Skip to main content

Communication Games [edit]

This section is for team building games focused on improving communication skills.

Company Quiz Game

Icebreaker, discussion-starter, inter-departmental relations, company/product-knowledge, induction training, policy review, staff awareness, etc

This simple exercise format is adaptable for a wide variety of training and development situations.

Cut the questions from the grid below, or create your own.

Fold each question and put them into a box, or the middle of a table.

Members of the group must then in turn take a question, read it aloud, and offer an answer.

Before moving to the next question, the group should discuss, refine and agree the correct answer.

You can expand the exercise by splitting the group into teams and giving points and offering incorrect answers as bonus questions.

Tips and variations:

  • Keep the exercise flowing - don't become stalled for a long time on discussion or disagreement which cannot be resolved correctly and quickly.
  • Make notes of issues which cannot be agreed correctly/satisfactorily, especially those with potentially serious implications, or which highlight a serious development/awareness need.
  • Optionally allocate responsibility for delegates to check and report back to the group later in the day/course about unresolved questions.
  • Ideally the facilitator should know/research the answers to all questions before running the exercise.
  • Optionally ask the group to create the questions - for example, one question to be contributed per delegate, which works well where inter-departmental awareness is a development need. (If anyone draws out their own question they should pick another.)

Question grid (devise your own as appropriate):

Our top-selling product by value?Our top-selling product by profitability?Our biggest customer by value?Our biggest supplier by value?
Our staff grievance procedure first point of contact?Our receptionist name(s)?Our company ownership is public / private / partnership / social enterprise /other?Our CEO / MD is?
Our company head of legal department is?Our customer services telephone number is?Our health and safety information is held where exactly?Our COSHH (or equivalent) information is held where exactly?
Where can customers / staff park bicycles?How many days holiday are new starters entitled to in the first year?What is our policy on trade union membership?What is our policy on the minimum / living wage?
What are our opening hours?Where is the outside rallying point for fire evacuation?Who is our PR agency?What is our main industry trade association?
Who is responsible for on-site first aid?Where is our corporate governance policy?When was our company founded?Who founded our company?

These questions are just examples. Create your own, and ensure you clarify questions where ambiguity could exist.

Instructions Exercise

Warm-up, clear instructions, process design, effective writing, how to write training notes and user instructions, etc

This is a very simple exercise for any group of people, any age and ability.

The task suggested is 'how to tie a shoelace', but you can substitute any other easy instinctive skill (e.g., 'make a paper aeroplane' or 'play a game of noughts and crosses') if you prefer. Ideally something that people can actually do for real in the review.

The purpose of the activity is to start people thinking and working, and particularly to assist thinking and learning about:

  • What we know unconsciously ourselves is not always simple to explain to others
  • Conscious competence in a skill can produce complacency when teaching/managing/coaching others in that skill (just because it's easy for us does not mean it's easy and second nature to someone else)
  • Empathy
  • How to write clearly - instructions, manuals, teaching notes, public information, advertising, etc
  • Process design
  • Effective communications/instruction/direction

The task for the group - individually, or in pairs or teams or as a whole (depending on your situation and aims) - is to write some instructions as to how to tie a shoelace.

Of course nearly everyone aged 4+ probably knows how to tie a shoelace, but that's not the point - the point is how to write a simple process and an instructional guide.

You may add extra dimensions to the exercise by suggesting/agreeing:

  • A type of audience/footwear for the instructions (for example, people for whom English is not their native language, young people, people with learning difficulties, people with disabilities, etc)
  • A specification for a correctly tied shoelace (or leave this flexible - up to you, depending on the emphasis you want to apply in the task)
  • Scenario(s) - (e.g., sports shoe, fell-walker's boot, workman's heavy boot, etc)

The time allowed for the task and review is flexible according to your situation.

Obviously avoid arrangements that will be unnecessarily time-consuming and tedious, for example do not ask a group of twenty people to do the task individually and to present their results individually, or the exercise will take til lunchtime..

Ideally review the group's work so that at least some of the resulting instructions can be viewed by the whole group.

You should also encourage people to try to follow - in practice - at least some of the resulting instructions (which is often overlooked by writers of manuals and instructions).


  • Process - is there one? - numbered steps are usually best
  • Clarity of writing/words/language - is it clear and unambiguous?
  • Did anyone think to add some diagrams? - a picture tells a thousand words..
  • Did anyone think to be even more creative and make a video?... (as facilitator you can decide if this negates the need for written instructions.. what if the audience can't access the video?..)
  • Are elements defined helpfully - did anyone use the word 'aglet'?..(it's the thin tube at the lace ends - it's not a necessary part of the exercise but is a point of trivial interest)
  • Ease of reading
  • Relevance for given scenario(s)/learner audience

The activity offers a very neat association with the concept and principles of empathy, and the metaphor of 'putting yourself in the other person's shoes' when communicating to others.

Day Colours Exercise

Individual perspectives, emotional triggers, empathy, Johari window, respecting personal differences

This is a very simple quick and fascinating exercise to illustrate how people often have different views of the same thing, which is central to understanding empathy and many related concepts.

The activity may be used as an icebreaker or larger discussion exercise, for groups of any size and age/seniority, subject to appropriate facilitation for your situation.

Example explanation and instruction to a group:

Emotions and feelings within each of us are 'triggered' in different ways. We think differently and therefore see things differently. We often do not imagine that other people may see something quite differently to how we see the 'same' thing. Management and relationships, in work and outside of work too, depend heavily on our being able to understand the other person's view, and what causes it to be different to our own.

To illustrate this, and to explore how mental associations can 'colour' (US-English 'color') our worlds differently:

  1. Close your eyes and imagine the days of the week
  2. What colour is each day?
  3. Write down the colour of each day

Review and compare people's different colour associations, and - where people consciously know and are willing to share their reasons/associations - review these differences too.

Note: If anyone sees all the days as the same color, or sees no colour association at all, or perhaps sees or senses a more powerful alternative association, then this is another equally worthy personal viewpoint and difference.

The days of the week are a simple fixed pattern. Yet we see them in different ways. It is easy to imagine the potential for far greater differences in the way we see more complex situations - like our work, our responsibilities and our relationships, etc. Human beings will never see things in exactly the same way - this is not the aim or work or life - instead the aim should be to understand each other's views far better, so that we can minimise conflict and maximise cooperation.

Useful reference materials:

Johari Window


Transactional Analysis

The Psychological Contract

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

Erikson's Life Stage Theory

Generational Differences

Personality Theories and Models

Lifestyle Acronyms

Social demographics, creativity and invention, lifestyle types and choices, compact communications, generational theory

A simple exercise to encourage thinking about demographics, generational ideas, language, and communications.

For groups of any size. Split into pairs, threes, or work teams and review as appropriate, or run the activity as a quick ice-breaker.

Instruction to the group:

Acronyms are powerful in communicating a lot of information very succinctly, and also in illustrating this principle, which relates to generational issues in management and life.

We have probably all heard of amusing lifestyle aconyms such as DINKY (Double Income, No Kids Yet); GOFER (Genial Old Farts Enjoying Retirement); ORCHID (One Recent Child, Heavily In Debt); and the more formal term NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training).

What acronym can you devise (or suggest one you know already) that is particularly appropriate for modern times?

Where groups devise their own acronyms you may optionally award a point for each letter in the acronym and bonus points for:

  • true acronyms (which either seem like a word or make a real word, using the first letter from each word in the full expression)
  • a meaningful 'bacronym' (in which the word spelled by the acronym relates cleverly to the expression)

You can alternatively/additionally ask the group to devise new portmanteau words, which by itself would enable a quicker activity.

Review/discuss results as appropriate for your situation.

Optional equipment - dictionary and thesaurus.

Early Bird/Second Mouse

Creative thinking, presentation skills, debating, analysis, teamworking, group decision dynamics

This is a simple exercise for groups between 8 and 30 people, and involves many different learning elements: understanding strategies, teamwork, presentations, argument, debate, analysis and group decision-making.

The activity is based on the funny one-liner (often attributed to comedian Stephen Wright), which is deeper than first seems:

"The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

Split the group into two teams.

Nominate one team to be 'early bird' and the other team to be 'second mouse' (or allow the group to decide this themselves, which can be an interesting mini-exercise in its own right).

Give the teams 5-10 minutes, each to develop a 60-second presentation (or longer for bigger groups and more learning depth) as to why their strategy ('early bird' or 'second mouse') is best for business (or work or life, depending on your situation).

Encourage the teams to make use of the knowledge and abilities and views of all team members in creating their presentations.

After the two presentations chair a 5-10 minute debate between the teams of the question:

"Early bird or second mouse: Which is the most effective strategy for business (or work or life)?"

(Optionally, ask the teams if in light of the presentations they would prefer to frame the question in a different way. People might now see a more constructive approach to the question. Again this can be a useful mini-exercise in its own right.)

After the debate, hold a 'free' vote to see what the combined group now believes about the question. Allow but do not encourage abstentions ('don't knows'). Encourage group members to vote as individuals, putting their team loyalty to one side.

There are many possible learning areas to review after this exercise, depending on your situation and development purposes, for example:

  • Different strategies for different situations - adaptability versus consistency
  • Different strategies for different types of people and personalities or organizational cultures
  • Assembling an argument/case/presentation in a team against a tight deadline
  • Presenting a concise and convincing argument/presentation
  • Constructive debate and discussion - using evidence, examples, structure, passion, etc
  • With regard to the optional re-framing of the debate question - the significance of question-wording when a group is asked a question, and the potential to distort unhelpfully or focus helpfully on the main issue
  • How groups consider and decide
  • Responsibility of those in authority to assist and enable clear understanding, debate and decision-making
  • The dilemma of personal views versus 'team' views ('real-life' examples: parliamentary voting - keeping to the party-line, or personal convictions/local constituency; also management dilemma in implementing corporate policy with which a manager may personally disagree - what are the important reference points in making these judgements?
  • Any other aspects applicable or arising.

Some reference materials:

Problem-solving and decision-making





Clean Language - an interesting type of neutral enabling questioning, used in therapy

Newspaper Story Interpretation

Understanding and applying motivational theories, or other principles and models of management

For groups of any size, subject to splitting into working teams and managing the review of the team work.

The exercise will take 5-10 minutes plus whatever review you think is appropriate for your situation.

Equipment: Some daily national or local newspapers. Enough for every person to have at least 2-3 sheets.

Issue the newspapers to the group or team(s).

Instruction to team(s):

Each person must find a news story in the newspaper to which he/she can apply a motivational theory, by way of interpreting the story and being able to explain the story in terms of the chosen theory.

Example theories, which can be illustrated in news stories:

You may of course direct group members to any management/motivational theories or models that fit your purposes.

You may nominate specific models, or seek examples of models from the group, then write these on pieces of paper, fold, and have people pick them 'blind'.

To focus people's attention on key points in their analysis, and to ensure that reviews are kept compact and fast-moving, you can instruct people to present their interpretations in a very concise verbal summary, optionally using a flip chart or white-board, of no more than 30 seconds.

Allow discussion and debate of matters arising as appropriate, according to the needs and timings of your session.

To save review time - ask people to work in pairs, or in teams - requiring each pair or team to present an interpretation of only one story, being the most powerful example that the pair or team can find in the time allowed.

If the group has access to computers, internet and group display this enables the use of online news websites rather than newspapers.

The Three Describers

Introductions, Johari mutual awareness, team dynamics, team development)

This is a long explanation for actually a very simple activity.

The game is for groups of up to twenty people, or more provided they know each other.

Equipment and set up:

  • Split the group into equal teams of three or four people.
  • Teams of five or six are okay although will require firm time control. Teams of seven or more are not recommended.
  • Issue each person a pen/pencil and four note-sized pieces of paper, or four sticky-notes - 3-5 inches wide.
  • Each team should be sat around their own table, or around ends/corners of a big table, or alternatively on the floor, or around a wall-space if using sticky notes.

Instruction to both teams (to each person):

  • Write your own name on one of the notes (in plain handwriting which cannot be identified to you - or ask someone else to do this if you have a distinctive writing style).
  • Write clearly three positive words - one on each note - which strongly describe or represent you. Do this hidden from others, and again in a plain style of handwriting which will not identify you as the writer. (N.B. For the purposes of this exercise only positive describing words are permitted. This activity is not suitable for exposing and discussing individual weaknesses, and negative describing words can be unhelpful given the nature of this exercise. This is important to clarify at the outset, because there's no easy way to remove or substitute unhelpful words once they've been exposed.)
  • Move all describer notes and name notes to the centre of your team's table (or wall-space) and mix them up.
  • (Optionally before this, turn/fold the notes face down. There is benefit where people do not reveal their descriptions to their own team, so that discovery and surprise as to who 'owns' the describers is experienced by everyone and not just the guessing team.)
  • Ask the teams to move to the/an other team's table/wall-space so that they are working with another team's describers.
  • The task for each team is to re-arrange the describers in sets of three beneath the appropriate name note, correctly allocating the describers to the 'owners'. (Obviously negative or controversial words would at this stage become potentially upsetting and problematical.)
  • The winning team is the one which achieves the most correctly allocated describers.
  • N.B. Where more than two teams play the game, the initial review stage (when correct answers are given) becomes complex logistically and so teams should be instructed to show the correct answers on a separate sheet of paper when returning to their tables/walls, rather than disturbing the original suggested answers. This enables everyone in the group, (if warranted - notably for groups which work together), to review all the guesses and the correct answers - which works best using sticky notes and wall-space.

Additional guidance notes:

  • Where groups do not already know each other ask them to make brief personal introductions to the group before the exercise. Do not give warning of the exercise to come - but do ask for people to introduce themselves with a little more information than merely name and job.
  • When explaining the exercise - describing words ('describers') can be personality characteristics, such as determined, diplomatic, reserved, confident, friendly, etc., and/or more symbolic words such as music, football, mountain, adventure, family, etc., which represent a very significant personal characteristic.
  • Some people will relate readily to the idea of using symbolic words; others will prefer to use only words which conventionally describe a personality.
  • Emphasise that people should try to use words which genuinely and honestly represent themselves in a positive way.
  • The facilitator reserves the right to withdraw any negative or controversial describing words, and to deduct penalty points from the offending team. The facilitator can explain that exposing personal weaknesses is important, but not in this exercise (so this is not a matter of denial or rose-tinted spectacles - it's a matter of what's appropriate for the exercise, given how it works).
  • The facilitator reserves the right to deduct points from any team where a word is considered to be too obscure and not strongly representative of the person, and to award bonus points where a particularly difficult describing word is correctly allocated.
  • Where several teams play the game, the initial review of correct/incorrect answers - as teams move from one table to another - needs to be planned and controlled appropriately. Ensure teams are instructed not to move the describers arranged by the guessing team, instead to show the correct answers on a separate sheet of paper, which can be used to manage the awarding of points.
  • Where it is not possible to form equal team sizes (for example with groups of 7, 11, 13, 17, etc) the facilitator is advised to to rule beforehand (that either): team totals will be adjusted pro-rate to take account of the imbalance; or that since there is both advantage and disadvantage in having a larger/smaller team, no points adjustment is warranted. The important thing is to decide beforehand rather than be caught out mid-exercise without a firm rule.
  • It is perfectly possible to play this game using ordinary pens/pencils and paper (rather than thicker marker pens), although visibility is reduced and so is less effective, especially for larger groups.

Review and reference materials:

The Johari Window Model is central to mutual awareness.

  • Explore what alternative words people would use to describe each other? What words surprised us and why?
  • What can we say about the differences between: how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we imagine others see us?
  • What obstacles tend to exist when we don't know each other? (And when other aspects of mutual awareness are not good?)
  • Why is it that lack of mutual awareness tends to cause difficulties, whereas good mutual awareness tends to produce benefits?
  • How does good mutual awareness in a team enable greater delegation of responsibility, and generally better and easier performance?
  • Relate these issues to team development models, such as Tannenbaum and Schmidt and Tuckman's Forming Storming model.
  • Consider awareness of team strengths in the context of models such as VAK and Multiple Intelligence.
  • Discuss mutual awareness from a team leadership view, for example Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model.

Many other views of personality and differences in people can be explored via Personality Models and Theory.

N. B. Where the exercise is used as more of an ice-breaker for a group which has only recently been introduced to each other, a separate learning illustration is how much (or little) we seek, observe and absorb about new people we meet, and whether we can be more attentive at such times, since this reflects on perceived levels of empathy, and can influence people's self-esteem and confidence, and readiness to cooperate, etc.

Drawing Game

Teamworking, change, communications, creativity)

A quick flexible exercise for groups of all sizes and ages. It's based on a simple drawing game we have all played as children.

Equipment required: Pens/pencils and paper.

Split the group into teams of three.

Instruction to group:

One person in each team starts by drawing a shape or outline.

The drawing is then passed to the next team member who must add to the drawing.

And so on.

Time spent by each person in turn on the drawing is limited to 5 seconds. (The facilitator can shout 'change' when appropriate.)

No discussion is permitted during the drawing, nor any agreement before the drawing of what the team will draw.

The drawing must be completed in one minute.

Optional review (short version of exercise), for example:

  • Did the team draw anything recognizable?
  • How easy was the understanding between team members?
  • How did team members work differently on this task?
  • What was the effect of time pressure?
  • Was there a natural tendency to draw supportively and harmoniously, or were there more conflicting ideas?

Continue without the above review for a longer activity, involving scoring and a winning team:

After one minute of drawing each team must agree privately a description (maximum three words) of what they have drawn, and pass this to the facilitator, to be referred to later. Teams must identify their drawing with a team name.

The drawings are then passed around the group for each team to guess and write on the reverse of other team's drawings what they believe the drawing is or represents.

Teams are not permitted to look at the reverse of the drawings (at other descriptions guessed) until they have decided on a description.

Drawings are awarded two points for each exact correct description achieved, or a point for a partly correct description.

Teams are awarded two points for each correct description guessed, or a point for a partly correct description guessed.

(Drawings/teams can be scored by the teams themselves, which is much quicker than the facilitator doing the scoring.)

If you score the exercise, ensure teams are instructed to put their team name on their drawing, and alongside their guessed descriptions on the reverse of all other drawings.

Final review, examples:

  • What factors enabled teams to produce recognizable drawings?
  • What factors led to drawings being unrecognizable?
  • Are 'drawing' skills especially helpful in this exercise, or are other capabilities more significant?
  • What does this exercise demonstrate about mutual understanding and how to achieve it?
  • What obstacles to understanding and teamwork does this activity illustrate?


Teams can be told to agree what they are to draw at the beginning of the exercise.

Deduct ten points for teams drawing any of the following 'obvious' subjects: cat, house, car, man, woman, spacecraft, etc.

Award bonus points for teams drawing anything highly obscure and yet recognizable, especially if resulting from no prior discussion.

When the facilitator calls out 'team change', one person and the drawing must move to a different team, (which can be likened to certain changes that happen in real organizational work teams). It produces complete chaos of course.

Group Connections

Mutual awareness, introductions, networking, team-building)

Split groups into teams of between three and six people.

No equipment or preparation is required.

Instruction to group/teams:

You have five minutes to discover an interesting, surprising and separate connection you share with each person in your team. (A different connection with each person, not a single connection that every team member shares.)

'Interesting and surprising' does not include working for the same company, living in the same town or country or having the same colour hair. Try to find a connection or something in common that surprises both of you.

The purpose of the exercise is to ensure that each person of the team ask some questions and gives some answers about themselves and all other team members, and so gets to know each other better.

Discussions can be in pairs or threes. The team can decide how best to enable each person to speak to every other team member in the time allowed. This requires more care in larger teams.


No review is necessary if the purpose is merely to enable quick introductions.

Group review of individual connections is unnecessary although particularly interesting connections can be volunteered and highlighted as examples if people are keen to do so.

More general review aspects include for example, (optional depending on your own situation and wider aims for the group):

  • What sort of questions helped discover most information?
  • How does mutual awareness (knowing each other better) help team-work, cooperation, communications, etc?
  • What normally prevents people from getting to know each other better?

You will think of many other review points depending on the situation.

Larger teams need more time to ensure everyone learns something new and ideally establishes an interesting connection with each other team member.

Examples of questions people can ask each other, if they need prompting:

  • What is your passion in life?
  • Where would you most like to visit/travel?
  • What would you change if you could?
  • What music/food/weather do you most enjoy?
  • What do you like best: words, numbers, pictures or sounds?
  • What is your most under-used strength?

Younger people might be happier with questions about less deep subjects, which is fine. Guide the group as you consider appropriate.

Some related reference materials:

Johari Window

Multiple Intelligences

Personality types and models

Life Highlights

Introductions, life priorities, self-awareness, Johari awareness, motivation and personality

This is a quick adaptable exercise for small groups, or for large groups if split into self-facilitating teams, or alternatively pairs.

It's also a longer discussion game for pubs, dinner-parties, etc., especially in couples..

No equipment is required.

Instruction to group:

Take a minute to consider - What thirty seconds of your life would you most want to re-live, if you only had thirty seconds left?

For the purposes of the exercise participants can choose several different life experiences, provided the total time is no more than thirty seconds.

Review (various options depending on your situation):

  • Ask people to keep their thoughts private - and then consider the review points below.
  • Or ask people to explain to the group briefly their chosen thirty seconds and why.
  • Or - if review time is limited or if it suits your purposes better - ask people to review/discuss in pairs
  • Or if working with a large group arrange the group into small self-leading/facilitating teams.

Review points (examples):

  • What do our chosen highlights tell us about the type of person we are - what we love most in life, and what sort of things we should pursue to be happy and fulfilled?
  • How does your current life and likely outcomes compare with your chosen past life highlights?
  • Are you working towards or away from what really makes you happy and fulfilled? If away from, how might you regain and redirect your focus?
  • Do your chosen highlights provide clues for passions and talents which you are currently under-utilizing or neglecting?
  • Did your highlights come by planning or accident?
  • How significant is money in enabling life's best times?
  • What do our best moments tell us about making the most of what time we have?


Exclude sex from highlights if there is a risk that it will unhelpfully distract, embarrass or be too dominant.

Shorten and concentrate the exercise by reducing the highlights time period from thirty to ten seconds, or lengthen and deepen the exercise by increasing the time period to ten minutes or an hour.

Note: To make the exercise more dynamic and forward-looking you can encourage people to consider especially life highlights which can be repeated or extended in some way. (Childbirth is for many people a highlight which is not likely to be repeatable, although this can of course prompt thoughts and discussions about the importance of family compared to other life issues.)

Useful reference models:

Johari Window (self/mutual awareness)

Maslow (motivation and Hierarchy of Needs)

HerzbergAdams, and Personality Theory

Passion to Profit (career/new business start-up process/template)

This website accepts no liability for any marital or romantic strife arising if you play this game socially in couples, especially under the influence of drink or other inhibition-reducing substance.

(Thanks H)

Coin Logo

Creativity, self-expression, Johari awareness

Here's a really quick exercise, ideal for ice-breakers - 5-10 minutes - for groups any age or size.

Equipment: Lots of coins, in case participants need extra. (At last a use for all the shrapnel in your piggy bank..)

Instruction to group:

Take all the coins out of your pockets/purses and put them on the table in front of you.

(Lend coins to participants who have none or very few.)

You have one minute to make a personal logo - representing yourself - from the coins.


Large groups can be spilt into teams (of 3-6 people). Combine team coins. Produce a single team logo, themed according to the situation. Optionally ask teams to guess the meaning of other teams logos, before the explanations.

Allow other pocket/purse/handbag items to be included in the logos, for example pens, phones, diaries, etc.

Ask the whole group to combine all coins and produce a logo for the organization/group/department, etc.

Split the group into two. Half leave the room while remaining half make their personal coin logos. Half return to room and try to match logos to people. Repeat the process enabling the guessers to make, and the makers to guess.


Ask participants to explain their logos to the group, or if pressed for time and for large groups - split the group and have the logos explained among teams of threes.

If running the exercise in teams - review the discussions and feelings leading to the design of the logo, and the team theme if appropriate.

To enlarge the exercise and offer material about self-and mutual awareness see the Johari Window model.

See the other coin exercises on this page, for example:

Take-away game

Tactical team shove-ha'penny

Moneygram activity

See the Money slang and history page for lots of interesting facts about coins and money. 

Coded Team Communications

Non-verbal communications, communications systems, body language, team understanding, creativity

This game can be played by one group, or between two or more teams competitively.

The activity is more dynamic if played in competitive teams, minimum three players per team, ideally 5-10 per team.

This game can be played by very large groups, in teams, for example at conferences.

The exercise involves devising and using a simple coded non-verbal (unspoken) communications system.

The game may be played just once as a quick activity or ice-breaker, or in several rounds, optionally enabling the group/teams to review and refine their coding systems, at the discretion of the facilitator.

This is a very flexible game concept, and can be adapted in many ways to suit your situation and purposes.

These instructions are for competitive teams playing the game. Adapt it accordingly for a single group.


A pen/pencil and paper for each team member.

Instruction to teams:

  • Devise a secret coded (non-spoken, non-written) communication system for your team which enables a very simple piece of information - a single digit number between 0-9 - to be passed throughout the whole group/team - person to person ideally - so that everyone knows the number.
  • The winning team is the first to successfully convey the number to all team members. (If playing as a single group then the task is simply to successfully communicate the number throughout the group.)
  • The number must be conveyed using non-verbal and secret signals - it cannot be spoken, mouthed, written, signalled by holding up a number of fingers, or 'tapped' using fingers or feet, etc.
  • Facial expressions and eye contact are likely to be significant in non-verbal code systems developed, although teams will devise other methods, which is part of the fun.
  • Whether to allow or mention touching - for example secret hand-squeezing, which teams might think to try - is at the discretion of the facilitator.
  • The secret code aspect is important if the game is played competitively and teams are given the same number to convey, or awarded bonus points for identifying an opposing an team's number.
  • When receiving the number each player must privately record the number on a piece of paper, as proof of successful communication. Alternatively to avoid risk of cheating or accidentally revealing numbers, instruct people to write down the number after all teams have completed the round.
  • The team leader must raise his/her hand to signal to the facilitator when group/team members have received the number correctly. This potentially requires another team coded signal - to confirm successful understanding - which is a matter for the teams to decide.
  • No speaking is allowed while the game is in progress.
  • Teams can be given between 5-10 minutes to devise and test their codes. Large teams may require longer.
  • The facilitator begins each round of the game by showing the number (a single digit between 0-9) to the team leaders.
  • The team leaders then take their seats or starting positions and await the facilitator's signal to start the game, at which the number must be communicated to all team members - using the non-verbal secret code - and ideally person to person (which introduces greater risk of errors and is a sterner test of the code system devised, and also of teamworking).
  • (At facilitator's discretion) teams may stand, sit around the same table, or on separate tables, although separate tables makes cheating less easy to detect.
  • Standing and mingling makes the activity more dynamic and energising, and increases the need for competing teams to devise a clever code to avoid it being 'cracked' or interpreted by members of competing teams.

Variations to the game:

  • A way to enforce the conveying of the instruction person-to-person is to have the teams stand in a line, so that each person sees the conveyed signal individually, then turns about-face to convey it down the line to the next person. Such an arrangement increases the need for teams to consider having a signal for confirming to the leader that all members have correctly received the number.
  • (At facilitator's discretion) teams may or may not make written notes of their coding system (so that each person has a code key). The facilitator can decide whether using a code key, or working purely from memory, will be most enjoyable/beneficial. Allowing written code keys enables more complex codes to be developed, which is appropriate for bigger exercises, whereas not allowing written code keys encourages quicker simpler codes and is more appropriate for a quick game or ice-breaker. Alternatively the facilitator may choose not to mention the possibility of teams making written code keys, and leave it open for teams to use the option or not.
  • Where the game is played between competing teams, the facilitator can choose to give a different number to each team (rather than require teams to communicate the same number). This offers the option to award bonus points for a team which manages to identify the number of an opposing team.

Review points:

  • Isn't it amazing how many signals can be conveyed without spoken or written words?..
  • The section on body language provides useful background theory about non-verbal communications.
  • It's one thing to devise a communications system or set of communications rules - it's quite another challenge to ensure everyone understands it and uses it properly.
  • Vital parts of communications systems/rules work best when people can remember them, without having to refer to complicated instructions.
  • Complex communications systems/rules are often very good in theory, but difficult to apply in practice because they entail an additional dimension - represented in this game by the code key - equating to a reference or instruction manual, which in real work situations people often fail to use, understand, keep updated, etc.
  • Written instructions and reference guides are obviously important for quality management and training, etc., and for the operation of all complex/vital functions, but the fundamental rules of communications (and other critical organisational activities) are best kept as simple, intuitive and memorable as possible, so that core performance is not hindered or made unnecessarily complicated.
  • In terms of this exercise, conveying the communication is only half the communications process - the other half is checking the communication has been received and correctly understood.
  • In terms of wider organisational communications other subsequent steps are required, notably ensuring that the communication is agreed and acted upon, which involves management areas such as: motivation (within which models such as Adams' Equity Theory, and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are helpful); delegation, especially follow up; and project management, within which reporting and monitoring are vital.

The One Question Exercise

Questioning skills, empathy, self-awareness, needs analysis, cooperation and partnerships

A quick simple ice-breaker or bigger exercise related to questioning, and working together, here is the instruction, for groups of any size and any ages:

If you could ask just one question to discover a person's/provider's suitability for .......X....... (insert situation, see examples below), what would your question be?

Examples of situations to use for the activity and insert in the instruction:

  • Supplying you a vital component/service
  • Baby-sitting or child-minding
  • Marriage to you
  • Running a business together
  • Arranging your charity bungee jump/parachute leap/sky-dive
  • Being your personal assistant/bodyguard
  • Being your boss/employer/leader
  • Being the leader of your country/company

You can devise your own situations besides these to suit your purposes. There are countless other possible situations.

Issue one situation for the whole group, or allocate a different situation to each team member or pair/team to work on. (Increasing the variety of situations allocated will tend to increase the time of the activity and especially its review).

Ask people to work individually or in small teams to devise their questions.

Ask people to work in pairs or threes to test and reflect and refine (and maybe role-play) the questions.

Give a time limit for questions preparation, and a separate time limit for testing/role-playing.

There are no absolute 'right' or best questions - there are many effective questions, depending on the situation and people's needs, but there are certainly questions which do not work well and which should be avoided.

Review informally via discussion:

  • Are there advantages in preparing important questions, rather than relying on instinct or invention at the time?
  • What else happens while we ask questions, aside from the words between us? (Explore body language and non-verbal communications.)
  • What sort of questions are least effective and should be avoided? (Try to identify characteristics of ineffective questions.)
  • What sort of questions are most effective? (Try to identify characteristics of effective questions.)
  • How do we feel when being asked effective/ineffective questions?
  • To what extent and how should questions be tailored for the particular listener, and for the questioner's needs?
  • What crucial questions do we ask (at work/in life) which we could prepare more carefully?

Refer to relevant topics, for example:

N.B. This exercise does not suggest that we can or should use merely one question to identify solutions for anything, especially crucial partnerships. The purpose of the exercise is to focus attention on quality, relevance, style and preparation of questioning, according to the situation and people involved.

Questioning is powerful and helpful when prepared well, but wastes everyone's time and creates problems when it is not.

The activity can of course be expanded by allowing/instructing people to devise more than one question, or potentially to devise an entire questioning strategy for a given situation.

Whatever you do in the review, ensure people understand the nature and purposes of open and closed questions, which is explained in the Questioning section of the sales training page.

Classification Game

Introductions, discrimination, mutual perspectives

This is a simple exercise requiring no equipment or materials preparation, for groups of any size and age.

Split large groups into teams of six to ten people.

The activity is quickest when teams are smallest. Minimum team size is four.

Instruction to group/teams:

We all tend to classify and stereotype each other - 'pigeon-holing' is a common expression for this.

Usually this sort of classification is subjective, unhelpfully judgemental, and sometimes of course it's unfair to the point of being illegal discrimination.

Discuss/introduce yourselves in your team(s).

Discover a way to divide or classify yourselves evenly into two/three/four subgroups within your team(s) by using criteria (ways of classifiying/describing people) which contain no negative or prejudicial or good/bad discriminatory judgements.

Optional briefing:

Examples of criteria to evenly divide/classify the team according to -

  • Late-night people and early-morning people
  • What sort of weather we like
  • What sort of food we like
  • What we like to do for fun
  • Our fears
  • What we would change in the world

If as a facilitator you use these examples feel free to instruct the group to think of their own ideas, and not merely to use one of the examples.

More complexity and/or specific focus on a subject can be suggested, for example:

The purpose of the exercise is to encourage people to get to know each other better, to collectively consider the nature of all individuals within the team, and to think of each other in ways that are quite different to how people tend usually to classify others.


  • Share and discuss the team'(s') decisions, making notes where helpful on a flipchart (or equivalent hi-tech system).
  • How easy was it to find out and think about each other in different ways?
  • How does this thinking differ from potentially negative or subjective judgements?
  • What sort of classifications can be negative?
  • What makes a classification positive/helpful rather than negative/prejudicial?

As a facilitator/teacher, you can approach the exercise as a quick ice-breaker, or a more complex longer-lasting learning activity.

You can stipulate how many subgroups should be classified within the team(s), and how many different classifications are required (one 50:50 split using a single classification is simplest and quickest), or you can offer wider more open flexibility, and see what the teams develop for themselves.

The Johari Window is a useful reference model, as is (up to a point) employment background on discrimination, minorities, bullying, etc. Approach the activity with a broader view than reminding people about employment law and discrimination:

The way we understand and regard each other is a big subject, offering far more helpful outcomes than merely applying a legal code.

Face Game

Body language, non-verbal communications

For groups of four to ten people. Split larger groups into teams with leaders who can facilitate the exercise.

Equipment required: paper and pens/pencils.

Time: 5-20 minutes depending on group size and review discussion.

Introduction: Facial expressions are an important part of communications. There are many different emotions and corresponding facial expressions. Some are easier to interpret than others. This exercise helps illustrate different expressions and how some are more obvious and easy to 'read' than others.


Each team member must think of one emotion (or two or three emotions, for a longer exercise), which they should then write separately on a slip of paper. Fold the slips of paper and put it into a cup or glass in the centre of the table, to enable 'blind' selection.

Each person must then in turn take one of the folded slips and show the emotion on their face to the team, who must guess the emotion.

Review points, for example:

  • How significant are facial expressions in conveying feelings?
  • In what situations are facial expressions especially crucial to communications and understanding?
  • What emotions are easiest to 'read' and why?
  • What emotions are less easy to interpret?
  • What facial expressions are easiest to misread or fake?
  • What effect do facial expressions have on us?
  • What emotions are probably universal across all cultures?
  • To what extent are we aware of our own facial expressions?
  • To what extent do we 'read' facial expressions and respond to them unconsciously?
  • And importantly - how can we manage our communications methods given the significance facial expressions in certain types of communications?

See Body Language and Mehrabian's communications theory for background.

Project Team

Graduate recruitment assessment and selection, internal promotion assessment centres, business development and project teams

This exercise can be used for any/all of the following:

  • Graduate recruitment assessment days
  • Internal promotion assessment centres
  • Development of business and commercial management skills
  • Identifying and developing new business initiatives

Activities and exercises for group selection days and assessment centres can be designed to stretch the participants more if the task is issued several days before the day of the assessment. This allows more preparation and team-working among the candidates, which in turn enables a fuller deeper test and demonstration of people's capabilities.

The exercise can be used if issued on the day of the assessment, but obviously due allowance must be made for the resulting time pressure in meeting such a big challenge. Accordingly the exercise is suited to training courses lasting two days or more when delegates can work evenings in their team on the activities.

Here broadly is the exercise, adapt it to suit your situation:

Teamwork Project

The project team must research, identify, develop and present a proposition for a new product/service/business to fit into the employer's organisation.

To include:

  1. Research the market, brainstorm options, and decide on a new product/service/business.
  2. Conceptualise new product/service/business.
  3. Design and specify key attributes of new business:
    • Description and executive summary
    • Philosophy/ethos
    • Specification and scale
    • Financials
    • Team/people
    • Marketing/positioning/branding/advertising/selling
    • Production/distribution
    • Quality/safety/legislative/environmental
    • SWOT and/or PEST analysis, or similar
  4. Create presentation (to sell proposition to the 'board of directors' or an investor - a part which can be played by the recruitment team).
  5. Deliver presentation (to include activities and experiences of the project group).
  6. An additional angle would be to enable/encourage teamworking on the project between team members prior to the assessment day, via a facebook group (or suitable VLE - virtual learning environment - or employer intranet forum). N.B. If using the exercise for external recruitment and teamworking among candidates prior to the assessment day you would need to ensure data-protection/permission is satisfied regarding the releasing of candidates' names and contact details to each other.

Alternative Christmas and New Year

Creative thinking, social values and true life priorities

An exercise for any group size.

Arrange appropriate timings and presentation or discussion of the ideas arising.

Here's the question. You can adapt various exercises from it to suit your situation and aims:

"Imagine you are leader of the western world. Everyone would prefer Christmas and New Year celebrations to more suitably address the needs and issues of the modern age. What changes would you make?"

You can add a context if you wish, for example, changes for business, changes for society, changes for kids, changes for the planet, changes for global cooperation, etc.

Email me suggestions and I'll publish the best ones on this page.


Warm-ups, demonstrating that things are rarely as crucial as they seem)

See the acronym CRITWATNF (Currently Residing In The Where Are They Now File).

Explain it to the group.

Ask the group to think of an example - any example, from their own personal life (not too personal) or from work or the world of media, politics, economy, anything.

Discuss the examples.

Discuss how and why things can seem crucial one day, yet often can soon become completely insignificant, given a little time.

Discuss the influences of emotions, peer pressure, zietgeist, the media, daft unquestioning management, personal mood, etc., on relationships, strategy, decisions, work, life, etc.

Would life/work/society be better if we could all be more objective and critical, and less led by our emotions and by others?

Poetry Activities

Poems exercises, creativity, Johari awareness, thinking outside of the box, fresh perspectives

Thursday 3rd October 2019 is National Poetry Day in the UK, although you can be anywhere in the world to enjoy poetry.

Poetry is great for creativity, fresh perspectives, and improving self/mutual awareness - (refer to Johari model).

Here are some ideas for bringing poetry into your workplace or school, whether for development activities or for the pure fun of it:

Icebreaker ideas/group discussion questions -

  • Define the word 'poem'.
  • Why is poetry appealing to us? It's just words, isn't it?...
  • What is your favourite poem/extract/line and why? (Everybody can think of at least a line from a song..)
  • Are all song lyrics poetry? Is rapping poetry?
  • Could Desiderata be adapted to be a corporate/societal values statement? If so, how?
  • Does Rudyard Kipling's poem If serve as a modern set of personal values? If not how would you change it?
  • Can you suggest how the bereavement poem Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep has become so hugely popular around the world, and relate this popularity to the way society behaves?
  • Is Philip Larkin's poem 'This Be The Verse' a valid perspective on society? And how do these notions relate to the responsibilities of developing others, to parenting, teaching, especially of young people? (Warning - the poem contains language that could offend - which gives rise to another discussion question about how the context of words and language determine the actual meaning and sense, far beyond the words themselves).

Other group ideas -

  • Create a short poem for the purpose of promoting a product / service / department / initiative / educating / informing / memorising something / your team.
  • Write a limerick about yourself/the organisation (agree the structure/rules of a limerick first).
  • Write a haiku verse for a lesson/value/significant point in life or work (agree structure/rules of a haiku verse first).
  • Issue a page of a newspaper to people working in pairs - ask them to re-structure any chosen paragraph of news into poetry, with or without changing the words.
  • Same as above - changing the words into the style of Shakespeare/Chaucer/Byron, etc.

Individual ideas -

  • Put a poem on your notice board or intranet, and see what happens.
  • Send me a poem you've written about any aspect of work or personal development, etc., and I'll publish it on this website.
  • Send me a poem about charisma - and enter the charisma definition competition.
  • Next time you meet someone for the first time, ask them what they think about poetry, and see where the discussion takes you.

You will think of many more ideas for using poetry to add fresh perspective to work and play. Send your own ideas, and I'll add them here.

Incidentally the word poem is derived ultimately from the Greek word 'poema' (precisely 'póēma'), meaning 'thing made or created'. The word poet comes from Greek - poētēs - meaning 'maker'.

What Did You Learn Yesterday

Self-development, life attitude, self-awareness, discussions about what learning and development means

This is a powerful activity. Simple idea, and so potent.

Ask any group (to consider individually): What did you learn yesterday?

Review answers through discussion, brief statements, or presentations.

Optionally you can first establish what sort of learning qualifies to be mentioned, or leave that aspect open because it's obviously an interesting debate in itself which tends naturally to arise from the discussions prompted by the question.

Review angles:

  • If you can't think of anything you learned yesterday, how far back do you need to go to find something?
  • Was it learning for work, or life, or both - and what's the difference anyway?
  • How did you learn it?
  • How could you measure/quantify/apply it?
  • How might you transfer it/teach it to someone else?
  • What will change now you've learned it?
  • What further learning does it prompt or enable?
  • Can you analyse the learning in terms of the Kirkpatrick model?
  • Can you analyse the learning in terms of Johari Window model?
  • Can you analyse the learning in terms of Multiple Intelligences and/or VAK learning/thinking styles?
  • What level of Maslow's theory does it impact?
  • What aspect of Erikson's theory does it impact?
  • What value would you put on it?
  • What would you have paid to have learned it some while ago?
  • What could you do to maximise the learning that naturally comes to you every day, for free?

You will think of lots more angles, and plenty more suggestions will arise in discussions.


  • What is the most useful thing you learned in the last week/month/year/previous life?
  • What did you learn at the watercooler/pub after work/party at the weekend/on holiday?
  • What did you learn on your social networking website when you should have been 'working'?
  • What's the most valuable learning you've obtained in the past month/year and how did you get it?
  • What's the most you've learned for the least cost/effort and the least you've learned from the most cost/effort?
  • List an example of your own recent learning for each of the categories: skill, attitude, knowledge, experience. (See Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains for useful reference relating to this aspect, and the exercise as a whole.)

Larger groups can be split into smaller work teams to explore what teams have learned and the extent to which learning is shared and assimilated and applied.

(This exercise was inspired by a brief story in Leo Buscaglia's wonderful 1972 book 'Love', in which Buscaglia recalls his father asking his children at the end of each day, "What did you learn today?". This expectation encouraged them to seek facts and knowledge - about anything - and the habit was very significant in forming Buscaglia's positive approach to life and lifelong learning. See more about Leo Buscaglia's ideas. I'm grateful to Kiran for reminding me of the source of this, and that Buscaglia's book 'Living, Loving and Learning' contains the same story.)

Ageing Society Discussion/Presentation/Debate

Creative analytical thinking, trends, forecasting, ageism, demographics

The aim of the exercise is to get people thinking creatively and analytically.

The subject is how the increasing proportion of older people in society will change the world, but actually the subject can be about any large-scale trend.

The activity will prompt the use of visioning and imagination, and the consideration of big system changes, consequences, causes and effects.

In the case of an ageing society these changes are already upon us, so it's not a hypothetical exercise. The activity obviously also encourages people to think about ageism and age equality issues.

Specifically ask group members to consider and decide what they believe will be the single greatest effect in the next 1/2/3/5 years of the ageing population on their area of activity/responsibility/market-place - or on society generally - (years and area of impact decided by the facilitator, depending on the interests/responsibilities of the group).

The views of the group members can be discussed or presented or debated depending on the facilitator's aims and constraints of the session.

Review points can include:

  • Collective group decision as to the most perceptive suggestion
  • What suggestions are the most visionary and forward-seeing
  • How different suggestions might impact on each other
  • The extent to which group members suggestions and views differ according to age of the group members
  • Early evidence or indicators of the reliability of each/any of the predictions
  • What information is lacking for more reliable predictions
  • Where information might be found if required
  • What differs about this type of thinking compared to day-to-day decisions (proactive deeper thinking compared to reactive shallow)
  • Whether drawing diagrams and/or discussing and/or any other methods assist this sort of thinking (for example, is this sort of deeper complex proactive thinking easier when more senses are stimulated, or when more people consider and share ideas?)
  • Does this exercise teach us anything about the power of thought as a way to anticipate and develop solutions/responses to situations rather than simply waiting for things to happen?
  • Do the collective views of the group seem to support (or not) the notion of 'the wisdom of crowds'.
  • Is effective forecasting and predicting of far-reaching effects chiefly based on creative imagination or analytical logic, or equally both?
  • To what or particularly relevant or local trends could we usefully apply the same thinking?

Exercise variables at the discretion of the facilitator:

  • Thinking/preparation time (icebreaker requires 2-3 mins - bigger exercises could extent to 30 mins or more preparation time)
  • Group members to work individually, in pairs or threes, or as two debating teams
  • People could be asked to suggest two or three effects, not just a single effect
  • Method of presenting suggestions - discussion, presentation, debate, diagrams, role-play?... anything else? use your imagination
  • The main subject can be varied to focus on any other significant trend - for example: increasing world population, increasing power of new economies (China, India, Brazil, etc), advancing technology (in any market), energy costs and demand, gender or ethnic trends, etc.

Political Qualification

Job skills, training, competence - and many other issues relating to competence and suitability

Appreciating fundamental issues of competence and job profiling necessary for determining suitability, training and qualifications is quite a dry subject.

It can be brought to life by applying the thinking to a different situation - different from normal work.

Here's the exercise (in pairs or threes, or a discussion group):

Imagine you are responsible for establishing a professional qualification or NVQ for a politician.

A parliamentary MP, or a government minister, or perhaps the prime minister.

Agree/nominate parliamentary role(s) as appropriate for the exercise.

  • What competencies would the job require?

If helpful structure your answer in terms of skills, knowledge, attitude/behaviour/personality style, experience.

  • How might these be defined, measured and tested?
  • How might a professional qualification be structured and accredited?

And a couple of bigger questions of a more philosophical nature if you have time for them:

  • Why in actual fact does the job of a politician escape all normal requirements of professional accreditation?
  • And might this explain why politicians are arguably so incompetent compared to their counterparts in industry?

The facilitator can adapt this basic idea for group size, timings, and the precise training aspects of job profiling and candidate selection, development, qualification, etc., as will fit the group's needs and interests.

(Incidentally, if anyone comes up with constructive and enlightened answers to the last two questions I'd love to see them..)

Positive Behaviour

Understanding positive behaviour/behavior concepts, karma, law of attraction, etc

This exercise seeks to enable clearer understanding of positive behaviour and positive thinking, extending to the notion that positive behaviour produces positive effect or reward for the person (or group) acting positively.

Instead of trying to unravel the secrets of the karmic universe or the meaning of religious and spiritual life, we can perhaps understand better the effects of our own positive behaviour (or that of a group or entire corporation) by considering how we personally respond to the positive behaviour of others.

Ask group members to consider how they personally feel and respond towards someone who behaves in the following ways:

1. Smiles a lot and is generally happy 
2. Gives to others and wants nothing in return 
3. Thanks others 
4. Helps others 
5. Listens to others without judging 
6. Takes the blame or responsibility for faults 
7. Gives others credit for successes 
8. Absorbs negative behaviour from others with tolerance and understanding 

Points to review:

Extend some of the examples above to imagine long-term relationships and issues of trust, reputation, recommendation, willingness to do business with such a person, etc.

Extend the examples to the responses of many thousands of customers, to many positive behaviours of a corporation, (and then consider the opposite effects: i.e., responses of thousands of customers, and the knock-on consequences, arising from many negative behaviours of a corporation).

Positive behaviour of one person is sometimes immediately rewarded or acknowledged by others, but often the effects are not immediate.

Cause and effect can be separated by many years, and can be connected by many links in different chains of events.

However, positive behaviour in an organisation of many employees and actions inevitably multiplies and accelerates all these effects. The cause and effect cycle - good or bad - is dramatically shortened because there are so many interactions.

Positive behaviour is sometimes described using the analogy of ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond - the effects radiate far and wide, and one day reflect back helpfully in ways that are difficult to predict beforehand, or to measure afterwards. Positive behaviour in an organisation could be compared to hundreds of pebbles in a pond every day. Consider your own organisation - are they good ripples or bad ripples?

The term 'pseudo-scientific' rightly applies to most concepts linked with positive behaviour, because they cannot be measured and substantiated in conventional scientific ways. Yet millions of people believe strongly that goodness and positivity are more likely to be rewarded in life than selfishness and negativity. And almost without exception successful happy people seem to exhibit and aspire to positive behaviours.

The exercise should confirm how positively we each respond to positive behaviour (and negatively to negative behaviour). It's far simpler than karma.

Rather than try to find vast universal explanations for the way positive behaviour works, the cause/effect of positive behaviour is perhaps more easily explained by the general tendency for positive/giving behaviour simply and inevitably to attract and to generate positive responses, somehow, somewhere, sometime.

Concepts of positive behaviour are difficult to define and explain.

Vague terminology such as karma and religious or spiritual associations create further obstacles to exploring the subject.

Positive behaviour concepts are confused by lots of vague and emotive terminology and theories, e.g:

  • Karma
  • 'What goes round comes around'
  • The law of attraction
  • The law of cause and effect
  • Universal cause and effect
  • Religious and spiritual linkage
  • 'Do as you would be done by'
  • Cosmic ordering
  • Commercial packaging
  • 'Positician' (one who acts positively, apparently..)
  • Other mumbo-jumbo

This exercise offers a way to explore the essential meaning and benefits of positive behaviour, without reference or need to buy in to any of the above.

Intangible concepts like positive behaviour can often be better explored from a personal viewpoint, instead of using fixed definitions or rules.

Deep complex concepts like positive behaviour are a matter of personal interpretation.

N.B. In US-English the word is 'behavior'. In UK-English it is 'behaviour'.

'Moneygram' Activity

Expressing and sharing perceptions about organizations, structures, systems, etc - and creativity sessions and teamworking

This flexible activity is based on using coins to create a 'picture' or diagram of an organizational system or structure which is relevant to the group's work or learning.

The subject(s) chosen for the 'moneygrams' (coin pictures) are at the facilitator's discretion, and/or can be suggested by groups, depending on the situation.

For example, a subject could be a team, department, division, or an entire corporation, or a market including suppliers, customers, competitors, etc. Or a school, college, a community or an industry sector, or even a region or country, or view of the world.

If the main aim is to express/share perceptions of a work or business structure, then the choice of structure is obviously is significant, and the facilitator should ensure a suitable choice. If the main aim is instead to get people working creatively together (for instance young people in school, or a creative workshop session) then the choice of structure is not significant, aside from something that the group will find interesting, and the facilitator can allow the group to choose a structure for their 'moneygram'.

The room layout must enable people to make a display on a table or floor and for others to see the display clearly, or for the whole group to work around on a single large display on a table.

Coins are of course various values, sizes, colours, years and designs - both sides - and can be stacked, and some stood on their edges. As such coins are potentially a really interesting medium for creating pictures/patterns/diagrams which express ideas and themes of all sorts. The exercise provides a completely different way (unlike normal words, discussion, diagrams, etc) for people to interpret and present their own view of a particular situation. This enables a tactile, fresh, liberating and more objective way for people to express and share their perceptions.

The facilitator obviously needs to consider and decide the best way to equip the group with sufficient 'materials' (coins) for the activities. For example, a mature adult group could be asked to use the coins from their own pockets and purses. A less mature group should ideally have the coins provided by the facilitator.

Complex themes and big require lots of coins. Happily 1p and 2p copper coins very inexpensive materials - in fact probably cheaper than plastic counters and play-money nowadays - and it's useful to have a plentiful supply of coppers, or whatever is your currency equivalent. Foreign coins add international interest and diversity if you have some. If the situation allows, you can ask group members to bring in their piggy banks. The creative use of banknotes, cheques and credit cards is not recommended for obvious reasons. Messing around with loose change carries few risks; bigger values are not appropriate for play materials.

If you have any doubts about using real money in the exercise then playing cards can be used instead, which offers another perspective and different interpretations.

Be mindful of the time available for the activity and limit the complexity of the subjects accordingly. You cannot expect anyone to map out the global commodities market or the future of the world wide web in a five-minute icebreaker with a pocketful of change.

See also the organizational modelling activity and the baking foil modelling games, which take slightly different approaches to the same idea.

The Johari Window is a useful reference model by which to explain and review the benefits and issues surrounding mutual awareness and perceptions.

The money slang and history page offers some entertaining facts and trivia on the subject.

As with any exercise, much of the value comes from reviewing and discussing the issues arising from the learning experience, and where relevant encouraging people to determine their own preferred reactions. See the notes on experiential learning for additional guidance in this regard. An activity of this nature will tend to highlight various opportunities for future clarification and follow-up actions, especially for work-team leaders.

New World

Potentially bigger exercise for leadership/team roles, multiple intelligences, life skills, analysis and reaction

This is a flexible and fascinating scenario-based activity for groups up to 12 people and all ages. Split larger groups into teams and adapt presentations and reviews accordingly. Schools could potentially develop various extensions to this activity.

Ask the delegates to discuss in a group and answer the following question:

Scenario: Imagine the world suffered a catastrophic event like a meteor strike, plague or nuclear war, which destroyed most human life and all of the developments of the past century. A mixed group (age, gender, ethnicity, religion) of a few hundred lucky people has survived (it's helpful to agree where - anywhere - because location will influence some aspects of the approach to the question).

Question: If this group is to thrive and develop, what initial leadership structure would you suggest, stating 6-12 key roles? (Optionally and ideally ask delegates to justify their suggestions.)

Agree timings and presentation/review in whatever ways are useful to the delegates. The number of roles can be the same as the number of delegates, especially if you choose to extend the activity.

The exercise can be extended by adding any of the following supplementary questions, which can (optionally) be approached as if the delegates are the survivors leadership team, allocated the key roles identified.

Roles can be allocated via volunteering or some other group process, at the facilitator's discretion.

Optional supplementary questions:

  • What basic laws would you introduce for the group of survivors?
  • As the leadership team, what would be your ten immediate main aims?
  • What 3-5 main difficulties would you expect in leading the group and how would you try to handle these challenges?
  • What lessons from the modern world would you find most valuable in rebuilding the new world?
  • What would be your five main medium-long term aims?

You - and/or the delegates - will be able to devise further questions relevant to your own training/learning situation.

There are potentially thousands of useful reference sources which can be incorporated within an exercise like this, really anything you are currently seeking to bring to life and provide context for application. Here are a few examples:

The activity is very flexible. It can be shortened to a two-minute icebreaker, simply to agree the 6-10 roles, or expanded to incorporate all sorts of issues and reference models and tools, depending on the development aims and needs of the delegates.

To shorten the exercise into a quick icebreaker simply state the scenario and ask delegates to take 1-2 minutes to think of 3-6 leadership roles. Then quickly gather and count the suggestions on a flip chart or wipeboard, and close with a quick review of the most popularly suggested team roles. Relate to Multiple Intelligence theory or Belbin's team roles theory or another suitably relevant team roles/skills reference model.

Helium Stick

Assumptions, organising tasks, problem-solving

This is a classic teambuilding game, and an amusing exercise around which to design icebreakers.

For teams of three upwards, subject to the type and length of 'stick' used in the activity.

This explanation includes games variations, and very easily improvised ideas for the stick equipment - as the facilitator you do not need to buy anything.

The basic exercise requires all team members to:

  • Support a long stick or tube - each person using one finger
  • Lower the stick to the ground
  • With no fingers losing contact with the tube.

The tendency is for the stick to rise, hence the name of the exercise, because the collective force used to keep fingers in contact with the stick is greater than the gravitational force (weight) of the stick. For this reason use a stick for the exercise that is light enough for this effect to occur, given the number of people in the team. For example a broomstick is too heavy for a team of three people, but would be fine for a team of ten. See the suggestions for stick types per team size below.

Other rules and guidelines:

  • The stick (or any alternative item being lifted) must be rigid and not too heavy to outweigh the initial 'lift' tendency of the team size. If it's not rigid it makes it easy for team members to maintain finger-contact.
  • Start with the stick at about chest height.
  • Team members can be positioned either on one or both sides of the stick - depending on stick length and team numbers.
  • The team must return the stick to the starting position if any finger loses contact with the stick.
  • The stick must rest on fingers - the stick cannot be grasped or pinched or held in any way.
  • Typically teams are instructed to rest the stick on the outside (nail-side or 'backs') of fingers, however specifying a side of the finger is not critical to the activity.
  • Optionally you can instruct that a finger from each hand is used, which increases the lifting effect and the difficulty of the task. The length of the stick and the number of team members are also factors in this, i.e., two fingers per person requires a longer stick.
  • Clarify the point at which the stick is considered 'lowered to the ground' - underside of fingers or hands touching the ground is easier to monitor than actually depositing the stick onto the ground, which depending on the ground surface can be very tricky.
  • There are many ways of improvising sticks. Some people use inter-connecting tent-poles, but these are too heavy for very small teams (the gravitational force is greater than the collective lift, which makes the task too easy). Use your imagination - any rigid lightweight stick or tube will do, and if you can't improvise a stick then other materials and shapes can be used instead, as described below.
  • Team size of just three people is not ideal - the activity works best with six to a dozen per team, or even more subject to having a stick long enough. Teams of three would be used mainly for splitting a group of six or nine when a competitive element is required.
  • The bigger the team, the longer the activity will take to complete successfully. This is an important point - for example given a limited time you'd be better splitting a group of twenty into two or three teams rather than run the risk of failing to complete the task, which is not great for teambuilding or for creating a successful mood.
  • Two fingers per person (one finger each hand) creates more lifting effect and challenge but requires a longer stick than one finger per team member.
  • Positioning team members on both sides of the stick enables bigger teams, but can make it more difficult for the facilitator to monitor finger-contact.

Games variations:

  • Split large groups into teams, each team with their own stick, and have a race between the teams for the first to lower the stick to the ground. Watch for cheating. If appropriate appoint and rotate observers for say three rounds or a knockout contest.
  • Use a suitably sized square or other shape of cardboard instead of a stick. This achieves a closer team grouping for large teams and adds a different element to the activity if team members already know the stick activity. Cut a big hole in the shape ideally so you can monitor finger-contact.
  • Use a hoopla hoop instead of a stick - a hoop also offers better visibility than a sheet of cardboard.
  • Start with the stick (or whatever else is used) at ground height, raise it to shoulder height and lower it back to the ground. The challenge is stopping it rising beyond shoulder height when it gets there.
  • Issue two sticks per team - one finger for each stick - very challenging.
  • Mix up the teams for different rounds to explore the dynamics of working in a new team even after all members understand the challenge and the solution.
  • Just before starting the exercise ask team members to press down hard with their outstretched fingers onto the edge of a table for 30 or 60 seconds. This confuses the brain still further and increases the tendency for the stick to rise.

Ideas for sticks and team sizes (rough guides):

  • Joined-together drinking straws (3-6 people)
  • Houseplant sticks (3-6)
  • Kite struts (3-6)
  • Rolled sheet(s) of newspaper (3-10)
  • Straightened-out wire coat-hangers (6-10)
  • Wooden dowel rods (6-12 - cheap from most hardware stores)
  • Bamboo poles (5-20 people)
  • Telescopic or interconnecting fishing rods (6-20 people or more)
  • Inter-connecting tent poles or gazebo poles (6-20 people or more)
  • Drain clearer/chimney-sweeping rods (10-30 people)

Review points examples:

  • Why did the stick rise when we wanted it to go down?
  • Did we anticipate the problem?
  • How did we fix the problem?
  • Having achieved the task with this team was it/would it be easier/as difficult with a different team?
  • How did we feel when fingers lost contact?
  • What are the effects of time pressures and competition?
  • How might we coach or prepare others to do this task?
  • And countless other possibilities, many of which you'll see while running the exercises.

As a facilitator use your imagination. The 'helium stick' exercise is amusing and effective its basic format, and can be adapted in many ways to support many different themes related to team-working and problem-solving.

Secrets of Success

Demonstration and discussion of what enables business success

This activity takes about three minutes in its basic form and requires just a flip chart or equivalent.

Ask the group to take a few seconds to think (silently and individually) of someone they know who is successful in business. Tell the group that they do not need to name the person they are thinking of.

Then ask the group to think (again silently and individually) :

"What is it about that person that enables them to be successful?"

After ten or twenty seconds, ask the group to call out the words they are thinking of.

Write the words on the flip chart.

When you have about eight or more words on the flip chart, ask the group for their comments and observations about the words.


"What type of characteristics are (most of) these words?"

The answer every time is that the words will mostly or entirely describe attitudinal characteristics. Not skills, not knowledge, and not experience. The words will always largely represent attitudinal factors.

Develop the discussion in whatever way suits your purposes and session.

With a positive attitude we can do anything. Attitude also governs how we develop skills, knowledge and experience. Attitude - in whatever way works best for each of us, because we are all different - is the singlemost important factor for success in anything.

The exercise most obviously relates to demonstrating the enabling factors for business success, but the factors and exercise can be applied to any other success in life too.

This basic activity is a simple quick controlled exercise led by a facilitator using a flip chart, but the idea can be developed in many ways to add extra interest, group interaction, and depth, for example:

  • For large groups split into teams of three. Ask each person to identify three success factors. Ask each team of three to produce a list of the top three factors identified within their team. Display and compare the top three results across all teams.
  • Ask half of the group to think of a successful man, and the other half to think of a successful woman. Compare the identified characteristics for men and women. Link the findings to style and personal strengths and effectiveness, and potentially to discussion about gender and equality.
  • Take similar approach to illustrate and compare characteristics of successful people in different age brackets. This can be linked to discussions and issues concerning ageism and age discrimination.
  • Take a similar approach for illustrating characteristics of successful people according to any other relevant way of categorising people (to your situation or session aims).
  • Apply the exercise to identify success characteristics of teams or companies.

Useful reference models and materials are Blooms Taxonomy (to appreciate the difference between different types of personal development), Erikson's Life Stages Theory and Personality Models (to help understand what influences our attitudes). Also NLP and Transactional Analysis are useful models to help understand how it is possible to change our attitudes.


Session warm-ups, creativity, alternative sources of ideas and inspiration

This icebreaker or exercise combines the traditional charades party game with thinking about work/management (or any other) principles, the central themes and meanings within them, and the value of using non-verbal themes ('vehicles') in conveying an idea, concept, etc.

The activity is relevant for any group with roles or interests in training, teaching, team-leading, coaching, presenting, advertising, marketing, design, and communications generally.

Basically the exercise is for group members individually to think of and then silently 'act out' a song, a film, a book or a play, etc., which illustrates a particular aspect of work, business or management, or any other key message relevant to the group.

The exercise teaches and practises the method of using a vehicle (in this case a book/play/song/film - or other categories if you wish) to convey (and illustrate and emphasize) a message (or a concept or any other important communication).

It's for young people as well as grown-ups, and encompasses many of the 'multiple intelligences' - potentially connecting bodily/artistic/musical with logical/language/interpersonal capabilities.

The task concentrates people's minds on the central message and meaning within their chosen principle, and also prompts thought and discussion about using themes and different media and senses to reinforce or deliver an important message, as distinct from using words alone, which are often not the most powerful or memorable way to convey an important point.

The sequence of the activity is:

  1. Think of a simple message or rule or principle of management/business/or other relevant function.
  2. Now think of a book or a play or a film or a song which represents this principle - the 'vehicle' which carries the message.
  3. Next think how you can act this book/play/song/film silently to the group, using only gestures (as in the party game charades).
  4. Finally each member is given a minute to perform their charade to the group in turn, while the group has to guess the book/play/song/film, and (not so easy) the principle that the 'vehicle' represents.

The task also demonstrates the value of using simple clear themes and communications - especially non-verbal signals - that an audience (staff, customers, or any other target audience) can readily relate to and recognize, without the need for lots of explanation and description.

If necessary, brainstorm, and agree the rules for charades, or prepare a rules sheet and issue it so that everyone has an equal chance for the charades stage of the activity. Here is wikipedia's charades rules. You can use a much shorter set of rules to speed up the exercise, since the point of the activity is to think about themes and messages rather than become experts at charades.

You can also award points to group members and to performers for correct guesses of book/play/song/film, and for close and correct guesses of the principles represented.

The activity can be run as a much quicker icebreaker by removing the charades element, and simply asking group members for their suggested themes and vehicles rather than acting them out.

Seasonal Discussion

Session warm-up, discussion-starter for virtually any work-related subject

For groups of between four and twenty people - minimum eight ideally.

Duration of activity is between five and fifteen minutes, although the exercise can be extended if further discussion is warranted, for example if exploring implications of issues arising.

Split the group into four teams.

Draw lots to allocate a season to each team: Spring, Summer, Autumn (Fall), Winter.

The task for each team to identify as many seasonal factors related to and influential upon work/business/sales/customer-service/HR/recruitment/training (or any other function relevant to the group, at the discretion of the facilitator) for their allocated season.

Give a time limit for the task - anything between a minute and five minutes will be okay. Of course you can give longer if you want to make the exercise more challenging and strategic, rather than seeking quick headline points as would apply for a speedy icebreaker.

Organise/facilitate presentations and discussion accordingly.

This extremely flexible exercise encourages and enables thinking and subsequent discussion about how situations, demands, needs, priorities, etc., change according to circumstances (predictable events, trends, etc).

Discussion can be extended to the implications of the identified effects and how to deal with them.

The principle - using seasonal perspectives - obviously focuses on seasonal factors, but can be used to emphasise the need for awareness and adaptability in management, planning, self-motivation and awareness, etc., in relation to all types of changes in causal and influential factors.

The more we think about what is likely to happen, then the easier we can plan, and the fewer surprises we have.

Sell A Region

Diversity awareness, presentations, research, understanding other cultures

For group sizes of nine and upwards ideally. A group of eight split into four pairs is probably the minimum. Whatever, split the group into the teams you'd like to work together. Team sizes can be between two and five people. Teams of three generally work well. For larger events bigger teams will work well, subject to finding roles for everyone. Consider the total presentation time available and the total group size to arrive at optimum size of teams.

For example - three teams of three would be fine for a small group event, or ten groups of five would be okay for a conference. For groups of more than 50 you can devise supporting roles (coordinator, props, equipment, MC, scheduler, creative, etc) within teams to enable bigger team sizes.

This activity requires that people are given time before the event to research and prepare. It is possible to run the exercise in a 'lite' version by offering research facilities at the event, but the benefits of the activity are much increased if people and teams have the opportunity to discover information.

The exercise can also be adapted for individuals to work alone, and could potentially be used in a group selection recruitment event, in which case group members people should be given time for research and preparation before the presentation day. A smaller group size, say four or five people, is viable for the exercise if based on individual presentations.

Having determined the teams, allocate a part of the world to each team (logically relating to the regions/countries that chiefly feature in your diversity issues) - or invite the the teams to choose their own countries/regions, subject to your guidelines and situation.

Each team's task is to prepare and then deliver a team presentation 'selling' their region to the group or conference, imagining the audience to be seeking a holiday home or the holiday of a lifetime.

Team members are responsible for researching and preparing the following aspects for their presentation. The number of aspects is variable and at the facilitator's discretion, and should ensure there is sufficient for each team member to be involved:

  • Leisure and sport
  • Entertainment
  • History and culture
  • Food and drink
  • Places to visit
  • Language and custom
  • Industry and commerce
  • Transport and travel
  • People and places
  • Connections with other parts of the world
  • Amazing facts you never knew about (the region/country)

During the presentations, for which you should issue appropriate timescales, the members of the conference or group vote on the best presentations according to pre-announced criteria (examples below), and as an additional incentive you can ask each team to buy a prize (representing their region up to a stipulated value, depending on your budget.

The winners of each category can choose their prize from the pool.

Awards categories examples:

  • Overall Wow! factor
  • Presentation style and quality
  • Star presenter
  • Specialist categories according to above presentation criteria, e.g., best historical item, best entertainment item, best amazing fact, etc.

The activity offers lots of flexibility for adaptation to suit your particular circumstances and development aims. It challenges people to discover new positive things about other parts of the world, to work in teams, and then to share their discoveries with the group.

A neat addition to the exercise, if the situation allows, is to appoint some team members as roving 'cultural advisors' to other teams if among the group you have people with background or knowledge in the allocated regions, and if you are very clever you could actually select and allocate the regions with this in mind. To achieve a competitive balance each team should be able both to offer an adviser and to benefit from the help of an advisor from another team.

This exercise can also be adapted to provide a more modern and meaningful interpretation of the desert island or plane crash stranded survival exercise, which essentially encourages group members to identify resources and to formulate a plan of action.

To do this, adapt the presentation instructions thus:

Purpose of the presentation: to identify a plan for surviving and thriving on a personal or business level (in your allocated region/country).

This obviously does not carry the aspect of desperation present in the traditional 'stranded' exercise - instead it gets people focusing on real issues of diversity and personal challenge in a more useful sense.

Reading Out Loud and Listening

Listening, interpretation, understanding, speaking, creativity

Exercise 1. First here is a quick self-contained ready-made listening exercise (ack Claire Leach) which focuses on listening only.

Exercise 2. The activity which follows is different to the ready-made game above - it enables a group to devise their own exercises and therefore includes aspects of creativity and team working in addition to listening.

This second exercise is an activity idea chiefly for demonstrating and developing listening, understanding and interpretation abilities, but also for general communications and creative and competitive team working.

Split the group into two or more teams of up to five people per team. Split larger groups into more teams and adapt the exercise accordingly - it's very flexible.

Each team member (or a given number of people per team) must read out a passage from a newspaper or other suitably detailed text to the opposing team or teams.

Rotate the reading around the teams in turn rather than have each team perform all its readings one after the other.

Teams must listen to the readings so as to answer questions later, posed by the team asking the questions. Taking written notes while listening is optional at the discretion of the facilitator. If useful and relevant to the skills required then include this aspect.

When all the passages have been read, each team must then devise and ask the other team 5/10/20 questions in turn about the passages they've read.

Optionally the questions can be devised before the readings, which makes the listening challenge easier since there is no interruption or distraction between the readings and the questions.

The winning team is the one to answer most answers correctly. The facilitator can award bonus points for answers which demonstrate particularly good interpretation of the subject matter included in the readings.

Adjust the many variables of this activity to suit your situation, notably: structure teams number and size, number of readers, length of passages, number of questions, etc., according to time and group size, and level of difficulty required.

Here's an example:

  • Group of 10
  • Two teams of 5 people
  • 3 readers per team (self-appointed by teams)
  • Passages to be max 100 words or 30 seconds
  • 5 mins allowed for teams to decide passages (newspapers contain ideal content)
  • 3 mins total time for reading the six passages
  • 5 mins for teams to construct 5 questions based on their passages
  • 5 mins to ask and answer 10 questions, 5 questions each team, asked/answered alternately one from each team
  • Winning team is team with most correct answers/points including bonuses
  • Total time including set up, excluding review and discussion, about 30 mins

The activity format can be varied too, for example breaking the questioning and answering into two different sections, so that teams have a chance to work on their answers, which adds the extra difficulty of noting or remembering the questions properly too.

Introduce more fun or additional technical aspects by issuing amusing or obscure or very specific reading material.

Money Detail

Talking point, focus on observation, taking things for granted, noticing things right in front of us

This is a quick and very easy ice-breaker or scene-setter.

Everyone uses money - notes and coins - most days of their lives. Coins and banknotes are a part of our lives, and yet like other vital and ever-present aspects of our lives, their familiarity and constant presence cause us to ignore their details.

The same can be said of our friends, our families, colleagues, our own bodies, the world around us. We go through life taking it all for granted, and only miss something when it is gone.

To illustrate the point ask people (individually to write down) how many designs they are aware of on a one penny coin. In countries other than the UK choose a suitable equivalent coin or banknote which has many variations.

Then ask people to look in their pockets and purses (manbags?... the world is changing, another story..), and show and tell as a group how many actual different coin designs exist. You will be surprised.

Arguably no harm comes from failing to appreciate the detail, variety and subtlety and purpose of all the designs of our coins or banknotes, but could we pay (pun intended) more attention to the detail, variety and subtlety that exists in other aspects of our world - people especially?

The world opens to us when we become more open ourselves to what and who are in it - then we see more clearly the opportunities and bigger priorities we might have been ignoring.

Ask the person next to you: "Tell me something important about you that I don't know." Again you will be surprised.

With a little effort we can see and enable more to happen, or we merely continue (quite understandably) to focus on our own very narrow priorities and view of the world, which when we take a wider view often don't seem to be so important after all.

The picture shows nine of the old pound coin designs. What do they denote? There were fourteen in circulation (as at 2007). See the Royal Mint design and specifications page for full details.

For more supporting trivia and information about (mainly British) money see the Money history and slang page.


Conkers and Acorns

Various themes for discussions and exploration

A seasonal activity if ever there was one. These ideas are more for young people than for grown-up work environments, although for some there will be connections with work issues. Usefulness and effectiveness will partly depend on openness to intuitive learning and exploration. Various exercises and opportunities arise from these fascinating fruits, for example:

  • Take the group outside to the local park and have them collect conkers and/or acorns. Fresh air and a nostalgic revisiting of simple childhood fun is good for the soul. Be careful if the (big) boys want to throw big sticks up into the trees.
  • Trees are very spiritual and symbolic of many modern issues and challenges, and can be used to prompt all sorts of discussions and ideas. Time, maturity, age, seasons, growth and rest, converting energy and fuel (sun, rain, soil minerals) into life and beauty, design, balance, quality, etc.
  • Ask people to close their eyes, think and then explain their associations and feelings triggered by (physically holding, handling) conkers or acorns. The real thing is far more sensory and emotive than a picture. This illustrates the power of the subconcious and unconcious mind, which is very relevant to our behaviour, as featured in personalityNLP, and Transactional Analysis, for example. For many grown-ups it demonstrates the deep-rooted feelings anchored in our childhood.
  • A good old-fashioned conkers competition. You need a drill and string. Goggles and health & safety disclaimer as appropriate. Have the group design the structure of the competition so that all stay involved from start to end.
  • Explore/develop the selection and preparation of the most competitive conkers. Old conkers are the best. Drilling produces a stronger hole than forcing through a nail or an awl, which creates weaknesses liable to split. Does vinegar really work? Apparently softening with moisturiser works better..
  • Write the rules of playing conkers so that an eight-year-old would understand them.
  • The pros and cons of regulations in proper competitions which forbid the use of personal conkers. How do rules affect the nature of the competition and the appeal to potential contestants and audiences, in turn affecting the 'market' development?
  • Cultural/diversity discussion - Conkers and acorns have strong British associations. What are the equivalents in other regions/cultures?
  • Acorns symbolise growth and potential: "Parvis e glandibus quercus" - Tall oaks from little acorns grow, is the old anonymous Latin saying. What other imagery and analogies are associated with trees?
  • What are the origins of the words? - chestnut (from Greek 'kastanon' - not the modern English words chest or nut), conker (probably from conch, meaning shell, because apparently early versions of the game were played using snail shells, and/or associated with the word conquer) and acorn (Old English different spelling 'aecern' evolving into modern form by combination of 'ac' meaning oak and 'corn' meaning kernel as in nut - sources Chambers and Cassells).
  • The design of the conker and its prickly casing are a marvel of evolution. Why is it like it is? Why is the acorn like it is? How did that funny little cup arrangement evolve? When we think about the function of fruits we can imagine how they evolved their amazing designs. What can we learn from nature's evolution and design that might be transferable to organizations and society? To what extent should we encourage and enable design and evolution of organizations and policies and systems via external influences (customers especially) rather than internal arrogance and guesswork?
  • Conkers (horse chestnuts) are not to be eaten by people, yet they are safe for certain animals, including horses. The North American Indians used a lot of acorns in their diet, yet acorns are poisonous to horses. How did that happen?
  • Extend the exploration to sweet chestnuts, which of course are very tasty roasted or toasted under a grill and rather easier to prepare than acorns.
  • Or find the best propellors from the sycamore/maple trees. You'll discover a lot more in the park. Maybe combine with a visit to the swings. (See the quickies below). Or just go feed the ducks and the squirrels. Beats spending your lunch-break at your desk any day.

World conker championships

Wikipedia conkers

How to whistle an acorn

Competitor- Partner Grid

Competitor intelligence, competitor research, different perspectives, seeking and finding positives and opportunities instead of difficulties and threats - choice over instinct - collaboration rather than conflict

The assumption is normally that a 'competing' organization or person can only ever be a competitor and a threat, to be attacked, defended, undercut, or beaten or fended off in some way.

Such tendencies commonly stem from instincts which give rise to basic human survival behaviours like: tit-for-tat, retaliate before being attacked, to see threats rather than opportunities, and to defend rather than expose our own vulnerabilities, etc.

There are good reasons however for taking a more modern rounded collaborative view of people and organizations that operate in our personal or business space or field or market.

The first law of cybernetics explains a crucial benefit resulting from considering and choosing our responses rather than defaulting to instinct (or worse still defaulting to the assumed or inherited instinct of others, or convention, tradition, status quo, expectation, etc).

Much energy is wasted developing and implementing competitive strategies, which often can either be avoided altogether (because the threat is vastly lower than believed) and/or which can better be channelled into collaborative partnership strategies (which can produce far better outcomes for all concerned).

This exercise (which can be simplified or extended) encourages a more sophisticated approach when responding to organizations in markets (or people within work teams) normally viewed as competitors or threats.

Split the group into teams or pairs or individuals as appropriate for your situation.

Allocate or ask the participants to identify an organization (or group, but can be a trend or a development) that they consider to be a competitor or threat. In certain situations choices can be kept private, for example where the exercise deals with people and relationships.

Validate the selections (in light of the remainder of this exercise, so that the subjects are relevant and helpful). Obviously this is more appropriate for commercial competitor situations. Where the exercise is used for private personal relationships just ask people to double-check themselves that they have chosen a suitable subject.

Ask people to think carefully about their chosen person/organization, according to the factors in the appropriate grid below (the grids are different for organizations and people), and particularly to cast aside all assumptions and historical beliefs and practices.

The factors can be adapted according to the circumstances, and for more complex situations (notably commercial competitor and market analysis) can entail quite detailed research (separate from the session, or part of the session, depending on the time available and local situation).

Essentially the exercise weighs the pros and cons of each factor from the perspective of competitor and partner.

Emphasise to participants when making the assessment to look continually for a fit between the other organization and their own situation and capabilities and needs.

You will often be surprised that there are far more reasons to collaborate than to persist with habitual aggressive or defensive competition strategies and responses.

This is the age of collaboration. We can all benefit by checking old assumptions.

Market Competitor/Partner Grid

 As competitor?As partner?
Factor prosconsproscons
Offering (products, services, added values, people, strategic, philosophy, ethics, culture, range, USP's, price, quality, approvals, licences, reputation, gaps and needs, innovation, brands - others..)    
Territory (markets, countries, cultures, demographics, penetration, share, coverage, franchise, geography, area, dominance, trends - others..)    
Connections (distribution, routes to market, communications, comms technology, ITC, inbound and outbound, advertising and promotions, PR, lobbying, export import, partners, suppliers, regulatory, international,    
Scale and size (resources, expanding, declining, size strengths and weaknesses, growth aims, ownership and funding, debts and gearing, cash and liquidity, acquisitive, divesting, adaptability, speed - others..)    
Totals/summary or overview - various ways to score/summarise - for example a point for each significant issue noted, or simply assess the weight and amount of comments in each column    


  1. Using colour can make the exercise more intuitive and the results easier to see, for example use green for pros and red for cons.
  2. If developing strategy in relation to a single major 'competitor' you can have the whole group work on one big grid, using post-it notes or similarly ingenious display method - in which case allocate parts of the grid to teams or pairs to work on. Or have two teams - one work on the pros and the other the cons; or four teams or pairs, each working on one of the four factors.


People and Team Relationships Grid

The competitor-partner grid can also be adapted to help people or a group explore team and group relationships and ways to work together rather than to compete and conflict.

Again the emphasis should be on finding a fit between oneself and the other person - in terms of strengths and weaknesses, personality and styles, mutually supporting aims, experience and aspiration, etc.

If running an open shared exercise ensure anyone subject to the analysis is present and agreeable, and ideally participating constructing their own grid featuring another member of the team.

The tool can of course also be used as a private personal reflective instrument, in which case the findings are to be kept private and personal. It is not appropriate for a group to discuss and analyse a person who is not present and agreeable to the exercise.

Factor prosconsproscons

Add other lines as appropriate. Allow and encourage people to adapt and develop the format to suit their situations. The aim is to find points of mutual support and compensation. Everyone is good at some things and not so good at other things. We do best in life when we help people where they are not strong, and this enables them where possible to help us where we are not strong.


Other relevant concepts:

Prisoner's dilemma (related to collaboration v aggression, game theory and win-win strategies)


Personality perceptions relationships matrix (based on the Four Temperaments/DISC model)

Personality types

Multiple intelligences and learning styles

© Competitor-Partner Grid concept alan chapman 2007

Questioning Games

Demonstrate, teach and practise the difference between open and closed questions

Many people habitually ask closed questions when they want to gather information and encourage the other person to talk, instead of using open questions.

Here are some scenarios to use with groups in demonstrating the effectiveness of open questions, and the ineffectiveness of closed questions, for gathering information efficiently. Use your own alternative scenarios if more appropriate to your situation.

In each case state the scenario to the group, and then role-play or ask for closed questions by which the group must gather all the facts or solve the puzzle. This is neither easy nor efficient of course. Then ask for suggestions of open questionswhich will reveal the information or answer most efficiently.

Scenarios (numbers 2 and 3 are lateral thinking puzzles suitable for questioning exercises):

  1. You are seeking to rent a holiday cottage in a particular area (say Cornwall, or whatever). The newspaper has one advert in the Cornwall section, stating merely: 'Holiday Cottage For Rent' and a phone number. Role-play your phone call to discover if the cottage is what you want, using closed questions only. (If helpful, brainstorm a long list of typical requirements beforehand.) Similar exercises are possible using other sale/hire/services scenarios, e.g., cars, houses, party/wedding venues, coaching, clubs, etc.
  2. A class of twenty-five children is invited by their teacher to share a bag of exactly twenty-five sweets. After the share-out all the children have a sweet but one sweet remains in the bag. How is this? Instruct the group to ask closed questions to solve the puzzle. (The answer is that last sweet was taken away in the bag.)
  3. Two electric trains were mistakenly routed onto the same track in opposite directions into a tunnel. One travelling at 200 mph, the other at 220 mph. Each train passed successfully through the tunnel and was able to continue its journey without stopping or colliding. How so? Instruct the group to ask closed questions to solve the puzzle. (The answer is that the second train entered the tunnel several minutes after the first one had left it.)

Use or adapt your own puzzles and scenarios as appropriate for the audience.

You can also vary the way that the group asks questions - in turn, one-to-one with observers, in pairs, etc.

Here is some explanation of the use of questioning in a sales training context, as typically found in a traditional selling process. Questioning of course features importantly within coaching, counselling, interviewing, investigating, and many other disciplines, so adapt the explanation to suit your needs.

Use the poster of Rudyard Kipling's 'six serving men' verse to help explain and reinforce the best way to ask open questions.

You can also extend this activity to develop the way that questions are structured and asked (style, emotion, tone, body language, use of words, etc), in which the Mehrabian theory is a helpful reference.

For help with enabling powerful facilitative questioning see Sharon Drew Morgen's Facilitative Methodology.

(My thanks to Sarah Phillips for this activity idea.)

Diversity Quiz

For diverse groups, mutual understanding, empathy, diversity training

Here is an easy exercise which makes use of the quiz format to teach and improve people's response to diversity issues.

The activity is for diverse groups (mixed age, race, gender, religion, and/or other types of people), but the exercise will be useful for groups of apparently less diverse nature too. Diversity is not just about race and religion - diversity entails all aspects of what makes people different, which can be found in any group of people, even if initially the group seems not very diverse at all.

The exercise is basically for the group members to create a diversity quiz by contributing questions individually (or working in pairs or threes depending on overall group size), and then for the group as a whole to take the quiz (or in the same teams).

This process enables discovery of real practical local diversity issues, instead of assuming and announcing what they might be.

If appropriate first brainstorm and/or discuss and agree/explain what diversity means.

Here is a suggested description. Adapt it or use your own explanation to suit the situation.

"In a social or work context diversity means difference and variation among people. This difference and variation can be characterised by race, gender, age, religion, physical shape and ability, social class and background, personality and ability: any, some, or all of these. Organizations which make the most of the natural diversity in their staff, customers, suppliers and other partners, have a huge advantage over organizations which fail to do so. Making the most of diversity in staff and other people - often called inclusiveness - increases the depth and range of behaviours and capabilities (also skills, knowledge and styles) that the organization can call upon in meeting the needs of the increasingly diverse market place. Recognising diversity in the market place effectively increases the size of the market. Failing to acknowledge diversity within and outside the organization reduces capabilities, causing the organization to be less appealing, and to fewer people, and in some cases creates organizational liabilities for litigation under discrimination laws. Failure to recognise and respond to diversity often equates to discrimination and is regarded by fair-minded people as unethical."

Here is the instruction to group members to create the quiz:

  1. You have five (or 10 or 15) minutes to formulate one (or two or three) quiz question(s) and answer(s) for a diversity quiz. You must do this individually/in pairs/in threes. (N.B. Timings, numbers of questions and team size depends on the size of the group, for example: work as individuals for group sizes up to 9 people; in pairs for groups of 8-24 people; or in threes for groups of 15 and above. Very large groups should be spilt into sub-groups with appointed facilitators. Consider time available and number of questions needed when deciding your parameters for the activity.)
  2. Tell the group: when formulating your questions and answers think about subjects that are significant in reflecting or influencing how you, and people like you act, think, behave, decide, etc. Questions can be about anything - history, lifestyle, culture, media, travel, geography, finance, food and drink, language, politics, leisure and entertainment.
  3. For the effective running of the quiz, questions must be clear and easy to understand, and have clear short answers - facts, figures, etc., not subjective personal opinions that might be subject to wide interpretation.
  4. One of the ironies of diversity is that we all tend to assume that people who are different to us understand how and why we think and behave the way we do. We take for granted the way we are, and expect others to sympathise with us, and to see things from our viewpoint. This starts with the simplest aspects of our lives. Therefore in formulating helpful diversity quiz questions and answers, do not strive for complex concepts. Keep it simple, and you will be surprised how revealing and helpful this can be.
  5. Hand the formulated questions and answers to the facilitator, who can then run the quiz for the whole group using all questions. The quiz can be run for people competing as individuals or in the same pairs or threes which formulated the questions.

A useful reference model for this activity is the Johari Window. The diversity quiz exercise seeks to enable people to increase what others know about each other, which is at the root of inclusiveness and making the most of diversity.

The Multiple Intelligence model is also a useful reference model for considering people's different strengths (to avoid assuming that there is only one type of intellectual capability), and the Erikson life stages model is also helpful in considering age and upbringing issues.

Question examples, and adapting exercise into survey

The questions and answers should be simple - everyday things that we all take for granted, except when it comes to other people, which is the point. Most obvious examples relate to geographical/cultural facts relevant to people's own native/place of birth/parents' country.

For example:

  • National holidays
  • Money/currency
  • Capital city
  • Language(s)
  • Airport(s)/airlines/roads/transport/ports
  • Ruling party/government/leaders/opposition parties
  • Religion(s)
  • National sports/hobbies/pastimes/music/dance
  • Newspapers/TV/media
  • Beautiful regions/scenery weather/seasons/climate
  • Tourism
  • Monuments/buildings/bridges/rivers/lakes
  • Wild animals/birds/trees/plants
  • National flag design/national anthem/national history/independence.

Other diversity issues questions/areas to explore:

  • Disabilities and personal physical/mental differences
  • Age/generational factors and lifestyle/behaviours/preferences
  • Gender/sexuality differences
  • Multiple intelligence issues (see Gardner model and test for useful context) - respecting each other's strengths and weaknesses, preferences and aversions, fears, etc
  • Home life attitudes and received/conditioned/inherited views/attitudes - exploring cultural aspects of parental influences.

Developing quiz questions need not be the most important aspect - it's the discussion and exploration on the way that also holds great potential for mutual understanding, especially in a diverse group.

The outcome or ostensible 'aim' of the activity can therefore be altered accordingly - maybe not a quiz - maybe 'ten amazing things I never knew about my group', or 'ten amazing things my team partner(s) and I never knew about each other'..

The concept can also be adapted into/started with a survey - when the group goes out into a busy public area to ask people: "Could you tell me a simple fact about your culture/country that could make a good question and answer for a diversity quiz? (Explain if required: Diversity is understanding and appreciating the differences between people)..."

If you run the exercise and produce some questions do let me have them to share on the website.

Please send me quizzes created using the above exercise to share with others.

Causes and Solutions

Discussion or illustration of problem-solving, dispute resolution, crisis management and avoidance, solutions-focused thinking

Quick and easy to set up, and very adaptable for all sorts of training and development purposes, this exercise is based on the following simple principle:

Ask individuals or pairs or threes (or a larger team with guidance as to team for leadership) to identify an example in a newspaper of some sort of dispute or conflict, and then to analyse the causes and solutions.

Ask people to adopt the view of a mediator. Suggest or brainstorm some pointers to help people approach the task, for example:

  • What helpful facilitative questions could be asked of the parties involved to work towards a solution?
  • What might be changed in the methods or attitudes or structures of the situations in order to prevent a recurrence of the problems?
  • How does each side feel and what are their main complaints, feelings, needs and motivators?
  • To what extent could the problem have been averted or predicted, and if so how?
  • How can others learn from the situation?

Discussion and presentation format and timings are flexible and at the discretion of the facilitator.

Save time if needs be by highlighting suggested articles in the newspapers.

Refer delegates to relevant management or behavioural theories and models, and/or ask that delegates do this when they present/discuss their views/analysis.

Public Quiz/Survey

Research, communications skills, appreciating the knowledge other people possess, human engagement, fun

This is a simple twist to bring any quiz or question to life, and add a wonderful dimension for developing and demonstrating the power of successfully communicating and engaging with other people.

Split the group to suit you (teams, pairs, or threes probably best). Decide rules, timing, presentation, discussion, review, etc., to fit your situation. All this is flexible.

Take any quiz or series of questions, or one big difficult question. Issue it to the teams (or pairs, or individuals, etc).

The task is to go out and engage with the general public to find the answers.

Introduce variations to suit your situation.

For example if working with competing teams you can arrange that each team has a 'shadow' or observer from another team to ensure no cheating, and also to give observer feedback in any reviews that happen afterwards. (If appropriate, brainstorm the review points prior to the exercise with the group - it's easier and better than you doing this by yourself.)

You can also define certain areas or places for the teams to go (shopping centre, pubs, library, old folks home for example), although take care to ensure no nuisance is caused.

State clear rules for the use of phones. Purists might argue that they are not allowed at all, which is fine, but there is no problem allowing an element of phone research if it fits the group roles/preferences and development situation.

There are lots of quizzes in the quizballs section, including many with interesting varied content that would suit this exercise.

Or make up your own questions or subjects for the teams to research among the general public, for example:

  • List the last 20 prime ministers/presidents in correct order.
  • List all the county towns/state capitals.
  • Name all the Big Brother winners in order.
  • What's the history of the local town?
  • Who are the most famous people born locally?
  • What are the five most liked corporations, and what are the five least liked corporations?
  • Who would win an election if one were called now?

You'll think of lots more ideas.


Personal goals, visualising personal aims and potential, identifying personal potential, life values, purpose and meaning

A simple exercise to lift people out of habitual thought patterns, and to encourage deep evaluation of personal aims, values, purpose and meaning.

For groups of any size. Encourage post-activity feedback, review, sharing and discussion (or not), as appropriate, depending group/teams size, facilitators and time available. Encourage and enable follow-up actions as appropriate, dependent also on the situation and people's needs.

The activity is based simply on posing the question(s) to team members:

"Imagine you are dead - you've lived a long and happy life - what would your obituary say?"

Alternatively/additionally ask the question:

"How will you want people - your family and other good folk particularly - to remember you when you've gone?"

Modern day-to-day life and work for many people becomes a chaotic fog, in which personal destiny is commonly left in the hands of employers and other external factors.

It is all too easy to forget that we are only on this earth once. We do not have our time again.

So it is worth thinking about making the most of ourselves and what we can do, while we have the chance.

Focusing on how we would want to be remembered (who and what we want to be, and what difference we have made) helps develop a fundamental aim or idea from which people can then 'work back' and begin to think about how they will get there and what needs to change in order for them to do so.

Follow-up exercises can therefore focus on 'in-filling' the changes and decisions steps necessary to achieve one's ultimate personal aims.

Most things are possible if we know where we want to be and then plan and do the things necessary to get there.

See the various quotes posters related to life purpose and values, which can be used in support of this activity, for example:

"He who dies with the most toys is nonetheless dead" (Anon), and

"The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." (William James, 1842-1910, US psychologist and philosopher)

Telephone Chatting Activities

Team-building for home-based staff, telephone skills exercises, remote teams relationships

Home-based staff and remote teams miss out on the valuable social contact normally available to office-based teams.

Personal interaction between staff (typically chatting and engaging in the canteen, elevator, lounge areas, etc) is crucial for developing relationships and mutual awareness among teams, so if teams do not meet frequently then the leader must devise ways to enable this personal interaction to happen.

Traditional autocratic management discourages chatting between workers because it considers chatting to be a waste of time, but this misses the point.

"You are paid to work not to chat or socialise in the corridor - get back to work.." is actually a very unhelpful management tactic.

The truth is the better team members know each other the better the team performs.

See the Johari Window model - it is a powerful explanation of the value of increasing mutual awareness, and why mutual awareness is central to effective teams and team building.

Within reason, people need to be given every opportunity to get to know each other, and chatting achieves this very well. Chatting develops mutual awareness, and it also helps people feel included and valued. Conversely, if you deny people the chance to engage personally with their colleagues you starve them of interaction that is essential for well-being and life balance.

The internet increasingly enables people to connect through 'groups' and 'social networking' websites, but for many remote or home-based work teams a simple telephone-based alternative can provide an easier more natural process, moreover using the telephone - even for chatting - helps improve telephone skills, especially listening.

A simple way to achieve this double benefit of team development and skills improvement among remote teams is to encourage telephone chatting (within reason of course) between team members.

Here are some ideas for doing this:

  • Introduce a compulsory 15 minutes telephone chat-time which each team member must have with every other team member every week. Give no subject or aim other than having a good chat and getting to know the other person.
  • Introduce a rota or matrix for inter-team chat telephone appointments - timings to suit workloads - again with no aims other than to have a chat and learn something about each other.
  • Introduce a virtual team tea-break or virtual visit to the pub - everyone is in fact by their phone in their own homes or offices (with a cup of tea or a tumbler of what does you good) connected a suitable via telephone conference call - and the tone and spirit of the discussion must be as if the team were gathered around a table in the canteen or at the local pub. There are no aims or intended outcomes aside from having a good chat and getting to know each other better.
  • When people are connecting more regularly and the telephone chats are up and running, maybe try introducing a few discussion subjects - not necessarily about work - anything to get people talking and understanding each other better. Maybe ask the team to suggest topics too, and then see where the team wants to take things.

Encouraging and enabling chatting between team members improves telephone communications skills since it involves using the telephone to develop understanding, mutual awareness, empathy and relationships between people. Skills development becomes sharper still if activities are adapted for 'conference' calls connecting several people. Communications skills are placed under greater pressure when the voice is the only medium, which obviously tends to develop people's listening abilities.


Identifying unique personal potential, careers and direction, lifting limits

A simple exercise with deep meaning, for any group size subject to appointing discussion leaders if appropriate. Review is optional. Thoughts can be shared and discussed or kept private; the type of review and follow-up depends on the situation.

The purpose of the exercise is to encourage and enable people to think creatively and imaginatively about their direction and potential. As such it is particularly appropriate for people who are in a routine that is not of their choosing, or who lack confidence, or who need help visualising who they can be and what they can do.

Ask people to imagine they are 18 years old and have just received a great set of exam results that gives them a free choice to study for a degree or qualification at any university or college, anywhere in the world. They also have a grant which will pay for all their fees. No loans, no debts, no pre-conditions.

So the question is, given such a free choice, what would you study?

Put another way, what would you love to spend a year or two or three years becoming brilliant at?

For older people emphasise that they can keep all the benefit of all their accumulated knowledge and experience. They can even create their own degree course to fit exactly what they want to do.

The important thing is for people to visualise and consider what they would do if they have a free choice.

And then either during the review discussion and sharing of ideas or in closing the exercise, make the following point:

You have just visualised something that is hugely important to you.

You are (depending on your religious standpoint) only here on this earth once. You will not come back again and have another go.

So what's actually stopping you from pursuing your dreams?

In almost all cases the obstacles will be self-imposed.

Of course, it's not always easy to do the things we want to do. But most things are possible - and you don't need to go to university for three years to start to become who you want to be and to follow a new direction. It starts with a realisation that our future is in our own hands.

We ourselves - not anyone or anything else - determine whether we follow and achieve our passions and potential, or instead regret never trying.

(Additional stimulus and ideas can be provided for the group in the form of university and college course listings or examples, although people should be encouraged to imagine their own subjects. Anything is possible. See also the Fantasticat concept.)

Age Diversity

Age discrimination training, ageism awareness, diversity development

With the introduction of Age Discrimination legislation (UK 2006, superceded 2010, and consistent with European law), there is an increased need to raise awareness and to train people about ageism and age discrimination. Here are some ideas for activities and exercises which will highlight the issues. See the related notes about Age Discrimination and Equality including rules explaining certain allowable discrimination subject to robust evidence that it is proportionate, reasonable and legitimate.

Organise teams and discussions according to your situation. Here are four separate ideas which can be used for exercises and team games.

1. Under age discrimination legislation many customary expressions in written and spoken communications are potentially unlawful if they refer to a person's age (any age - not only older people) in a negative way, and/or which could cause a person to feel they are being harassed or discriminated against. Under the law, individuals are liable (for harassment claims) as well as employers' wider responsibilities regarding discrimination, harassment and retirement. Some very common expressions are potentially discriminatory or harassing if directed at someone at work. Ask people to think of examples - there are lots of them, such as:

  • Teach an old dog new tricks
  • An old head on young shoulders
  • Mature beyond his/her years
  • Respect your elders
  • It's a young man's game
  • Too old
  • Past it
  • Over the hill
  • Put out to grass or pasture
  • Dead man's shoes
  • Too young/Not old enough/Not mature enough

2. Direct age discrimination means treating a person at work less favourably because of their age. Indirect discrimination is more difficult to identify and guard against than direct discrimination, and it is equally unlawful. Indirect discrimination is where policies, criteria, processes, activities, practices, rules or systems create a disadvantage for someone because of their age. These pitfalls can be less easy to identify and eliminate than directly discriminatory behaviour.

Ask delegates to think of examples of potential indirect discrimination with your own organisation or within other (real or hypothetical) organisations, and/or based on past experience. Here are some examples - there are lots more:

  • Job or person profiles or adverts (and advertising media) which stipulate or imply an age requirement
  • Application or assessment documentation which includes reference to age or date of birth
  • Training or job selection criteria, attitudes, expectations which differentiate according to age
  • Job promotion decisions and attitudes
  • Pay and grades and benefits policies
  • Holiday entitlement and freedoms
  • Social activities and clubs which have or imply age restrictions
  • Office and work-place traditions of who should do the tea-making, errands and menial tasks
  • Organisational and departmental culture, extending to jokes and banter

3. Age diversity (as other sorts of diversity) offers advantages and benefits to all organisations and employers, especially where a diverse range of people-related capabilities is a clear organisational and/or competitive strength. This is particularly so in all service businesses. In all organisations, age diversity (as other sorts of diversity) is very helpful for management teams, which benefit from having a range and depth of skills, and a broad mix of experience, maturity, and different perspectives, from youngest to oldest. Diversity in organisations relates strongly to the immensely powerful 1st Law of Cybernetics.

Ask people to suggest specific benefits which age (or any other) diversity brings to organisations. This helps focus on the advantages of encouraging diversity, aside from simply complying with the legislation. Here are some examples - there are lots more:

  • Diverse organisations can engage well with diverse customer groups, markets, suppliers, etc
  • Diversity in management teams can more easily engage with a diverse workforce
  • A diverse workforce has a fuller appreciation of market needs and trends
  • Diverse organisations have more answers to more questions than those which lack diversity
  • Diversity enables flexibility and adaptability - diversity has more responses available to it than narrowly defined systems (Cybernetics again..)
  • Age Diversity in an organisation collectively understands the past, the present and the future
  • Age diversity naturally enables succession and mentoring
  • Age diversity in management helps executives stay in touch with the whole organisation; helps keep feet on the ground (as opposed to heads in the clouds or up somewhere unmentionable)
  • Full diversity in an organisation collectively understands the world, whereas a non-diverse system by its own nature only has a limited view.

N.B. Beware of promoting age diversity by suggesting particular correlations between age and capability, which can in itself be discriminatory. For example, it is not right to say that only older people have maturity and wisdom, nor that only younger people have energy and vitality. Instead make the point that by having a mixture of people and ages, an organisation is far more likely to be able to meet the diverse demands of managing itself, and engaging successfully with the outside world, compared to an organisation which lacks diversity.

4. If you do not already have an equality policy (stating the organisation's position relating to all aspects of equality and discrimination) why not start the creative process with a brainstorm session about what it should contain. Incidentally the term 'brainstorming' is not normally considered to be a discriminatory or disrespectful term, just in case anyone asks...

Ask the team(s) or group to list your own or other typical major organisational processes (inwardly and outwardly directed, for instance recruitment, training and development, customer and supplier relationships, etc) and how each might be described so as to ensure equality and to avoid wrongful discrimination.

Alternatively ask people individually or the team(s) to prepare or research (in advance of the session, or during it if you have sufficient internet connections) examples of other organisations' equality policies, with a view then to suggesting and discussing as a group all of the relevant aspects which could for used for your own situation.


We all, irrespective of age, race, religion, gender, disability, etc., have our own special capabilities and strengths, and it is these capabilities and strengths that good organisations must seek to identify, assess, encourage and utilise, regardless of age or other potentially discriminatory factors.

See Equality.

Shot At Dawn Discussion

Organisational morality, leadership styles and integrity, decision-making, humanity versus efficiency

This is a big emotional subject which enables a variety of discussions about morality, ethics, integrity, leadership styles, policies and decision-making in institutions and organisations, and the wider world. It also provides a stimulating basis for exploring ethics versus autocracy, and for examining the balance in organisations and cultures between humanity and efficiency.

Organise the team(s) and debating activities to suit the audience and context. This can include debating, presenting, role-playing, brainstorming, listing and mapping key factors - anything that fits your aims and will be of interest and value to people. The subject also provides a thought-provoking warm-up discussion for any session dealing with ethics, morality, compassion, leadership, decision-making, and organisational culture, etc.

Read and/or issue the notes about the Shot At Dawn pardons, which were announced by the British government on 16 August 2006, relating to British soldiers shot by firing squad for 'cowardice' and 'desertion' in the 1st World War.

The 'Shot At Dawn' story represents a 90 year campaign to secure posthumous pardons for over 300 soldiers shot by firing squad in 1914-18 when it was known then, and certainly in recent decades, that most of these men were suffering from shell-shock and mental illness. The human perspective is obviously considerable, including the institutional position up to the August 2006 announcement.

The story of the Shot At Dawn campaign and its historical background prompts discussion about some fundamental modern issues relating to organisational management, ethical leadership, and wider issues of cultural behaviour, for example (see the organisational perspectives below too):

  • Leadership styles - morality-centred versus results-centred (and any other leadership styles models people care to explore)
  • Leadership integrity and ethics
  • Policy-making methods, purposes and reviews
  • Decision-making influences and reference points
  • Decision-making pressures which cloud judgement
  • Morality and compassion in institutions and organisations - versus the need to maintain controls and systems
  • The growing responsibility and opportunity for ordinary people to hold leaders to account for humanitarian and ethical conduct
  • Why did it take successive UK governments much longer than any other nation to begin to reconcile this issue?
  • Why is this issue being resolved now and not twenty or fifty years ago?

The different organisational perspectives together provide a stimulating way to look at organisational dynamics, systems, and relationships, etc:

  • The army and leaders of the time who saw the need to implement the policy to execute soldiers
  • The politicians and institutional system which until recently refused to acknowledge the injustice of the executions and the avoidance of the truth
  • The campaign dimensions, and how the modern world enables increasing transparency of ethical issues

When looking at the issues people will also see meanings and relevance in their own terms, and as such discussion can help personal and mutual discovery and awareness. There are also many parallels with modern issues of organisational ethics and social responsibility, because at the heart of the issue lie the forces of humanity and efficiency, which to a lesser or greater extent we all constantly strive to reconcile.

N.B. People will not necessarily all agree a similar interpretation of the First World War pardons. This makes it a particularly interesting subject for debate, especially in transferring the issues and principles and lessons to modern challenges in organisations, and the world beyond.

Corporate Globalisation Debate Ideas

Corporate globalisation issues, corporate response to the debate, and the internet as a powerful force for awareness, challenge and change

Here are some ideas for exercises to use for developing good awareness and outcomes related to globalisation, and particularly corporate globlisation issues:

  • Define 'globalisation' (or 'globalization' - either is correct) - there is no single answer.
  • What is corporate globalisation? Is it a feature of globalisation or a driver of it?
  • What are the other drivers of globalisation and/or corporate globalisation?
  • Is globalisation and/or corporate globalisation a good thing or a bad thing? Give examples of each.
  • Is our company or organisation an example of good globalisation or not so good globalisation?
  • Name some examples of good organisations on the context of globalisation, and some not so good ones, and say why.
  • What can individual employees and teams do to ensure that the organisation is regarded as a positive effect on globalisation and not a negative one?
  • How does globalisation relate to ethical business, the 'Triple Bottom Line', Fairtrade, etc?
  • How do customers perceive globalisation - what's good about it and what's not good about it?
  • How does globalisation relate to customer service and retention?
  • What are the environmental impacts and potential advantages in globalisation?
  • Which are the subjective (matter of opinion) aspects of globalisation, and which are the clear indisputable good and bad points?
  • What would be a good three or five-point plan for an organisation to use globalisation for good, rather than risk damage and harm?

Inspirational Speeches

Public speaking, presentation skills, motivation, inspirational leadership)

This is a simple idea for a group of between five and around a dozen delegates. Split larger groups into teams and appoint team-leaders.

Ask people to select in advance a great speech, verse, piece of poetry, news report, etc., to deliver to the team or group. The chosen piece can be anything that each delegate finds inspiring and powerful, for example Nelson Mandela's inauguration speech, Martin Luther King's speeches about civil rights, The St Crispin's speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, or maybe lyrics from a pop song - really anything that the delegates find personally exciting and interesting.

Ask the team members to give their speeches in turn to the group, injecting as much personal style and passion as they can.

Then review with the team the notable aspects of each performance, the effect on the speaker, the audience, etc.

Preparation in advance by the delegates is optional and in some situations recommended for presentation skills and public speaking courses. Facilitate accordingly. Obviously where delegates are not able to prepare then the facilitator instead needs to prepare several suitable pieces for team members to choose from or select at random. Or to keep matters very simple the facilitator can select just one speech or other literary work for all of the delegates to deliver, in which case encourage and review the different interpretations.

A different twist to the exercise is to select a piece or pieces that would not normally be delivered passionately to an audience, such as the instructions from the packaging of a household cleaner or a boil-in-the-bag meal.

Encourage people to team members to stretch and project themselves through their performances.

If helpful, brainstorm with the group before hand the various elements of an effective speech.

If appropriate and helpful organise lectern or suitable stand for the speaker to place their notes on while speaking.

Interestingly this exercise works well with several speeches being given to their respective teams in the same room at the same time, which actually adds to general atmosphere and the need for speakers to concentrate and take command of their performance and their own audience.

This is a flexible activity - adapt it to suit your situation.

For young people particularly give a lot of freedom as to their chosen pieces - the point of the exercise is the speaking and the passion; the actual content in most cases is a secondary issue.

See also the presentations page, and bear in mind that many people will find this activity quite challenging. A way to introduce a nervous group to the activity is to have them practise their speeches in pairs (all at the same time - it aids concentration and focus and relieves the pressure) before exposing delegates to the challenge of speaking to the whole team or group.

Corporation Life Cycle

Understanding organisational dynamics, corporate maturity and development; market development, organisational systems

This is a simple and flexible activity for groups and teams of any size. Split the group into working teams or pairs and decide the presentation or discussion format, which can be anything to suit your situation. Alternatively run the exercise as one big brainstorming session.

First introduce to the delegates the Adizes Corporate Life Cycle model.

Then ask the delegates or teams for real company examples of each stage, from team members' own experiences, or their knowledge of their market place, or the general economic landscape, or from a few business pages of newspapers or trade journals (which you can provide as reference materials for the activity).

This exercise prompts a lot of thinking and useful debate about the differing 'organisational maturity' found across different types of organisations. This is helpful for understanding how to deal with corporations from a selling viewpoint, and is also useful in providing a perspective of organisational culture for management and supervisory training.

The exercise can be extended into (for example):

  • Exploring different selling strategies required for different life-cycle stage corporate prospects, or
  • Examining different management styles and behavioural issues and challenges within corporations of different life-cycle stage
  • Interpreting the delegates' own organisation and divisions in terms of the life-cycle stages, and discussing the implications for working styles, attitudes, need for change, etc.

The theme overlaps with the Tuckman model of team and group development, which is a further useful reference point, especially for management development and training, and particularly if extending the discussion to the maturity of departments and teams.

World Cup Learning Parallels

Strategy skills and understanding global marketing, debating, presentation, and for ice-breakers and warm-up sessions

This sort of activity is handy following any major popular event, such as a sport tournament of entertainment. When people are preoccupied and discussing a popular news story of the moment, harness the interest for development ideas. 'Learning parallels' exist everywhere - use them for explaining and developing understanding about work and organisations.

For example, many people will probably be fed up with the World Cup by now, but for delegates at meetings and training sessions who still want to pick over the bones of what happened in Germany, and/or the wider effects of football on life in general, here are some suggested activities which might reap a few positive learning outcomes. There are many parallels between football and business, management, strategy, life, etc., after all football is arguably more of a business than a sport (which might be the subject of a team debate, aside from these other ideas):

Activity 1 - Split the group into pairs and give each pair five minutes to prepare a list of five strategic changes for the improvement of football as a sport and business, as if it were a product development or business development project. For example how about changing the rules, because they've essentially not been altered since the game was invented. What about increasing the size of the goal, or reducing the number of players on the pitch? You'll get no agreement of course, but it will get people talking.

Activity 2 - Split the group into teams of three and ask each team to prepare and present a critique of the management style and methods of the FA and head coach in the last four years, with suggestions as to how things might have been done differently and better by the FA and the head coach. What lessons of management and strategy might we draw from this?

Activity 3 - For an open debate or as a team presentation exercise, ask the question: What cultural/social/economic factors influence the success of a nation's football team, and what do these things tell us about fundamental trends of national economic and business performance on a global level?

Activity 4 - Split the group into two teams. One side must prepare and argue the motion for and the other the motion against. The facilitator must chair proceedings or appoint a responsible person. Each side has five minutes to prepare, and five minutes to present its case. Then allow five minutes for debate, and then have a vote. The motion is: "Football would be a better game and globally would be more sustainable and appealing if FIFA were run by women rather than men." (Alternative motion: "England would have done better at the World Cup if the FA was run by women rather than men.")

See also the football quiz questions and answers.

The concepts above are not restricted to football - they are transferable to any popular events that enthuse and interest people - it just takes a little imagination to translate the themes and names for the event concerned and relate them to 'learning parallels' found in work and organisations.

Newsdesk Broadcast

Global team building, inter-departmental development, cultural diversity and understanding, video conferencing

This is a simple activity for developing global teams. The activity requires video conferencing facilities. For groups of any size, and any number of teams, although the more teams, the less time should be allowed for broadcasts, so as to avoid people having to sit watching for long periods.

The exercise simply requires the teams to use the video conferencing equipment to create and 'broadcast' their own 'newsdesk report/magazine TV program, to be 'broadcast' to the other office(s). The teams' newsdesk broadcasts can be given to each other in rotation during the same session, or at different times, depending on staff availability and logistics issues.

Broadcasts can include guest interviews, update reports, personalities and highlights, plans and forecasts, profiles, etc, even adverts and sponsor slots - anything that might be included in a newsletter/company magazine.

Teams need to be given suitable time for planning and preparation and rehearsal. The teams' aims are to impress the other viewing departments or locations with the quality, content, professionalism and entertainment contained in the newsdesk broadcast. The them can be decided by the teams or facilitator(s) as appropriate. Timings for preparation and delivery are also flexible.

Each team can appoint presenters, producer, directors, make-up staff, technical staff (camera, props, etc), researchers, special correspondents, advertisers and sponsors, etc.

Broadcasts can also be recorded for other staff to enjoy at later times. Consideration can also be given to broadcasting to other staff via personal computers using more advanced communications technology if available.

In some respects this concept extends the traditional ideas of team-briefing, and can easily be tailored to incorporate team-briefing principles.

The 'Newsdesk Exercise' also adapts easily for conferences, particularly for international and global teams who seek to develop mutual understanding and awareness of each others issues, aims, personalities, etc.

Triple Bottom Line Game

Understanding the Triple Bottom Line - Profit People Planet - Implications, developing ethical teams and organisations

With the obvious rising interest in and awareness of modern 'ethical' organisations issues (at last), it's helpful for all organisations to bring TBL-type thinking to life in team activities. Here's a simple exercise to do it:

The activity (which can also be used for more structured workshops) is for groups of any size although large groups of more than twenty people will need splitting into several teams with facilitators/spokes-people/presenters appointed, and extra thought needs to be given to the review/presentation stage to review and collect all the ideas and agree follow-up actions.

Split the group into debating teams of 3-7 people. (The larger the whole group, the larger the debating teams should be.) Each team's task is to identify three great new team or department initiatives - one for each of the Triple Bottom Line areas, namely, Profit, People, Planet. Give some thought to team mix - if helpful refer to the Belbin model or Gardner's Multiple Intelligences inventory - it's useful for all teams to have a balance of people who collectively can reconcile ideals with practicalities.

If necessary set the scene with a brainstorm or group discussion about what ethics and the Triple Bottom Line (profit people planet) actually means to people, staff, customers, and its significance for the organisation/industry sector concerned.

Initiatives must be SMART (in this case SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Each of the initiatives must focus on one of the Triple Bottom Line areas (profit, people, planet), and at the same time must support the other two TBL areas.

For example, a profit initiative must not undermine people or planet. A planet initiative must not undermine profit or people. And most certainly a profit initiative must not undermine people or planet.

When we say 'not undermine profit', let's be clear that many ethical intitiatves can reduce profit, especially if the profit was being achieved by doing harm or damage somewhere, and the initiative seeks to correct this. The extent to which profit is affected by ethical initiatives is a matter for discussion and consideration of the wider and long-term view. Within this view are the wider benefits achieved by improving the ethical behaviour of the organisation, which ultimately will improve profits far more than ignoring ethical issues.

Instead of looking at loss of profit, think about the risks associated with ignoring the ethical issues, which generally dwarf short-term costs of ethical initiatives. For example, what's the point in sticking with exploitative third-world manufacturing if the consequence of doing so means in the future there'll be no customers prepared to buy the manufactured product?

Teams have between 20 and 40 minutes (facilitator decides beforehand) to develop their ideas, and presentations, depending on time available. Presentations can be in any format to suit the timescales, numbers of teams and delegates, and the emphasis given to the TBL theme. Allocate time for presentations to suit the situation, numbers and timescales.

David Cameron is entirely correct (and very clever) in identifying that the 'zeitgeist' (feeling of the times) is for more meaning, humanity and corporate responsibility in work and organisations; the question is how to make it happen. This exercise begins to address the practicalities. Otherwise it's all talk.

As with any ideas session or activities always ensure that there is follow-up, and seek agreement for this with the relevant powers before raising hopes and seeking input of people and teams. Follow-up can be for a limited number of initiatives that all delegates vote on at the end of the presentations, or you can agree follow-up actions on a team-by-team basis, depending on levels of enthusiasm, quality of ideas, workload, and perceived organisational benefit.

This activity links with the spirit of the development forum gameshow activity, which particularly addresses the people and well-being aspect of the triple bottom line philosophy.

Values-Led Team-Driven Change

Goal-setting, values, philosophy, planning and change management

This is a simple themed activity which can be adapted to suit your situation.

It concerns fundamental aims and values - making work more real and meaningful.

For groups any size although groups of more than ten or so will need to be sub-divided and facilitators/leaders appointed, and then a forum arranged to share and review ideas and actions afterwards.

The activity focuses on reconciling personal dreams/values/philosophies/passions with the organisational aims and methods.

Ask: What can we all do to change and improve how our organisation acts?

Pick the easy gains. Leave the tough ones for later/ever.

Refer people to the Serenity Prayer.

Refer (especially if the teams have idealistic compassionate roles/tendencies) to the 'zeitgeist' of our times: organisational ethics, 'Fairtrade', sustainability, corporate integrity, 'Triple Bottom Line' ('Profit People Planet'), etc., and have people visualise what successful organisations will be like in the future, given increasing awareness and expectations of employees, customers and general public opinion in relation to humanistic values.

How can the individuals and the team help to develop/influence/behave within the organisation so as to make it (the organisation) fit our personal perspectives and these modern values?

You'll need to provide strong support and follow-up afterwards, and ideally get some buy-in from the top. This is a brave initiative, although most organisations are now beginning to understand that the concepts are real and will eventually be irresistible.

Obstacles Exercise

Communications, giving or writing clear instructions, teamworking strategies

A team activity for groups of four to twenty people to promote team-building, communications and understanding about clarity of instructions. Much larger groups can be accommodated with suitable space, adaptation and planning. For indoors or outdoors. The exercise can be organised for a single team although normally it will be more effective and enjoyable for a number of teams competing against each other.

The activity is simple. Nominated members of teams must guide their blind-folded fellow team-members, using spoken instructions, through an obstacle course made with chairs or other items.

In preparing for this activity remember to source sufficient blindfolds for team members.

Alternatively instructions can be written, in which case team members (not blind-folded) must negotiate the obstacle course walking backwards (obviously so as not to see the obstacles but to be able to read hand-held instructions).

Where two or more teams compete against each other a nominated observer from each team acts as adjudicator, to count the number of times that the walkers make contact with obstacles, resulting in penalty points. Clear adjudication rules must be stipulated so that the integrity of the scoring is protected, for example, after completing the course each walker signs their name against the written score marked by the adjudicator. An example score sheet is shown at the end of this item.

The winning team is the one to complete the course as quickly as possible, after deduction of penalty points, for example ten seconds per obstacle contacted.

Given a group of just four or six people it is generally better to split this into two competing teams rather than run the exercise as a single group activity, unless you have a particular reason for running a single group exercise.

Room set-up is quickest achieved by simply asking the delegates to place their chairs somewhere in the 'playing area', which immediately creates the obstacle course. The facilitator can make any necessary adjustments in case any straight-line routes exist.

Teams then have five to ten minutes (at the facilitator's discretion, depending on time available, team size and complexity of the obstacle course) to plan and agree a start point and a finish point through the obstacles - in any direction - and to plan a strategy for guiding blind-folded members through the route planned, (or for the backwards-walking version of the exercise, to write instructions sheets for walkers to use).

So that everyone experiences being a guide and a walker you can stipulate that every team member must negotiate the course, which means that team members must swap roles (the guided become the guides having completed the course). This would also require adjudicators to swap roles with guides or walkers of their own teams.

This is a flexible exercise that allows the facilitator to decide how difficult to make the obstacle course, how specific to be regarding start and finish points (all teams starting at one side of the room, or leave it up to the teams to plan their routes in any direction from one side to the other), and the strategic complexity of the challenge (determined by team size and number of obstacles - large teams of more than four or five people will also require a strategy for who performs what role and when roles are exchanged).

Additionally the facilitator can decide to stipulate whether all instructions are spoken, (blind-folds), written (walking backwards), or a mixture of the two methods (for example stipulate how many team members must use either method).

Review points afterwards:

  • Why did the winning team win?
  • What were good strategies?
  • What were good instructions and what were unhelpful ones?
  • What were the unforeseen problems? (One unforeseen problem, especially where competing teams are permitted to decide their own start and finish points and therefore are likely to cross the routes of other teams, is the fact that walkers of other teams will become obstacles during the exercise)
  • What adjustments to strategies and instructions were made along the way?
  • Discuss the merits of practical trials before having to decide strategies and instructions.
  • And lots more points arising from the activities.

Here's a simple example of the adjudicator's score sheet:

Walker's nameObstacles 
(by walker)

Portmanteau Words Game

Creativity, ideas and concepts, a vehicle for developing and highlighting issues and initiatives

For groups of any size. This is a basis for various activities. Adapt and use it to suit your purposes and situation. If you need help deciding on format, teams sizes, timings etc., refer to the tips on working with teams and groups and exercises.

First see the explanation about portmanteau words - aside from anything else it's very interesting as a perspective on the development of language and communications.

Portmanteau words are new words that are made from the combination of (typically) two other words. Common examples are 'Pictionary' (the board game), the Chunnel (the channel tunnel), 'infomercial' (information and commercial advertising); avionics (aviation and electronics), and 'webinar' (web and seminar) The grammatical effect enables the quick and stimulating creation of new ideas and themes, for any purpose.

First explain to people about portmanteau words. Then, depending on your theme or purpose for the meeting or session, ask people (can be individually or in teams - pairs or threes ideally unless you ask for lots of work and ideas), to devise their own portmanteau word or words for a particular purpose. Here are some examples of purposes:

  • A new brand name for a product or service (for the people's organisation or any another organisation, depending on the situation and participants)
  • A name for a new company/organisation initiative (perhaps addressing customer service, quality, communications, inter-departmental relationships, training and development - anything that is a challenge or opportunity that would benefit from a fresh and inventive perspective)
  • A new name for the company or organisation to replace the existing one, that will effectively communicate purpose and values, etc.
  • A name to describe a particular problem or challenge within the organisation (agree or state specifics or a range as appropriate), and then a name or names for remedial action(s)
  • A name (or names) to describe the most important skill(s) or attribute(s) for given roles within the organisation (this is a useful way to look at job skills, which are commonly not described or stated very well, and which of course are under pressure to change and develop all the time)
  • A name to describe a particularly challenging customer behaviour, and then name(s) to describe appropriate responsive behaviour from staff
  • A special combination of abilities I'd love to develop for myself
  • A special combination of abilities I'd be really good at coaching and developing in others
  • The name of a conference to improve/develop/raise profile of... (whatever - sport in schools; diversity tolerance; media responsibility; ethics in business; etc)

Exercises in creating portmanteau words involve a lot of thinking about meanings, interpretations, communications, and the efficient, effective, creative use of language and ideas.

As such this is a potent and flexible activity, for all ages, roles and levels.

Employee Relations and Communications

Tteam briefing role-plays, speaking to groups, handling difficult communications and questions, written communications

This is a simple quick role-play or written communications exercise. For groups of up to a dozen. Split larger groups into smaller teams and appoint team leaders to chair and facilitate.

Ask the participants to draft (and then deliver as if in a meeting) a 2 minute employee 'team brief' item or a verbal instruction (or for participants who are not comfortable standing up and speaking to the group a written employee notice or email) relating to a contentious subject. There are some examples below, but you can define different scenarios depending on your situation and the needs of the delegates.

  • Car-park spaces in the front of the reception are now reserved for directors only.
  • Canteen is being closed in order to make room for more office space.
  • Access to site is restricted to employees only - no family or friends permitted unless on company business in which case formal pass and security procedures to be followed.
  • The site is now a non-smoking area everywhere.
  • (Add your own scenarios as appropriate.)

You can run the exercise for individuals or in pairs. If in pairs encourage both people to have a go at speaking. More variety is created if you offer different scenarios - for instance by having people pick blind which one they must handle. Alternatively for complex scenarios you might prefer to see how people take different approaches to the same situation.

You can additionally/alternatively ask delegates to describe their own particular scenarios for use in the role-playing activities.

You can extend and increase the challenge within the activities by asking the team to role-play some 'questions from the audience' at the end of each spoken exercise, which the speaker(s) must then handle appropriately.

Review use of language, tone, clarity, effective transfer of key points and reasons, technical and legal correctness, and the actual reaction of other participants to the verbal delivery/written notice.

People Picture Interpretations

Relationships, communications, attitudes, body language

This activity is a simple discussion of the group's interpretations of different pictures (photographs of people) - anything between one and six different pictures, depending on how long you'd like the activity to last - each picture/photo featuring people engaged in some sort of activity or interaction.

Show a picture to the group and ask them to consider and comment on how they interpret what's happening in the picture - what's being said, how people feel, what the moods are, what the personalities and motivations are, what might have caused the situation and what the outcomes might be - as much as people can read into and interpret from each photograph. Additionally ask the group or teams what questions they would want to ask anyone in the picture to understand and interpret the situation.

You can organise the group's response to each picture in different ways - in open discussion, or split the group into pairs or threes and give them a couple of minutes to prepare their interpretation for presentation and discussion in turn, or split the group into two teams and see which team can develop the best interpretation, and optionally, questions.

It's helpful, but not essential, for you to know the true situation and outcomes in each picture (perhaps you've read the news story or the photo is from your own collection), which will enable you to give the actual interpretation after each picture is discussed. However one of the main points of these exercises is appreciating the variety of interpretations that can be derived from observing people's behaviour, facial expressions and body language, which means that many situations can quite reasonably be interpreted in several different ways. So knowing and being able to give a definitive 'correct answer' is not crucial - the main purpose of the activities is the quality of the ideas and discussion.

To prepare for the exercise, find and enlarge, or create slides of several pictures of people in various situations. These photographs and pictures are everywhere - on the internet, newspapers and magazines, in your own snapshot collections and photo albums. Select photographs of people showing facial expressions, body language, especially interacting with other people. In addition to communications, motivation, relationships, etc., you can link the exercise to Johari Window (the exercise will develop people's awareness about themselves and each other from listening to the different interpretations of the pictures) and personality (different personalities see the same things in different ways).

'Holidays Are Brilliant' vs ''Holidays Are A Pain In The Arse'

Team debate activity, warm-up, ice-breaker, group presentations preparation and delivery

A simple warm up after the festive season or the holidays (whenever), for grown-ups or young people, for two teams, (or at a stretch three teams).

One team must prepare and present the motion: "Christmas is Brilliant" (or "Holidays are Brilliant" - whatever is appropriate).

The opposing team prepares and presents the case against the motion, which is logically: "Christmas is a Pain in the Arse" (or Holidays are a Pain in the Arse").

Begin the exercise by asking the group to organise itself into two separate teams according to their individual views: ie., "Christmas is Brilliant" or "Christmas is a Pain in the Arse" (or "Holidays") . Alternatively split the group into two teams and allot the motions by flipping a coin or similar random method.

Teams of five or six are fine provided full participation is stipulated. Teams of more than six will be fine provided team leaders are appointed and instructed to organise their teams into smaller work-groups to focus on different aspects of the presentation, which can be brought together at the end of the preparation time. For groups of more than about twenty you can introduce a third motion, "Christmas is both Brilliant and a Pain in the Arse, depending on your standpoint", and structure the activity for three teams.

Timings are flexible to suit the situation, as are use of materials, presentation devices, and number of speakers required from each team, etc.

For preparation, as a guide, allow 5 minutes minimum, or up to 15 minutes maximum if more sophisticated presentations are appropriate. Allow 5 minutes minimum for each presentation although you can extend this if warranted and worthwhile.

Optionally you can allow each team to ask a stipulated number of questions of the other team(s) at the end of the presentations.

The winning team can be decided at the end by a secret ballot, which will tend to produce a more satisfying conclusion (even if there's no outright winner) than a decision by the facilitator, who can vote or not, or have casting vote in the event of a tie - it's up to you.

The facilitator should advise the teams before commencing their preparation that the winning team will most likely be the one which prepares and presents the clearest and fullest and most appealing case, and if applicable asks the best questions and gives the best answers.

Obviously deciding the winner will not be a perfect science and if using the exercise as a development activity it's important to review structure, logical presentation, and other relevant aspects of learning as might be appropriate. In reviewing the presentations the facilitator can award a point for each logically presented item within the presentation, with a bonus point for any item that is supported by credible evidence or facts or statistics. Award bonus points for good questions and answers if applicable, and award bonus points for particularly innovative and striking aspects or ideas within the presentation. If using the activity as a learning and development exercise it's helpful to explain the review criteria to the teams at the start.

Encourage participants, particularly young people in large teams, to use their imagination to create interesting and memorable methods of making their points, for example play-acting scenarios, and injecting movement and lots of activity within their presentations.

For more sensitive groups or situations you can of course substitute the word 'nuisance' for 'pain in the arse'.

Obviously the activity can be used for any debate exercise - work-related or otherwise - and serves to get people working and cooperating in teams, developing skills in preparing and presenting arguments and propositions, and can also provide much revealing and helpful mutual awareness among team members, and useful insights for the facilitator/group manager.

Examples of other motions, which for group selection recruitment exercises can be extended far beyond normal work issues, examples of which appear later in the list below:

  • "The Smoking Policy is..."
  • Team Briefing is..."
  • "The Car-Parking Policy is..."
  • "The (XYZ) Initiative is..."
  • "The Monthly Meeting is..."
  • "The CEO is..."
  • "The Weather in our Country is..."
  • "The Sport of Football (Soccer) as a sustainable business model is..."
  • "Reality TV is..."
  • "The Monarchy is..."
  • "Supermarket Domination of the Retail Industry is..."
  • "Mobile Phones are..."
  • "The Internet is..."
  • "This Recruitment Process is.."
  • Etc

The exercise can also be used or adapted for a group selection recruitment activity, to provide useful indications of candidates' skills and capabilities in a variety of areas.

Rotating Line Introductions

Warm-ups, communications, communicating styles

This icebreaker or communications activity is for groups of six people or more. Ideal team size is ten or twelve. Larger groups can be split into teams of ten or a dozen people. For large groups where time is limited you can split the group into teams of less than ten, which obviously makes the exercise quicker. Split the (or each) team into two standing lines of people facing each other, two or three feet apart. For example:


Ask the team to introduce themselves to the person facing them, optionally (up to you) by asking and answering questions, such as:

  • Who are you and what do you do?
  • Tell me what interests you and why.
  • What special thing do you want to achieve (at the event, or in life generally - depending on the situation and group)

You can design other questions to suit the theme or purpose of the event.

You can provide strict instructions relating to questions and answers or (for a simple icebreaker) just ask the people to engage in general introductory conversation as they see fit.

You can stipulate that the facing pairs each have a turn at questioning and answering, or that one is the questioner and the other the answerer. Whatever, ensure that everyone has a chance to ask questions and to give answers. If appropriate nominate one line as the questioners and the other line as the answerers.

After a minute ask the lines to rotate as follows (one person from each line joins the other line and both lines shuffle to face the next person:


If using the exercise as a simple icebreaker continue the process using the same questions or general introductions. If you are using the activity develop communication skills you can increase the sophistication of the exercise by introducing new questions after the initial introductions, for example:

  • What worked well in the last conversation?
  • What could have been improved in the last conversation?
  • What type of questioning and listening works best in this exercise?

Continue rotating the line every minute until everyone has conversed (questioning or answering) with every other person. Logically this takes as many minutes as there are people in the team. Twelve people will take twelve minutes to complete the exercise.

If using the exercise to develop or demonstrate communications skills it's worth thinking more carefully before the exercise and explaining more about the questions and points to review. For example, points to review can include:

  • Aside from the words spoken what else was significant in these communications?
  • What aspects were most memorable and why?
  • What aspects or information were most impressive and why?
  • What happens to communications when time is limited?

Obviously where team members already know each other there is no need to needlessly go through name and position introductions, although check beforehand as to how well people know each other rather than make assumptions.

Where a team has an odd number of members, then you (the facilitator) can become one of the team members in the line.

Where the purpose includes developing mutual awareness it can be useful to refer to the Johari Window model.

(Ack C Mack)

Straw Poll

Identifying and getting buy-in for individual and group learning and training

These team development activities quickly identify team and individual learning needs and wishes, and importantly helps builds 'buy-in' and commitment among the team members to pursue the identified learning or training.

The activity can also be extended to explore, encourage and enable more innovative approaches to personal development, and particularly to pursuing 'life-learning' or 'unique personal potential' if such a concept fits with the organisational philosophy. If so, the organisation (or department or at a team level) must first decide how and to what extent it can support people's 'non-work' and 'life learning' aspirations. There are very many ways to do this. Progressive modern organisations have been doing this for several years. Use your imagination. You will find that as far as the people are concerned, you'll be pushing on an open door. The provision of 'non-work' personal development must be defined within a formal organisational process and framework, by which identified individual 'life-learning' ideas can be acted upon. Such process and framework are obviously vital to discussing people's personal needs and wishes in these non-work areas.

The exercise is for groups of any size, although large groups should be sub-divided into teams of between five and ten people representing single functions. The bigger the teams the more requirement there will be for good facilitation by a team leader within each team.

The level of guarantee for ideas to be acted upon is a matter for the facilitator and the organisation. Promise only what you can deliver to people. Embark on these activities only if you can reliably implement the outcomes, to whatever extent that you promise to the team members.

The facilitator should ideally run the session with a flip-chart or wipe-board because the sharing of ideas and discussion is a valuable part of these exercises. Refer to the guidelines for running brainstorm sessions, since the activity uses a team brainstorming process.

The aim of the exercise is to gather, list and prioritise collective and individual training and learning needs and wishes for work and non-work learning and development. Involving the team in doing this in an 'immediate' and 'free' informal situation generally exposes many more ideas and opportunities than normally arise from formal appraisal, surveys and training needs audits, or personal development review discussions. Sharing ideas and personal views also helps build teams and mutual awareness (see Johari Window theory). The exercises enable the team leader or facilitator to work with the people to arrive at ideas for learning and development, which can then - according to organisational processes and framework - be fed or built into proposals or plans for implementation.

The process of hearing and sharing other people's ideas also greatly assists people in imagining what might be helpful and relevant to their own situations - far better than thinking in isolation.

First ask team members individually (allow five minutes) to make one or two short lists:

  1. Three things they'd like to be able to do better for their jobs, (and if the organisation supports and enables 'non-work' and 'life learning'):
  2. Three things they'd love to learn or do better for their life in general - anything goes.

Then ask the team members to call out in turn their top-listed work or job learning personal development item. Write these on the flip-chart.

This immediately identifies collective training priorities. Ask for reaction and comment.

Then ask for people to call out in turn their second-listed work/job learning item and write the answers on the flip-chart.

Then gather the third-listed job/work learning items.

Use different coloured marker pens so as to be able to group common elements and to identify patterns and consensus priorities.

Ask the group to comment on what they consider to be the 'high-yield' items - ie., the development items that will make the biggest difference to productivity, enjoyment, stress-reduction, service quality, business development, etc., and discuss this issues.

Ask the group what type of learning they'd enjoy and best and find most helpful.

Additionally explore people's learning styles; also look at multiple intelligences, and perhaps introduce a learning styles questionnaire.

Using these activities and exercises will enable you to identify development opportunities that are high priority according to need and organisational effect, and you can now conclude this part of the session with an agreement with people to investigate or proceed with implementation depending on personal wishes, learning styles and preferences, organisational processes, budgets, etc. The investigation/implementation can involve the people or not, depending on the circumstances.

Now, provided the organisation/department/team endorses and supports 'non-work and 'life learning' development, turn to the non-work 'life learning' items featured in the second list.

These can be anything: hobbies, pastimes, personal loves and passions, natural abilities stifled or ignored at school, anything. The aim is to explore personal potential and enthusiasm in whatever areas that might be relevant to people and what they want from their lives.

It is important to open your own mind and the minds of the team members to the fact that all learning and development is useful. All learning and experience in life benefits people in their work. Everything learned and experienced in life is transferable one way or another to people's work. People commonly don't realise this, because nobody tells them or gives them the confidence to see it. When you see it and talk about it, people begin to see too that there can be more alignment and congruence between their lives and their work. Moreover, organisations are now seeing that when people are supported and encouraged to follow their own life interests and natural potential, so the organisation benefits from their development.

When people learn and experience new 'non-work' and 'life learning' capabilities and development, they achieve and grow as people, and this gives them many new skills for their work (especially the behavioural capabilities normally so difficult to develop via conventional work-based training), and a greater sense of value, purpose, self-esteem and maturity. All these benefits and more result from non-work learning and experience.

What matters most is that people are given the encouragement and opportunity to pursue experiences and learning and development that they want to. People are vastly more committed to pursuing their own life learning and experiences than anything else. So, the more that organisations can help and enable this to happen for their people the better. People develop quicker and more fully, and they obviously become more aligned with the organisation because it is helping them to grow in their own personal direction - far beyond the conventional provision of work-only skills training and development.

Ask people to think about and discuss the skills, knowledge, behaviour, maturity, experience, etc., from personal 'non-work' activities and learning that are transferable to their work. Many people will be able to give specific examples of where they are performing outside work in some activity or other that is way, way, way above their status and responsibility at work. This is the principle that we are seeking to recognise and extend.

For example (these examples of experiences and learning and benefits are certainly not exhaustive - they are simply a few examples):

  • Sports and physical pursuits - develop fitness and determination, leadership, discipline, commitment, teamwork, stress-management, goal-setting, excellence, perfection, etc.
  • Travel - develops cultural awareness, maturity, languages, etc.
  • The Arts (art, music, writing, etc) - develops creativity, communications, empathy, interpretation.
  • History - develops cultural and political and philosophical awareness, analytical and interpretation abilities.
  • Voluntary and Care work - develops humanity, team-working, management, leadership, decision-making, etc.
  • Environmental, Animals, Natural World - develop humanity, social responsibility and awareness, team-working, organisational and political understanding.
  • Clubs and Societies - management, planning, organisation, communications, knowledge and information management, etc.
  • Own 'sideline' business - entrepreneurialism, decision-making, management, marketing, customer service.

I once knew a wonderful receptionist. She worked part-time. Most people only ever knew she was a receptionist. She never received any training or development. Nor much respect. In her spare time she ran an international market-leading business, supplying high performance components to a specialised sector of the industrial engineering sector. She could have taught the MD a thing or two but they never asked..

Every organisation contains several people like this, and many more people with the potential to be the same. But nobody bothers to ask.

When an individual pursues personal learning and development and experience, whether through a hobby or some voluntary work, or any outside-work activity, they always develop as people, and also learn lots of new skills, which are increasingly transferable and valuable to their work situations. The tragedy is that organisations mostly fail to recognise this, and this is a major reason why most people continue to perform at work considerably below their full potential.

Non-work experiences, responsibilities, learning and development provide wonderful opportunities for people to grow in capability, maturity, experience, and in specific knowledge and skills areas, that are immensely valuable to employers.

Opening people's minds to these possibilities then enables discussion and identification of personal learning aims and wishes, perhaps some consensus, which then naturally enables planning and implementation and support of some new exciting non-work and life-learning activities for people, as individuals and as teams, depending on what people want and will commit to, and how far the organisation is prepared to assist and encourage.

Where In The World

Personal development, warm-up exercise, questions for recruitment group selection or interviews , student presentations

This exercise and the activities that can be developed around this idea provide very simple quick ice-breakers or presentation ideas for all sorts of situations. The activity is for any group size. (For large groups: split group into teams of 5-7 people and appoint team facilitators to ensure full participation by all. Presentations can be given within teams, not to whole group. Teams can then reconvene as a whole group to review the exercise and experience after completing the activities in teams.)

Ask the group as individuals to take a couple of minutes to close their eyes and imagine running their own ideal business or enterprise (not necessarily profit-making in a conventional business sense - it can be a service of any sort; some people for example seek to be carers, or writers, or gardeners, or cooks, to have a shop or a cafe, or to teach others. It is important to emphasise that everyone - not just entrepreneurs - can follow their dreams. Visualising and stating one's dreams helps greatly to make them happen).

Then ask the group as individuals to close their eyes and think where in the world would they locate their business/service activity and why? Give the team members or delegates anything between two and five minutes to think of their answers and to structure a brief explanation or presentation (again stipulate timing for their presentation or answer), depending on the purpose and depth of the activity.

N.B. Giving a presentation is not an essential part of this activity. It might be more appropriate for the participants and/or the situation for people to simply keep their thoughts to themselves, or to write them down privately, perhaps to refer to and consider in the future.

In explaining their choice of location team members will be encouraged to think about and express personal dreams and passions relating to their ideal business or service activity or enterprise (which involves exploring their fulfilment of personal potential and strengths), and also where in the world and why they would locate their enterprise or service activity, (which involves each person in considering the environment and context to which they see their dreams relating). Some people will not imagine locations very far away; others will imagine locations on the other side of the world. There are no right or wrong answers - the activity is an opportunity for people to think and imagine possibilities for themselves beyond the constraints that often limit us and our fulfilment.

The exercise relates also to Johari Window development, to goals, personal and self-development, and (if ideas are expressed or presented) also provides helpful insight for team leaders, facilitators, trainers, or recruitment selection observers in understanding more about the people performing the exercise.

One Word

Exploring deep values and purpose, and behaviour towards others, which relates to all sorts of development needs and opportunities

Again - this is a simple activity - which contributes to many and various positive outcomes. The exercise is for any group size, although if presentation is required split large groups into smaller teams which can self-facilitate to enable full participation and discussion. If splitting into teams you can reconvene as a whole group for review of the experiences after the team activities.

Ask people as individuals to clear their minds, close their eyes, and to think of one word - just one word - which they feel best describes or encapsulates living a good life. A one-word maxim for life.

The facilitator might be required to explain what is meant by 'living a good life'. Use your imagination so as to relate the concept to the situation and the participants. Think about: force for good; civilised society; leaving the world a better place than when you entered it.

Of course words mean different things to different people, and many people will find it quite difficult to pick just one word, but this is the point: One word concentrates the mind in a way that five or six words, or a longer sentence tends not to. For participants who find it impossible to decide on one word, encourage them to use as few words as possible - but still aiming to focus on the essence, or a central concept, rather than a catch-all or list. It's easy for people to think of a list - one word is a lot more thought-provoking.

Ask people to write down their chosen one word (or words if necessary), plus some brief explanation as to what they mean.

Then in turn ask people to tell or present their answers to the group or team.

It is interesting to hear people's ideas. They will be quite different to how people actually normally behave in organisations - to each other, to customers, to suppliers, etc. And quite different to how people behave in societies in local, national, religious and global communities. Why is this? Where does individual responsibility begin and end? Are we part of the problem - or part of the solution? Do we want to be part of the solution? What actually stops each of us trying to live and behave more often as we know to be right? Are the pressures and habits and expectations that distract us from more often following a right path really immovable and so strong that we cannot rise above them? What personal resolutions and changes might we want to make?

The exercise relates also to Johari Window development, to personal life philosophy and values, personal and self-development, and (if ideas are expressed or presented) also provides helpful insight for team leaders, facilitators, trainers, or recruitment selection observers in understanding more about the people performing the exercise.

Transactional Analysis and the blame model within the TA section can be a helpful reference to assist people in understanding more about the forces that cause us to behave differently to what we know to be right.

See also the articles section about Love and spirituality in organisations which helps explain about bringing compassion and humanity to teams and work.