, score individuals according to how close the group's decision was to their own selections of who is to live and die (an indicator of each person's influence over the group).
Possible Debrief Questions
How were decisions made?
Who influenced the decisions and how?
How could better decisions have been made?
How was conflict managed?
How did people feel about the decisions?
How satisfied was each person with the decision (ask each participant to rate his / her satisfaction out of 10, then obtain a group average and compare / discuss with other groups' satisfaction levels)
What have you learnt about the functioning of this group?
How would you do the activity differently if you were asked to do it again?
What situations at work/home/school do you think are like this exercise?
Markers or lengths of rope to indicate the boundaries (e.g., 50 yard rectangular field)
Bowling pins or many soft objects, such as larger balls and stuff - the more the better
Blind folds (can be optional)
Objects are scattered in an indoor or outdoor place. In pairs, one person verbally guides his/her partner, whose eyes are closed or blindfolded, through the "minefield".
2 to 30 is possible; works well with larger groups e.g., 16 to 24.
A popular and engaging game involving communication and trust. The task is very flexible, works for groups of various types and sizes, and can be adapted to youth, adults, corporate, etc.
Select an appropriate area. Go outside, if possible. Can be done inside, even in rooms with fixed furniture (which can become objects to be avoided).
Distribute "mines" e.g., balls or other objects such as bowling pins, cones, foam noodles, etc.
Establish a concentrating and caring tone for this activity. Trust exercises require a serious atmosphere to help develop a genuine sense of trust and safety.
Participants operate in pairs. Consider how the pairs are formed - it's a chance to work on relationships. One person is blind-folded (or keeps eyes closed) and cannot talk (optional). The other person can see and talk, but cannot enter the field or touch the person.
The challenge is for each blind-folded person to walk from one side of the field to the other, avoiding the "mines", by listening to the verbal instructions of their partners.
Allow participants a short period (e.g., 3 minutes) of planning time to decide on their communication commands, then begin the activity.
Be wary of blindfolded people bumping into each other. The instructor(s) can float around the playing area to help prevent collisions.
Decide on the penalty for hitting a "mine". It could be a restart (serious consequence) or time penalty or simply a count of hits, but without penalty.
It can help participants if you suggest that they each develop a unique communication system. When participants swap roles, give participants some review and planning time to refine their communication method.
Allow participants to swap over and even have several attempts, until a real, satisfied sense of skill and competence in being able to guide a partner through the "minefield" develops.
The activity can be conducted one pair at a time (e.g., in a therapeutic situation), or with all pairs at once (creates a more demanding exercise due to the extra noise/confusion).
Can be conducted as a competitive task - e.g., which pair is the quickest or has the fewest hits?
The facilitator plays an important role in creating an optimal level of challenge, e.g. consider introducing more items or removing items if it seems too easy or too hard. Also consider coaching participants with communication methods (e.g., for younger students, hint that they could benefit from coming up with clear commands for stop, forward, left, right, etc.).
Be cautious about blind-folding people - it can provoke trust and care issues and trigger post-traumatic reactions. Minimize this risk by sequencing Mine Field within a longer program involving other get-to-know-you and trust building activities before Mine Field.
Minefield in a Circle: Blindfolded people start on the outside of a large rope circle, go into middle, get an item ("treasure", e.g., a small ball or bean bag), then return to the outside; continue to see who can get the most objects within a time period.
Metaphorical Framing: Some set ups for minefield get very elaborate and metaphor-rich, e.g., hanging objects which metaphorically reflect the participants' background and/or issues. For example, items which represent drugs, peer pressure, talking with parents about the problem, etc. have been used in a family adventure therapy program (Gillis & Simpson, 1994).
Participants can begin by trying to cross the field by themselves. In a second round, participants can then ask someone else to help them traverse the field by "talking" them through the field.
To increase the difficulty, you can have other people calling out. The blindfolded person must concentrate on their partner's voice amidst all the other voices that could distract them from the task.
Be aware that some participants may object to, or have previous traumatic experience around the metaphor of explosive mines which have caused and continue to cause much harm and suffering. It may be preferable to rename the activity, for example, as an "obstacle course" or "navigation course". Alternatively, the activity could be used to heighten awareness about the effect of land mines on the lives of people in countries such as Afghanistan and Nicaragua Processing Ideas
How much did you trust your partner (out of 10) at the start?
How much did you trust your partner (out of 10) at the end?
What is the difference between going alone and being guided by another?
What ingredients are needed when trusting and working with someone else?
What did your partner do to help you feel safe and secure?
What could your partner have done to help make you feel more safe/secure?
What communication strategies worked best?
Balloon Juggle & Sort
Challenge participants to keep all balloons (1+ per person) in the air. This gets the group moving and cooperating. Once they've got the hang of it, make it harder by adding in more balloons or placing restrictions e.g., no hands to keep balloons up. Ask participants to keep juggling the balloons, but to sort them into colours (works best with large groups).
Two to three inflated balloons per person are needed and a stopwatch. Each person has a balloon, with the rest in a nearby pile. Everyone begins bouncing their balloons in the air. Every five seconds, another balloon is added. See how long the group can keep the balloons bouncing before receiving six penalties. A penalty is announced loudly (to create stress!) by the leader when a balloon hits the floor, or once on the floor, if is not got back into play within five seconds. The leader keeps a cumulative score by shouting out "one", "two", etc. When the leader gets to "six", time is stopped. After some discussion, the group tries to better its record with another attempt.
Catch the Balloon
A handy name game. Stand in a circle. Toss a balloon in the air and call someone's name. That person must catch the balloon before it touches the ground. If the person succeeds he/she then tosses the balloon up and calls the next name.
An extension of Catch the Balloon. Now the balloon is not caught, but kept in the air. As well as calling out someone's name, also call out a body part which that person has to use to keep the balloon in the air until he/she calls another person's name and body part.
Divide into teams. Each team stands in a small circle. See which team can keep a balloon aloft the longest using only breath. Watch out for hyperventilation!
Start off with everyone in a circle, facing inwards, hands behind back. The objective is for everyone to be in the centre keeping all balloons afloat. Put between zero and three balloons in people's hands behind their backs. Participants should not let on to others how many they have. The leader starts by trying to keep three balloons afloat in the centre. When it becomes difficult, the leader calls somebody's name and says "X, I need your help!". That person comes in with all their balloons and helps until it becomes difficult and then they call "Y, I need your help!". If a balloon falls on the ground, it must be picked up by someone in the centre and kept afloat.
Great Egg Drop
For each group:
~ 4 to 12 straws (number depends on desired difficulty)
masking tape (amount depends on desired difficulty)
any other items for creating the egg package - can also add red herrings
Small groups design an egg package to save an egg from breaking when dropped. Plus a 30 second jingle to sell their package. Followed by the Great Egg Drop-Off.
Engaging small group activity (4 or 5) as part of larger group (e.g., 20 up to 100)
Can be run as a competition between teams
Task is to build a single egg package that can sustain a fall of 8ft (top of a supermarket shelf)
Can be used to highlight any almost aspect of teamwork or leadership
Lends itself to building a dramatic large group scenario/finale for the Egg Drop Off
Can include the task of presenting a 30-second advert for the egg package. This increases the complexity of the activity.
Lends itself to production line or project management metaphors
Give no equipment - participants are to find natural materials from the local environment.
Approximately 15 mins
A simple, close physical contact group cooperation activity. The group forms the three parts of an Amoeba: protoplasm, cell wall and nucleus. Then the group travels, splits into two amoebas, and the amoeba have a race.
A fun game, using a basic biology concept of a cell
Requires cooperation, competition and close physical interaction. Useful as a simple activity to help a group get comfortable with one another.
Explain how to create an amoeba. There are 3 parts: