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Competitive Games [edit]

Here are some Team Building games with competitive elements.

Distance Guessing

Assumptions, multiple intelligences, hidden abilities, risks in judgment

This is a simple and adaptable exercise which can be used to explore various themes. You could run a version on a table-top, or use it to get people moving around quite a lot.

As facilitator you need just a tape measure and a pad of small sticky notes. You can change the scale targets (in scale or metric/imperial) according to your situation. You can treat the activities as a competition by awarding scores, and/or run the activity for teams, which adds an interesting extra perspective.

Here is the basis of the exercise. Adapt it and use different exercises to suit your own situations.

Instruction to group:

This is an experiment to explore the brain's capability to estimate scale. Your guesses will be measured and results given. The exercises involve simple guessing, but provide a basis for understanding more about how reliably (or unreliably) our brains can estimate scale, etc., without measuring tools or precise references. This relates to risks of making assumptions, and the merits/risks/surprises associated with guessing, short-cuts, working from habit/instinct, etc. Sometimes guessing and instinctive assumptions are effective; often they are not.

(Additionally/separately the activity prompts appreciation and exploration of multiple intelligences theory - specifically how some people are naturally better at some of these tasks than others.)

Using sticky notes (to be personalised for identification) mark the following:

  • A distance of ten feet on the floor
  • A height of three feet on a wall
  • A distance of one metre on a table

Note: As facilitator it will take you a while to measure and note scores for lots of guesses, so think how best to do this. If using the exercise as a quick icebreaker, or if time is tight, especially if group is large, think carefully about how many measuring exercises to include. Just one is fine for an icebreaker. With big groups and treams issue people with tape measures and have them score each other. Or see the examples for simplifying the activities below.

Review the activities as appropriate for your purposes, points for example:

  • What surprises did we find?
  • What clues are there to people's different abilities?
  • What differences are there in guessing different types of scale?
  • What creative methods were used in 'measuring'.
  • How does the brain guess something?
  • In work/life how do we decide when to guess and when to measure, and are these the best criteria?
  • How can we make our guessing more reliable?
  • (If exercises are performed in teams) are team guesses more reliable than individual guesses?
  • What merit is there in the 'Wisdom of Crowds' in guessing and making intuitive judgments?

Depending on time and how you want to use the activities, other materials and measuring devices can be used for different exercises, for example:

  • An angle of 30 degrees (ask people to draw two straight lines on a sheet of paper, like two sides of a triangle - facilitator needs a protractor for measuring)
  • A square sheet of paper equal to one square metre (newspaper and sticky tape - a square metre is for some people a surprisingly large area - each side must measure one metre)
  • For more adventure, which might appeal to children, explore volume and weight with water and sand, etc, for which basically you only need the water, sand, some plastic foodbags or balloons, and a measuring jug (and some cleaning-up cloths...)

For a smaller table-top activity you can give target distances in centimetres and/or inches rather than feet and metres, and use a ruler of greater precision, (and be prepared for some innuendo among certain groups).

To simplify and speed up the activities, and to reduce preparations and measuring, have people guess weight/volume/height/distance/etc of a pre-prepared example (for each exercise), rather than have each person produce their own, for example:

  • Show the group a loosely coiled length of string, on a table or the floor, and invite estimates as to the length of the string.
  • For an exercise requiring people to guess a large quantity of units, you can show a bucket of marbles, or simply cut or tear a sheet of paper into lots of pieces (unseen to the group members, too many to count at a glance) and scatter them on a table.
  • Show the group a page of printed words and invite guesses as to how many words.
  • Show the group a pile of coins and ask them to estimate the total value.

Team guessing enables additional exploration, for example linkage to ideas about the 'Wisdom of Crowds', and also benefits/disadvantages of working in isolation versus working in cooperation, especially where intuitive or subjective judgment is required.

Adapt the exercises depending on how active and logistically involved you wish the activities to be.

Reference materials, for example:

Multiple Intelligences and MI test - correlations between natural strengths and task expertise

VAK learning styles test - a simple three-way view of learning/thinking style

Kolb learning styles theory - different thinking styles suit different tasks

Conscious Competence learning model - how well do we know and trust our own judgment

Johari Window - specifically knowing our own and others strengths/weaknesses

Touching and Feeling

Sensory perception, self-awareness, non-verbal communications, body language, relationships in teamwork and personal support

Here are some ideas and exercises to explore human physical contact and touching; the types, benefits, risks, associated feelings and reactions, in relation to self others.

Touching people is understandably a neglected aspect of relationships and communications, especially in management and education relating to sexual harassment and child protection. Nevertheless touch is a highly significant part of body language, and crucial to human interaction. We therefore benefit by improving our understanding of touch and using it appropriately, rather than avoiding it altogether.

A 2010 New York Times article by Benedict Carey reported some interesting findings on human touching:

  • Research suggests that we may be able to detect at least eight different emotions using only a simple touching contact from person to person (M Hertenstein, DePauw University, Indiana US).
  • Separate studies found touch and physical contact among teams to be linked to success in sport (Kraus, Huang and Keltner, Berkeley US).
  • And the amount of physical contact between romantic or married couples when simply sitting side by side has found to correlate with relationship satisfaction (C Oveis, Harvard US), which while not hugely surprising, is perhaps often overlooked or forgotten with the passing of years.

Many and various other studies have reported the positive powers of human touch. For example see Leo Buscaglia on hugging and love. As with physical exercise, human touch triggers the release of chemicals in the brain. These are basic primitive human responses, not easily understood, and even now only beginning to be researched and analysed in reliable scientific terms. In time we will know what it all means and how it all works. Meanwhile a little practical experimentation can be helpful and enlightening. Here are some ideas:

  • Based on the Hertenstien research referenced above, ask people to work in pairs or threes and with eyes closed, to experiment in giving their reactions to different types of touches - to the hand, by another person's hand or fingers. Be careful and seek the entire group's agreement before encouraging/allowing any more adventurous touching than this. Hand touching (including handshakes) alone should be ample to demonstrate emotions such as confidence, aggression, timidity, reassurance, curiosity, etc., and any other reactions generated. A third person can act as a toucher and also to observe facial expressions and give external reaction.
  • Hugging: Subject to the group's agreement, get people hugging each other and noting their reactions and feelings. As Buscaglia discovered, and many since then, hugging is potentially powerful medicine. Explore implications and issues.
  • Group-hug: Try it and see how it makes people feel. As a variation split the group into two teams. Ask one team to group-hug. Then give both teams an identical task, competing against each other (for example sorting a pack of cards, or making ten big newspaper balls and throwing them into a bin at the other end of the room). Ask the second team if they want a group-hug before starting. Maybe ask the first team if they want another group-hug. Maybe allow group-hugging at will (if the group likes it go with it..) After the task, discuss relevance of hugging and physical contact to teamworking and bonding, enthusiasm, etc. Were the biggest huggers the most motivated? Is a hugging team generally a winning team?
  • Discuss with the group: what are people's own views and feelings about what sorts of touching are acceptable, unacceptable, positive, reassuring, supportive, etc., according to different situations. Is a gentle pat on the back always okay? What cultural differences exist? What are the real practical no-go areas? Shoulders? Arms? Hands? What's the difference between a light touch and a caress? Different rules for different genders? How do observers (other team members, customers, etc) view touching when they see it? How do we improve our use of this sort of body-language at work, mindful of the risks? Etc., etc.
  • See also the Silent Touch exercise on Teambuilding Games page 1.

Reference materials, for example:

Body language

Johari Window

Love and compassion at work

Maslow - (basic needs - love, belongingness, etc)

Stress management

Tuckman's theory - (from a team-bonding view)

And your own policy material on harassment and child protection as appropriate.

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.

Paper Bowls

Competition, energizer, teamwork, tactics

For groups of six to thirty people.

Play as a team game in pairs, threes, fours or fives, which keeps everyone involved all the time, and introduces teamwork and tactics.

The game is essentially team bowls (played like beach bowls or green bowls) using balls of newspaper.

Scoring is one point for each ball closest to the 'jack' ball. If a team gets say three or four of its balls closer than the balls of any other team then three or four points would be scored accordingly. The potential to score high - notably for big groups split into big teams - means a winning team can emerge surprisingly late, which sustains full involvement of all players.


  • A floor or corridor giving at least 5'x15' playing area.
  • A sheet of newspaper for each player.
  • A different coloured roll of electricians insulating tape for each team (to differentiate their balls from other teams).
  • Tape measure for the facilitator.

The larger the floor area then the more energetic the game will tend to be. The game can also be played outside provided there is no strong wind. (For a more messy game outside for kids, supply a bucket of water and instruct that the balls should be wet..)

Instruction: The winner is the player/team who rolls or throws their ball(s) to stop nearest the 'jack' (a smaller ball, suitably different, rolled by the facilitator or a contestant to the far end of the playing area).

Decide order of play, which should be a player from each team in turn.


  • Play a specified number of 'ends' (rounds), totalling the points to produce the eventual overall winning team.
  • Or play 'ends' until a team reaches say five points. Or more points for a longer game. (Decide a points target mindful of total maximum score per round per team - for example teams of five can potentially score five points in one round.)
  • A player may roll or throw his/her ball at another player's/team's ball to dislodge it or achieve a position nearer the jack.
  • You'll need a clearly understood rule in the event of the jack being hit out of the playing area, if this can happen. (For example replace the jack to its starting position, which should therefore be marked by the facilitator; or mark the position at which the jack left the playing area as the target.)
  • If you are running this as a reasonably big activity, offer a trial game first for players to practise, develop tactics, and to clarify rules.
  • In any event, you can offer players the chance to practise rolling their balls a few times before the start of the game (they'll probably do this anyway..).

The game is very adaptable. Consider and decide your own rules and scoring for your own situation.

If playing the game with individuals (for example in a small group of five), allow players two balls each. This makes the game more interesting for individuals, in which the order of throwing can be reversed for the second ball, making it fairer for all, assuming playing only one 'end'.

Or play big 'marbles' instead - best on a square playing area - in which players eliminate other players by rolling their ball to hit another player's balls. Players take turns to roll their balls. The winner is the last player remaining whose ball has not been hit by another ball. Players have to decide how close to risk leaving their balls to other balls, so it becomes quite a tactical exercise. Simplest rule here is to eliminate only the first ball hit with each roll, not rebounds.

See also the bin toss game, and newspaper towers, for other newspaper games ideas.

Review points, optional, chiefly for team play, for example:

  • Would you use different tactics, knowing now how the game is played?
  • Was the teamwork good or could it have been better, if so how?
  • Did the construction (of the balls) affect the quality of play/performance?
  • How competitive did the exercise feel? Why?
  • What advantages arise from playing in a team?
  • How would you change/develop the game to improve it?

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 Takeaway Game

Planning, analysis, number skills, ice-breaker, energiser for the brain

Based on an old numbers game this activity can be adapted in many different ways for groups and teams of all sizes.

It takes a minute to explain and set up, and as little as a minute to play.

You can easily expand the game, add complexity, and turn it into a much longer planning and tactics exercise.

The basic game (for two teams, or people in pairs, playing each other):

Put fifteen coins (or cards, or keys, or anything) between the contestants.

Explain the rules:

  1. Toss a coin to decide who goes first.
  2. Each side may remove one or two or three coins in turn.
  3. The winner is the person/team removing the last coin(s).
More complex game variations:
  • Start with a greater number of coins.
  • Allow more than three coins to be removed.
  • Allow coins to be put back (with a limit because otherwise the game might never end).
  • Play the game between three or more teams or individuals/pairs (for example playing a number of rounds with several pairs/threes against each other will lead to tactical collaboration between teams, so as to prevent a strong leader emerging, which can be fascinating).
  • Play the game according to coin values, stating maximum value that can be removed/put back each turn.
  • Play the game with playing cards, using the values of the cards (pictures counting as 10, or Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13, and Ace =1), and stating a number of points which can be removed at each turn. Again, additional challenge can be added by allowing a limited number of cards/points to be put back.

With increased complexity the activity becomes increasingly suitable for teams and allowing a strategic planning stage.

Mathematically-minded people will realise soon that the simpler versions of the takeaway game can be planned and controlled quite easily by the team/person playing first. Complex versions of the game are far less easy to plan and control.

Increase the fun element fun by playing the game with (readily identifiable and returnable) items from the pockets/handbags/cases of the players (for example keys, pens, phones, etc). Different items can be given different values, for example, key=1, pen=2, phone=3.

The game obviously allows mathematically-minded people (who are often quiet and understated in the background) to demonstrate their value to the group, which can be an additional benefit of the exercise.

Points to review, for example:

  • What is the method to ensure victory when playing the basic 15 coin game? (Leave your opponent with four coins, achieved by leaving them with eight at the previous turn, and twelve at the previous turn, meaning that the player starting must first remove three coins.)
  • What does this teach us about achieving successful results?
  • What does this teach us about the importance of planning and strategy?
  • How could the method be adapted for greater numbers of coins (to start with, and the maximum removable each time)?
  • What does this teach us about being able to transfer/adapt a winning formula from one situation to the next?
  • At what point does a task become too complex to predict a guaranteed result? (This is illustrated in the game by adding complexities such as more participants, different item values, and option to put back as well as removal.)
  • What can we do to maximise our chances of achieving a successful result in complex unpredictable circumstances? (In the game and in work/business/life generally?)

Stress Exercise

Stress demonstration, teambuilding

This is a helpful and non-threatening way to show the effects of stress and confusion, especially in teams, and by implication the effects of stress on productivity, organisational performance and healthy working.

Ideally for teams of eight to ten people. Split larger groups into teams of 8-10 and establish facilitation and review as appropriate, appointing and briefing facilitators since each team requires facilitation.

You will need for each team about five balls of various sizes, compositions, weights, shapes, etc., depending on team size and the team's ball-handling skills. Five balls is probably adequate for most teams of eight people.

Using very different balls makes the exercise work better (for example a tennis ball, a beach ball, a rugby ball, a ping-pong ball, etc - use your imagination).

Form each team into a circle.

The aim is to throw and catch the ball (each ball represents a work task/objective) between team members - any order or direction.

The ball must be kept moving (the facilitator can equate this to the processing of a task within the work situation).

Allow the team to develop their own methods/pattern for throwing the ball between members if they find this helpful.

A dropped ball equates to a failed task (which the facilitator can equate to a specific relevant objective). A held ball equates to a delayed task.

When the team can satisfactorily manage the first ball, the facilitator should then introduce a second ball to be thrown and caught while the first ball remains in circulation.

Equate the second ball to an additional task, or a typical work complication, like a holiday, or an extra customer requirement.

Continue to introduce more balls one by one - not too fast - each time equating them to work situations and complications.

Obviously before not too long the team is unable to manage all the balls, and chaos ensues.

Avoid creating chaos too early by introducing too many balls too soon.

Allow the sense of increasing stress and confusion to build, according to the ball-handling capability of the team. Introducing balls too quickly will not allow the stress to build.

Points for review:

  • Relate the experiences of the game to the work situation, especially effective team working and communications.
  • What does too much pressure and failure feel like?
  • Are these feelings the same for everyone?
  • Do we know how others are feeling and can best deal with stress and confusion, unless we ask?
  • How can we anticipate, manage and avoid these effects at work? (Not easy, especially if the pressure is from above, which often it will be - nevertheless understanding the causes and effects of stressful confusion is the first step to resolving them).
  • What helps us handle these pressures and what makes things worse?
  • Relate this learning to work situations, and then to possible improvements and changes.

Use relevant reference materials if helpful, for example:

Stress theory and stress management

Johari Window model (mutual and self-awareness)

Assertiveness (especially for junior people managing stress caused from above)

(Thanks to Karen Wright of for the contribution of this excellent exercise.)

Quick Paper Tower

Warm-up, creative thinking, and/or teamwork, skills and process analysis

A quick table-top exercise for individuals or teams, and a quick version of the bigger newspaper tower activity.

Issue a single sheet of paper (A4 or international equivalent) to each group member (or one sheet per team if the exercise is to be played as a team game).


Using the sheet of paper only - no other materials - construct the tallest free-standing structure - in 5 minutes.

Points to review:

  • Planning and timing - who planned and who ran out of time?
  • Pressure - what were the effects on people and performance from the pressure of time?
  • Innovation - what innovative ideas were devised?
  • Risk - what observations could be made about high-risk and low-risk methods/approaches?
  • Learning - would each team/individual be able to improve their result at a second attempt? (Almost certainly.) Discuss how and why, and the value of experience.
  • Best practice - if the whole group were to be given the task to build a single tower what ideas would be combined, and what does this tell us about the power of collective ideas?
  • Skills - what skills were found to be crucial for best performance of the task, and could you have guessed what these vital skills would be before the exercise, or did they only become apparent after actually attempting the task? And what does this tell us about the identification of skills (to be developed/taught) for a given task?
  • (If played as a team game) what were the opportunities and challenges in enabling the team to perform the task effectively? Consider and suggest a process which would enable an effective team approach to the task: What elements and principles from this are transferable to normal operations and team-working?
  • Process improvement - what single tool or additional material (no larger than the width of the paper sheet) would achieve the greatest improvement to the result?

Incidentally the best technical approach to this task almost certainly requires the construction and use of connectable tubular rolled or triangular telescopic sections, made from lengthways strips of the sheet. Using this technique it is possible to make a tower at least three times higher than the length of the sheet. If you know better and/or have pictorial evidence of a better solution please send it to share with others on this webpage.

The exercise can be adapted to suit your situation, for example giving group members 15 minutes for the task and issuing an extra practice sheet of paper will increase the depth and complexity of the task and the review.

Tactical Team Shove Ha'penny

Teamwork, tactics, strategy, problem-solving, assessing and countering competitor threats

Equipment: a table (at least four feet diameter) with a smooth surface, some coins, and (optionally) blu-tack, paper, colouring pens and scissors.

The activity also adapts as a larger-scale ball game on ground-level, explained at the end of this item.

Split the group to make at least two teams - maximum three people per team. Five teams of three per team is fine, so is four pairs or other similar splits. Size of teams, number of teams, and number of coins can all be adjusted to suit the situation. Increase the number of coins to increase the complexity and duration of the game, and to enable more players per team.

Issue each team at least six coins - ideally different sorts of coins, and ensure each team has the same number of similar coins. Different size coins create more tactical options.

Then, (optionally) instruct the team to create a team logo or emblem and to cut out and colour the shape and fix to their coins using the blu-tack, like a little sail. This is to make it easy to tell the difference between the teams when the coins are in play.

Otherwise, ensure that (when the coins are placed flat on the table) each team somehow differentiates their coins from the other teams. (For example if two teams are playing, one team can be heads and the other tails. Or you can issue coloured sticky spots or stars, etc.)

The object of the game is to shove the coins, one coin at a time, from the table edge, to create the closest grouping of coins on the table compared to the efforts of the other team(s).

Each coin should be moved once only by pushing it 'shove ha'penny'-style, using the pad of the hand at the base of the thumb: Place the coin (about a third of it) off the table edge, and strike it from the side against the edge of the table, using the pad of the hand.

The facilitator must be able to demonstrate this, and allow some practice for the teams to get used to the method and speed of the table, and for the teams to decide who in the team will do the shoving.


  1. The winning team is the team to achieve the most (of their own) coins grouped into a specified area, which can be designated and measured by the facilitator before play commences by cutting or tearing a hole in the middle of a sheet of paper, to use as a template. The smaller the area, the more difficult the game is made. Around 12 inches diameter is a reasonable target area. (Do not put the paper on the table; use the paper to measure how many coins are in the groupings at the end of the game. Groupings can be anywhere on the table provided no coin is closer than 12 inches from the table edge.)
  2. Coin groupings must be at least 12 inches (30 cms) from the edge of the table (i.e., any coin closer to the edge of the table than 12 inches does not count towards the grouping).
  3. Each coin can be shoved once only.
  4. Coins may be shoved so as to move coins of own team, or teams may shove their coins to disrupt the groupings of other teams (which makes the game very tactical and is the reason for each team having similar coins since big heavy coins are generally advantageous and easier to use than small coins).
  5. Teams take turns to shove and only one team may shove a coin at a time (although for icebreakers and big quick games a time limit can be given instead within which teams can shove their coins freely, which creates different tactical implications).
  6. Toss a coin or draw lots to decide the order of play (which can be offered as a tactical option in its own right).
  7. State a time limit for tactical discussions between shoves.

Review points:

  • Choice between disrupting competitor and building own position.
  • Strategy at the beginning, and how it changed during the game.
  • Different approach next time in light of experience?
  • Strategic advantage in order of play?
  • Were the types of coins used at the best times? (Larger coins can be more disruptive, which is useful at the end of the game, but they also help in the early stages to create stopping points and positions of strength at the early parts of the game.)
  • Effectiveness of team in considering strategic options and making decisions.
  • Extent to which other teams' strategy was observed or anticipated.
  • Fairness of result - element of luck versus skill.
  • Name the 3-5 key capabilities that a winning team would need to perform consistently well at this game.
  • Relative importance of strategy, tactical adjustment, decision-making, and skill - any other major factors?
  • If you were the national coach for this game how would you coach a winning team?

N.B. Before the game, the facilitator should consider especially the timing of this game. It can take a long time if you have lots of teams and lots of coins. To speed up the game and/or create a quick icebreaker exercise, split the group into pairs, issue three coins per person, and change the rules so that all coins must be shoved in no order (a free-for-all basically) and the game completed within 30 seconds. This format has different tactical implications.

Bigger groups, more teams, and more coins, all require a bigger table.

Bigger scale indoor or outdoor versions of this game are possible using coloured tennis balls on a playground or a suitably marked floor or grass area, in which case a hula-hoop serves as an ideal measuring template.

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.

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. Or just go feed the ducks and the squirrels. Beats spending your lunch-break at your desk any day.

Paper Bin Toss

Warm-up, tea-break activity, competitive exercise, exploring competitiveness and motivation

Adapt this simple idea any way you want. There are lots of potential variations. A horse-shoe table layout (U-shape) or a ring of tables or a square with a gap in the centre are well-suited to this idea. 'Cabaret'-style layout will also work provided the position of the waste bin target(s) is arranged fairly.

You can probably guess already...

Position a waste bin or basket on the floor or on a table centrally between the delegates.

The winner or winning team is the one to throw the most balls of paper (or any other suitable objects that the facilitator decides) into the bin.

Obviously specify a method of identifying who threw what.

Variations on the theme are for example:

  • Design a personalised or team brand or logo for each sheet rolled and tossed.
  • Different coloured paper.
  • Paper rockets.
  • Only one sheet allowed - how many tiny balls can you get in the bin.
  • Time limits. Limits on amount of projectile materials.
  • All throw at once, or take it in turns.
  • Business cards - float or spin.
  • Coins, coloured rubber bands.
  • Pairs, threes, teams.
  • More than one bin with different point values.
  • Ice buckets and dustbins.
  • One bin per team with point deductions for opposing team missiles successfully deposited.
  • Write a letter on each sheet before tossing - words must be spelled from bin contents.
  • Pairs, or threes or teams to devise a party game based around the bin toss idea - then demonstrate and sell it to the group.

You'll think of lots more..

When you have why not get in touch and we can add your ideas to the list.

The Ampersand Game

Warm-ups, demonstrations of learning, thinking, and brain-types, knowledge versus skill

This simple exercise is a quick icebreaker, or can be extended into something more meaningful. Fundamentally the activity demonstrates that knowing something is very different to doing something. Knowledge is different to skill. The exercise also illustrates certain learning and brain processes, notably relating to retention, practise and repetition, as steps to perfection. Useful reference models would include Bloom's Taxonomy and the Conscious Competence model.

The basic activity idea is very simple: It's basically to draw the ampersand symbol (the 'and sign'). The exercise however can be adapted and developed significantly.

Everyone has seen the ampersand symbol. Most people call it the 'and sign'.

The ampersand appears in a wide variety of wonderful designs; it has provided designers through the centuries with more scope for artistic interpretation than any other character.

The activity is simply to ask people to draw the ampersand symbol - serif or sans serif - or a more stylised version - at the discretion of the facilitator. (Interesting background about sans serif and serif fonts is on the presentations page.)

It's actually not at all easy to draw a good-looking ampersand, especially if team members are not able to see the symbol to copy it.

Knowing and recognising the ampersand equates to 'knowledge'. Being able to draw it - to reliably produce one - equates to 'skill'. Different things. Knowledge we can learn by observation and other sensory input. Skill is generally only acquired from experience, practice, trial and error. This is the heart of the activity.

Where people should draw and present their artwork attempts - and how large and how long is permitted for the effort - is all flexible and at the discretion of the facilitator. People can use a blank sheet of paper where they sit, or alternatively can practise (or not), and then take turns to draw the symbol on a flip chart. Or ask people to work in pairs or threes or even teams, to design their definitive ampersand. Or encourage branding and styling of people's artwork according to a particular theme, which extends the activity beyond the basic purpose described here.

At its simplest, the exercise is a two-minute icebreaker. With a bit of imagination, it can be adapted into a much bigger activity if the idea appeals and fits the situation.

The exercise emphasises that we can know something very simply intimately but be incapable of reproducing it properly and expertly - whether a printed symbol, or something more significant. The principle extends to behaviour, style, techniques, etc.

The activity also demonstrates the significance of practice in becoming good at something. The brain must learn how to do it, which is very different from the brain simply recognising and being able to describe it.

Incidentally, while the symbol is about 2,000 years old, the word ampersand first appeared in the English language in around 1835. It is a corrupted (confused) derivation of the term 'And per se', which was the original formal name of the & symbol in glossaries and official reference works. More about the origins of the ampersand. Explaining the history can help position the exercise - it took 2,000 years to arrive at today's ampersand designs - the reason for it taking a bit of practice to reproduce a good one by hand.

Team Skipping

Teamwork, warm-ups, outdoor activities

These team skipping activities are for groups of ten people or more, ideally twenty or larger, up to very large groups of a hundred or two hundred people.

Split the group into teams of five to ten team members - 8-10 is ideal - or bigger teams if you fancy being more adventurous.

Issue each team with a length of rope six metres long, or longer if you want to work with larger teams. The rope should be suitable for skipping, about 1cm wide, typically available from DIY and hardware stores. As ever practise and test any untried elements before selecting activities and materials for the actual event or session.

The task for the teams is to perform a routine or series of skipping exercises in teams (like children's playground games, with two team members holding the rope, one at each end obviously).

Instruct and demonstrate the rope twirling correctly, so that the skipping rope just touches the floor on each downward part of the twirl. Twirling too fast or too high can be dangerous and is punishable by detention or a visit to the head-teacher's office..

The rope holders will create a safer wider higher area of clearance for their team's jumpers by using their arms, not just wrists, to create big circles when twirling the rope.

Ensure everyone in the teams has a chance to practise the rope twirling if the intention is to rotate this responsibility during the routines, which will add useful variety and change.

Teams can perform simultaneously or one after the other depending on the situation, as planned by the session facilitator, although activities like this are far more dynamic and exciting if everyone is involved at the same time. If you wish you can arrange individual team displays or 'jump-offs' at the end of the activity, which will enable voting and judging by all participants.

As implied, voting or judging the best teams and team members can be included in the activity depending on the situation. You can create different prize categories to ensure there are a number of different opportunities for teams and participants to excel in their own way (style, technique, duration, most spectacular rope tangle, most awkward director, overall best skipper, most reliable steady twirlers, best team rhythm, etc, etc.)

Music can also be used to add to the atmosphere, in which case be aware of the effect of the music beat on the skipping speed.

Encourage team members when not skipping themselves to coach and support those skipping at the time.

It is the responsibility of the facilitator(s) to oversee the skipping speeds to ensure teams keep to sensible and safe rhythms.

Be mindful of age and health issues, and structure the activities accordingly, for example allowing those who prefer not to skip to be twirlers or coaches or judges.

Be mindful also of general health and safety and insurance issues, and where appropriate (especially if you are external provider) ask participants to sign a disclaimer. If using the activities indoors ensure the floor is carpeted or that sponge gym mats are used to cover the skipping areas. If using the exercise outside use a grassed area rather than a car-park.

Under no circumstances force anyone to take part. This sort of physical activity must always be voluntary, and also must be appropriate for the group.

Warn participants not to jump in high heels (not just the men, the ladies too..)

If you really want to use this exercise but are unable or unwilling to risk the rope then consider running the exercise without the rope. Instruct the teams to use an imaginary rope. It might sound a daft idea, but it will get people thinking, moving and jumping about, and working in teams. And it's completely safe.

Here are some examples of skipping instructions, which can be issued in advance, or called out during the activity by the facilitator. Plan instructions that are appropriate for the type of group. Variation to instructions can be increased by asking the teams to give a number to each team member. You should clarify the instruction terminology before the exercise begins.

Terminology suggestions (adapt according to preferences):

  • Skipping zone = the floor area above which the rope is twirling, between the two rope holders
  • Step in = enter the skipping zone and start jumping, preferably over the rope at each revolution
  • Step out = exit the skipping zone, preferably without getting caught by the rope
  • Twirler = a rope-holding team member responsible for twirling the skipping rope

These skipping instructions examples are based on a team size of 8-10 people but in principle they'll work with larger or smaller teams. Be creative and imaginative. There are no bounds to the silliness, subject to safety and the group's sense of humour and fun:

  • Step in/out boys/girls/all/bosses/directors/team-member1/2/3/whatever
  • Change one/both twirlers (while skipping continues)
  • Clap/chant/count/sing along to the music/whatever in time with skipping rhythm
  • Boys remove ties while skipping
  • Girls put make-up on the boys while all skipping
  • Make a mobile phone call to a loved one/colleague while skipping
  • You get the idea..

More chaotically challenging variation and team inter-action can be introduced by instructing team members to join or swap team members with other teams. This obviously changes the competitive team dynamic into one of whole group interaction and cooperation. To do this you will need to clearly identify each team. Again, using humour and imagination makes more fun.

Examples of a 'whole group' instructions:

  • All teams to synchronise their skipping rhythm so the whole group is skipping 'as one'.
  • All teams maintain at least one/two/three jumpers, while the whole group re-organises into (balanced) teams according to categories specified by the facilitator, for example: boys/girls; job type; length of service; personality type; favourite food; etc, etc. (The facilitator must prepare and list the categories within these broad category headings, for example personality type could offer the categories of reliable-dependable, intuitive-creative, critical-thinking, warm-friendly.)
  • Each team develop into their own actual or virtual team by swapping team members with other teams and then develop their own distinct skipping pattern/sequence/style/performance which reflects their actual or virtual team role in the whole group/organisation (which can be performed and judged at the end of the activity).

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)

'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.

Playing Card Bingo

Warm up, exercises to demonstrate competitive effects, team-working and cooperation - also a great way to teach numbers to small children

This is a bit of fun which can be used as a simple icebreaker or warm-up. The game also adapts to provide a simple yet novel team-working exercise. The game and games variations demonstrate the heightened concentration and focus which results from contest and competition, and as an adapted exercise it prompts teams to work together to approach a complex statistical challenge. For groups of any size.

Materials required are simply two packs of playing cards (or more packs, depending on group size).

Shuffle the packs keeping them separate. Retain one pack. Deal from one pack between three and ten cards to each team member. The more cards then the longer the exercise takes. If there are more team members than can be supplied from one pack then use additional packs. It is not necessary to remove the jokers, but be mindful of the effect of leaving them in the packs.

Team members must arrange the cards dealt to them face up on the table in front of them.

The dealer (facilitator) then 'calls' cards (like a bingo caller) one by one from the top of the dealer's own (shuffled) pack, at which the players match their own cards (by turning them over face down). The winner is the first to turn over all cards. Suits are irrelevant - only the numbers matter. Aces count as one. Picture cards as 11 (Jack), 12 (Queen), 13 (King), or simply call them by their normal picture names - again the suits are irrelevant. Jokers (optional) treat as jokers. Players can only turn over one card at a time, in other words, if a player has two 4's they must wait for two fours to be 'called'.

Interesting variations can be made to the game to add team-building and cooperation to the activity, for example:

Have people play in pairs or threes. Deal cards to each person as normal, but then teams can sort and swap cards between themselves so as to give the team of two or three the best chance of one (or two - it's up to the facilitator) of the sorted sets winning. (This is pure guesswork obviously, but it will test people's approach to the challenge of statistical anticipation.)

Have the group play in two or three teams (each team size ideally no bigger six people). Deal each team twenty cards and ask them to pick the fifteen that they wish to play with as a team. Again this is pure guesswork, but it will challenge the teams to think about statistics, and to agree the best tactical approach.

Other variations include prohibiting or enabling competing teams to see the other team's cards while they are deciding which to select.

To make the games last longer and to alter the statistical perspective you can require that suits are matched as well as numbers/picture cards.

Practise your ideas first if possible.