teambuilding by hedongchenchen


When I started writing this book, it was supposed to be just about initiative tasks and leadership.
It turned out that I had more time on my hands than I thought and the book became more of a
manual on how I teach all sorts of things including leadership, teamwork, responsibility,
sportsmanship, group work and communication. It also became a book on the different things
that I like to do with groups that allow all of us, especially the less sports minded, to have as
much fun as possible. This book is about my attitude towards teaching in general. No, I’m not
going to talk about Math or Science but the attitudes that I discuss throughout this book and the
philosophy of the activities pervade everything that I teach including Math and Science.

Learning and school should be one of the funnest places in a person’s life. I know that funnest is
not really a word. My word processor right now is telling me that I have a spelling error but you
know, funnest just seems to fit with the way that I like to do things. I could say more enjoyable
but that sounds too much like a nice outing on the lake and I’m talking about getting down and
dirty and trying to make wherever I am, the funnest place to be. Too often school is not fun. It
is work, which is how a lot of people, usually adults, feel that school should be. These same
people would say that school should be about preparing children for the real world and the real
world and work is not fun so why should school be fun? I would have to completely and without
reservation disagree. The real world is fun or at least it can be. Work is fun, or at least it can be.

I love being a teacher and I enjoy every day. I love it when a student learns something new. I
love it when a student accomplishes something that s/he and everyone else thought was
impossible. I love it when a student says something so funny that I laugh so hard that I tip
backwards and break my chair. The students all thought that was pretty funny too. There are too
many people in this world that don’t enjoy their jobs and don’t enjoy their work. To those
people I have just one thing to say. FIND A NEW JOB. When students have fun at school, they
want to come to school. When they want to come to school, they will want to learn and when
students want to learn, nothing can stop them or get in their way.

That’s what the activities in this book are all about. Learning and having fun doing it. For those
of you who are reading this and are not teachers and are wondering if you picked up the wrong
book, don’t worry. This book is designed to be used by anyone who is interested in improving
the dynamics of any group from a bunch of grade 7 students to a group of kids at camp to a
bunch of employees at a store to a bunch of executives of a large company. This book is about
improving the way that a group works together and developing and encouraging trust and
cooperation between the group members.

At the beginning of each section, there is a short description of the activities that are contained
within. The sections of this book include the following:

·    Ice-Breakers & Warm-ups: activities designed to help people get to know each other and to
lower some of the barriers that people put up.

·     Games: activities that are designed to be fun and very different from the more traditional
·    Group Work Activities: activities that are designed to point out and improve specific
behaviors necessary for a group to work well together.

·     Trust Activities: activities that are designed to build trust between group members.

·     Initiative Tasks: activities that are designed to challenge the group to overcome obstacles
and to succeed together.

         The rest of this section talks about a bunch of topics related to leading these activities.
Some of them are specific to initiative tasks and trust activities while others relate to all of them.
I would strongly encourage you to read through this entire section before you being using the
activities in this book. If you don’t, you might miss some crucial step and end up damaging the
dynamics of the group instead of enhancing and strengthening them.

What & Why
An initiative task is any task or challenge that you give the students that requires them to use
imagination, creativity, leadership and teamwork in order to be successful at the task. The
benefits of your group participating in regular initiative tasks are amazing. Initiative tasks bring
groups together like nothing else. They are shared challenges that can be met only through
teamwork and cooperation. They are fun activities where no one person can stand out as being
the “best”. They develop and encourage creative thinking, problem solving and leadership.
They force the group members to recognize the strengths of everyone in the group.

One of the jokes that I use all the time with groups is that initiative tasks are all about teaching
people how to cheat on their taxes. Now that I’ve upset both the IRS and Revenue Canada,
allow me to explain. Problem solving in the real world is best done by people who can look
around the problem and find the loop holes. Problems that seem impossible are only impossible
if we follow the rules. Aside from the criminal, there are no rules in the real world. All of the
great inventors and problem solvers of the world broke the rules. According to the rules, the
world was supposed to be flat, light bulbs were not supposed to work, open heart surgery was
impossible and landing on the moon was science fiction. Thankfully, there are a lot of rules
breakers out there. Initiative tasks teach people how to break the rules. I talk about this idea a
little more later on.

        One note about initiative tasks. Doing just one as an alternate gym lesson isn’t really
effective. Initiative tasks are an attitude. They need to be done on a regular basis in order to
accomplish the things that I’ve outline in this manual.

Facilitator’s Role
    This is the hardest and easiest part of initiative tasks. It is the easiest because you aren’t
faced with trying to solve the challenge with the group in questions. You don’t have to trust
another person to help you and you don’t have to take any risks in front of other people.
    It is the hardest because once you’ve laid out the challenge and the rules, you have to sit
down and shut up. In all other physical activities, the coaches play an integral role in trying to
help the participants in being successful. This includes giving direction and hints in practice and
in the actual competitions themselves. You can’t do that here.

    In fact, once you given the go ahead, you can’t do anything. If it helps, tape your mouth shut
and sit on your hands; that’s what I have to do. You’ll be watching your group doing things that
are totally unsuccessful and you’re going to want to help them. The problem is, if you help
them, you just blew the whole purpose of the task in the first place. For them to be truly
successful and feel successful, you need to leave them alone, no matter how dejected they get
and no matter how ridiculous their solution seems to you. I’ve seen groups do things that I
figured would never work and they proved me wrong. Even if you feel that there is really only
one way to solve a challenge and your group is no where near that solution, keep quiet, watch
and possibly learn.

    If the situation is getting dangerous or is becoming negatively frustrating, you will want to
stop it and bring them back to it on another day. No hints. No clues. You just stop it and come
back to it later when they’ve had a chance to think about it.

     Remember, as the facilitator, your job is to present the challenge in a motivating manner,
ensure that the rules are followed and that everyone is safe and then assist the group in debriefing
at the end. It is not your job, in fact it is the very antithesis of your role, to step in at any time to
give guidance or direction. To do so, takes away from the group’s success. SO DON’T DO IT.

    The only real downside to doing initiative tasks is that you don’t get to participate except as
the occasional bog monster. As fun as that is, it’s not very challenging or positive. Your job is
to stop the group from being successful. I have never gotten to participate in an initiative task
ever. I’m the “expert” which means that I’m always the one leading the groups. That’s the nice
thing about the games. You don’t need no non participating leader there. You can play to your
heart’s content. Trying to get up the hill without getting flashlight shined upon me or dodging a
well thrown dodgeball while ducking behind our blockades throwing the Frisbee farther than
anyone else on the entire team (I do like teaching grade 7. I’m always bigger than them) is a
whole lot more fun than standing on the sidelines while the rest of the group throws themselves
whole heartedly into the game. Again, it’s an attitude. People that play hard together are far
more likely to work hard together.

    One thing about participating in initiative tasks, I have on occasion made it an extra
challenge that not only did the entire group have to accomplish the task but I, as the facilitator,
did too. I wouldn’t give any suggestions or help unless told to do so but I had to be included in
the solution. In a task like All Aboard, this meant that I, along with the entire group, had to be
aboard the small platform. If the group was smart, they would figure out a way to use my bigger
size and strength to their advantage. Doing this makes you part of the group and helps to lower
some of the barriers the group might have up between you and them. As facilitators, leaders,
supervisors or teachers, we sometimes go too far in trying to maintain a professional separation
between ourselves and the groups we lead. While some distance should be there to maintain
order, it should never be so far as to be unbridgeable nor unapproachable. Having the group
include you in their solution can help to bridge this gap.

Goal Setting
    Before a group has started to work on a challenge, you might want to set some goal for the
group to meet as part of the challenge. If they have accomplished a certain task, you might want
to have them do the same thing only within a certain time period. You might expect them to
cross a certain distance for the challenge to be considered met or get the entire group onto a
smaller space at the same time. It is this goal setting and defining of what the objective is by the
facilitator that makes the challenge what it is.

     It is also this “setting of the bar” that is one of the difficult jobs of the leader. You want to
set it above what you and the group think is possible. Knowing where to set the bar is a matter
of judgement and that judgement comes from experience which means making mistakes. If you
set the bar too low, the group will easily accomplish the task and miss out on the exhilarating
experience of managing the impossible. If you set the bar too high, the group will be unable to
accomplish the challenge and feel lousy.

    In the beginning, it is better to make it easier at the start and then increase the difficulty each
time the group is successful. This early success will make the participants feel good about what
they are doing and will pump them up for more. They can then use what they’ve learned about
each other and themselves at the next level. All good lessons follow a progression. Don’t be
afraid to stop an activity and lower the bar a little. Tell the group that once they have been
successful at that challenge, you will increase the difficulty again.

    After a while, don’t be afraid to pull out the stops and put the bar out of reach when you
introduce an activity. By throwing themselves at an impossible mountain, human beings grow
by leaps and bounds. Make sure that the group is ready for this type of challenge. Don’t rush
things or the group could regress into unsuccessful group behaviors. As mentioned earlier, if the
group is not ready for this and starts to demonstrate inappropriate group behaviors, stop it and
back up. On the other hand, don’t be too quick to pull the plug on some challenge that you have
created and that you think might be too difficult and is in fact, impossible.

    Time and time again, I have watched groups of children and groups of adults accomplish the
impossible. There is absolutely no way to describe the feelings that both the group and myself
feel when that happens. Cool grade 8 students jumping off of a bench screaming at the top of
their lungs and pumped up beyond belief simply because they finally managed to switch places
without having a single person fall off is a sight to see. I had thought that I had made it too
difficult for them and it did take weeks but when it was done, it was worth it.

Limitations (Equipment, group size, room size, etc)
     Rule number one about limitations….THERE ARE NONE. In other words, if you modify
things enough, you can make anything work, anywhere and for any group of people. It may be
difficult. It may seem impossible but it can be done. Just because certain things are listed in the
activity descriptions like equipment or group size, those are there as general guidelines, not rules.
If you are going to use this book effectively, then the first thing that you have to do is to not use
this book. Wait a minute that doesn’t make sense. What I mean to say is that there is no one
way of doing things. Rules are meant to be broken. Use the ideas in this book as a foundation
and then go and do whatever you want. I apologize to the athletic coaches out there who are
having chest pains right now at the idea that rules were meant to be broken but that’s the type of
attitude that you will need to adopt in order to make the things in this book happen.

    One of the objectives of many of these initiative tasks is to encourage people to look around
the problem and not just through it. Maybe the task is impossible the way you presented it but
there is nothing saying that they have to do it that way. Successful problem solvers and
inventors clearly identify that one of the most successful strategies in solving any problem is to
come at the problem in a new and different way. The obvious approach is not always the best
approach nor will it actually solve the problem. Many popular inventions were as a result of the
inventor working towards a goal and accidentally inventing something along the way. The
popular sticky note is a common example.

    This means that you might not want to present all of the rules listed under a specific task
right away. Many of the rules in this book come from a long history of doing the task and
having participants discover a loophole that allows them to solve the problem immediately.
Basically, they were cheating. After I congratulated them on being successful, I instituted a new
rule to block that route and had them try again. In other words, I encouraged them to try and
cheat within the boundaries of the rules. Success at problem solving in the real world relies on
people who can look for short cuts and loop holes. Just because you have one method of solving
the problem doesn’t mean there isn’t another hundred out there that are just as good if not better.

    Many of the activities in this book require equipment in order to make the task work. Again,
don’t be limited by what is listed in this book. I’ve tried as much as possible to give you all sorts
of ideas as to different things that you can use for each activity but if you don’t have that specific
equipment available, use something else. For most of these tasks, you can use almost anything.
If you don’t have gym mats for Raft Crossing, use big pieces of paper or little pieces taped
together. If nothing else, this will add a whole new dimension, as the group members have to
make sure that they don’t rip the paper and thus come into contact with the toxic swamp. The
key to success with all of the activities in this book is be flexible and be prepared to modify
things to work for you. If worse comes to worse, modify the activity so you don’t need any

     One of the most listed pieces of equipment is the blindfold. A perfect blindfold would be
something like a triangular bandage from a first aid kit or a piece of material that is large enough
to be folded a couple of times and then tied around the person’s head. When it comes right down
to it, anything can be used as a blindfold. To keep things moving along, I very seldom use
formal blindfolds. Tying a sweater around their head, flipping a baseball cap over their face,
turning a jacket or sweater with a hood around backwards and flipping the hood up all work.
Even just closing their eyes works. Blindfolds are all about trust. You have to trust them that
they can’t see out of it and they have to trust you and those around them that they aren’t going to
get hurt using it. If you feel that you can’t trust them to not set up the blindfold so that they can
see out the bottom, you shouldn’t be moving onto trust activities yet that require a blindfold.

    Group size is another thing that just needs modification to work. If your group is too small
as to present any sort of challenge to the group, you’re going to have to increase the challenge
using equipment or other rules. If your group is too big, you’re going to have to either split the
entire group into some smaller ones or modify the task for the group as a whole. I discuss groups
later but a couple words of caution about trying to do activities with large groups. First of all,
make sure that whatever your task is, as many people as possible, if not all, are involved at all
times. If they’re not, you are going to have problems. Secondly, make sure that they activity is
safe. As numbers increase, the risk of injury does too. It is much harder to keep a large group
under control and safe than it is a small group or a number of small groups. You can make any
of these tasks work with large groups but you might have to modify the objective in order to
make it accomplishable in this century. Large groups simply take more time. Doing an activity
like Switching Places and expecting 60 people to completely switch places might be unrealistic
although it would be quite the accomplishment. You might want to change the objective so that
the people on either half of the bench (quite the bench too) simply need to be standing on the
other half and not necessarily in their original order.

    One last potential area for modification is the room size. If you are trying to do an activity
that is best done in a small area and you are in the gym, it is pretty simple to modify. Just restrict
the boundaries. I’ve done Mine Field in the whole gym, half of the gym and ¼ of the gym using
the lines already drawn on the floor. I’ve also done Mine Field in my classroom and outside on
the playing field and in the ice rink. Most of these tasks can be done anywhere. So much so that
I almost didn’t mention anything in the Type category for each activity but I decided that I would
give you some guidance in this area. The trick comes when you are trying to do an activity that
is best done in a large area, in your classroom or a small room. Again, just change the rules or
objectives. In an activity like Reach For The Sky, where the challenge comes from the overall
height of the gym wall, make it a rule that the participants must stay on their knees at all times
and can’t stand up. In an activity like Moonball where you need the freedom to hit the beach ball
up into the air, make the small room part of the challenge. With everyone on his or her knees,
allowing the ball to hit the floor, walls or ceiling will cause the attempt at the highest number of
hits to be over. As you can see, there is nothing that can stand in your way to use these tasks,
anywhere, anytime, with anything and with anyone.

    In today’s society, we have made failure a bad thing. Failure means that you weren’t good
enough and you should just quit and try something else. Telling someone that they failed is
considered to be damaging to their self-esteem. We’re supposed to spend all of our time setting
kids up for success. Unfortunately, when people have experienced nothing but “success”,
regardless of how artificial it is, they have no idea what to do when they finally fail at something
and trust me, in the real world, they will fail or fall short of what was expected several times.
Personally, I believe that it’s because of their lack of preparation for failure that so many people
quit whatever it was that they failed at instead of picking themselves back up, figuring out what
they did wrong and trying again. This includes jobs, relationships and life in general.

     It is our job to teach people about failure and how best to handle it and how best to learn
from it. It is not our job to shy away from it. Failure is a big part of initiative tasks. If the
group succeeds the first time, you need to make the challenge harder until they fail. Yes, that’s
right, your goal as the facilitator is to set your group up for failure. It is only through failure that
growth can occur. I’ve learned more through any one of my mistakes in life than I have through
all of my successes.

    You will need to spend time teaching your group how to handle failure. You will need to
teach them that it is unproductive and useless to blame someone for the group’s failure to
accomplish a task. In many of the tasks, it will be as a result of one person that the group failed,
just like many group failures in the real world. You have to teach them that the entire group
shares responsibility for the group’s successes and failures. If one person fell off the beam and
touched the ground, why hadn’t the group done something to insure that wouldn’t happen? You
need to teach them how to accept failure without accusations and move on.

    You need to teach your group how to look at failure as a learning experience. After they are
unsuccessful at a task, lead them through a debriefing session and help them examine what went
wrong and what can they do as a group to fix the problem. Make sure that you allow no blame to
be cast. It’s all right for a group to state that the problem lies with one person’s inability to
accomplish the plan and that they need to do something to help that person but it’s not all right
for a group to be negative about it. Your group will have strengths and weaknesses just like any
group in the real world. As a group, they need to figure out how to best use those strengths and
weaknesses. Again, don’t give them any clues. I know that it will be hard but if you even give
them one little clue, you will literally be stealing away their glory. No matter how unsuccessful
a group is, keep your mouth shut. The more challenging a task and the more failure experienced,
the more glorious everyone will feel when they finally do overcome the problem with their own

    One thing that you might notice is that often times, groups will decide that after each failure
that the fault lies with their solution to the problem and develop a new approach or plan. I’ve
had groups switch plans ten to fifteen times in an effort to find one that would work. This is
where you will need to teach your group that often times it is not the plan that is failing, it’s the
group. The group may need to persist and practice a specific plan several times and through
several failures before success will occur. Jumping from one plan to another means that the
group gets proficient at none of them.

    I always tell any group that I’m working with right, after they fail for the first time, that you
can tell a lot about people by the way that they handle failure. Do they cast blame or do they
look for solutions? Do they give up or do they persist regardless of how many times they fail?
Leaders don’t blame. Leaders don’t give up. Leaders help others and they persist. Leaders
understand that failure is a fact of life and that the sooner they get over it and move on with a
new and improved plan based on what the failure taught them, the sooner they are successful at
anything that they are attempting to do.

    It is possible that after a long period of time, your group has been consistently unsuccessful
at overcoming the challenge that your presented to them. If this happens, you need examine
why. If it’s because the group isn’t working together very well or some other problems, you may
want to step away from this challenge for a while, work on some simpler tasks that allow the
group to grow together and work better and then come back to the original problem some time
later. If it’s because the group is getting bored with the challenge and their constant failure, take
a break. Do some other fun things for a while and some other challenges that they can
accomplish and then come back to the original one.

    If it’s because you went too far and created a challenge that your group was not up to
meeting, you failed. With experience and practice, you’ll learn how far you can go. To avoid
this problem, always start slow and with fairly easy problems in the beginning and increase their
difficulty after every success. Your group needs to learn how to work together before they can
tackle the really challenging problems. It also never hurts to let them get good at a specific
problem and understand the basics and then increase the difficulty by putting things further away
then before or giving them fewer aids. Remember that it is your overall goal to get your group to
a point where you do present to them a seemly impossible task and let them go at it. Also
remember that just because it seems impossible to you and them does not mean that it is. I’ve
had several groups accomplish the impossible. I really didn’t think they or anyone else for that
matter could do it, but they did.

    One of the things that I do if I feel that I’ve finally created a challenge that is extremely
difficult is to place a bet. I bet my group a large chocolate cake with enough for everyone in the
group that they can’t do the task. That’s right, that they CAN’T. Sounds pretty negative and
mean eh? Actually, what always ends up happening is that this really riles the group up. How
dare I think that they CAN’T do something? This bet or dare motivates the group like nothing
else and away they go. I had one group of grade 7’s persist for 3 weeks, an hour every day at
trying to accomplish one of the tasks. When a couple of them started to get a little bored, the rest
of the class told them to smarten up and get with the program and sure enough, after 3 weeks, the
entire class accomplished the task with no problems. Now, the fact that there was a chocolate
cake on the line probably didn’t hurt the motivation. I wouldn’t recommend that you give prizes
for success every time and I never do this at the beginning of a program. I usually do this in the
middle of the program as an extra motivator and a bit of fun. Oh yeah, I also enjoy eating the
chocolate cake when they finally succeed.

     Once again, I will repeat what I said earlier, failure is not the bad thing that we have made it
out to be. It is this negative belief towards failure that has created so much of it around us.
Failure is a fact of life. The real issue is how to deal with it and succeed in spite or even because
of it. That’s what your objective should be.

Groups & Competition
    Simply put, some activities work with large groups of people and some don’t. If you have
too many people trying to work together to accomplish a task you will probably run into a
number of things. You will have a number of people who are not actively involved in solving
the problem at hand, either mentally or physically. This can result in a number of problems
including boredom, fooling around, etc. To combat this problem, you can break the larger group
into two or more smaller groups and each group is responsible for solving the problem as a
group. Some of the games in this book actually require you to break the larger group into two or
more groups that are playing each other. This leads me to the next problem that might arise,

    Competition in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can actually be quite a good thing. Human
nature is competitive and many of our greatest achievements have been as a direct result of
competition. The problem with competition is that it usually results in there being a winning
team and a losing team which does not do a whole lot for fostering the overall teamwork
approach that these tasks and games are trying to create. So how do you do it? Good question.

Methods that have worked for me in the past include:

1.   Making sure that I have a bundle of variations of each activity so if a specific group is
successful at a task, I have something else ready for them so they can continue being challenged
without pause.

2.   When one group has completed the task, their job is now to help the other group(s)
accomplish the task by cheering them on, offering advice or physically assisting them.

3.    If it is a game that actually involves one team playing another, don’t keep score. GASP!?
How dare I say this?! You’ll be surprised by how easy it is and how quickly people accept it. I
haven’t kept score in a game for years and I don’t intend to start. People will just play for the joy
of playing as long as you set up properly. Sometimes for fun I’ll state that next goal wins just to
rev both teams up at the very end but no one walks away from this feeling too much like the
winner or loser.

4.    I also make sure that I continually change the group members around so that I don’t end up
with a specific group of people identifying with only each other within the overall group. If you
allow “cliques” like this to develop, you will have difficulty maintaining the overall group

5.    You can also try to have the different groups in different areas or rooms so that they are
basically unaware of what the other group is doing. You will need to make sure that you have
sufficient safety supervision of the groups.

6.    For really large groups, I have set up a number of initiative task stations with different tasks
at each station and each group goes around and spends anywhere from an hour to an hour and a
half at each station and as a group attempts the task. Each station has its own facilitator who
makes sure that they debrief with the group. The hardest part of doing things this way is that you
don’t get to observe every group at every station and see the lessons learned. I have done this
one regularly with my grade 7 & 8 students as part of a leadership camp at the start of each
school year and it works great.

Making Groups and Partners
    When making groups, it is very important that you approach it carefully. Most of us have
experienced the typical way of “choosing” teams and the humiliation of being picked last or
close to last. If you are a star athlete and have never been picked last, I suggest that you find an
activity that you are absolutely no good at and try to get picked for a team. It is only by having
this traumatic experience that anyone who works with children can know exactly what they all
fear in gym class. Trust me when I say that it is truly traumatic.

    Your job as a facilitator is to create a situation where everyone involved can feel good about
participating. For this to occur, you need to make the groups, especially in the beginning. As
much as possible, try to balance skills and abilities. I’m not a big fan of some of the more
creative group making approaches like everyone with birth dates that fall on odd days go on this
team and those with even birth dates go on this team. These types of systems do not take into
account individual skills which means that you could easily end up with one team totally
dominating the other one. When one team is able to “beat” another team without expending any
effort at all, no one has any fun. Competition is only enjoyable when it is hard. It is your job as
the facilitator to create that difficult competition for each team to overcome.

    One way of doing this is by having everyone partner up with another person that they feel is
approximately the same size and skill level. One partner is a one and the other partner is a two.
The ones are all in one group and the twos are all in another group. Another way of doing this is
to have everyone just stand in a line and you go down the line and place people on one team or
another trying to keep the balance of skills between both groups

    As the group as a whole gets more comfortable with working with each other and
understanding the value of sportsmanship, I will often allow them to make their own teams. I
inform them that for me to accept the teams that they have created, they must make them as even
as possible and make them in such a way that NO ONE feels left out or that they are not as
skilled as others. I then observe the process of making the groups and if I notice that anyone is
being made to feel poorly about themselves because of the group making process, I take over.

    It sounds like I’m wasting a lot of time on a minor topic but I feel, through personal
experience and observation, that making groups at any age level has a huge effect on people’s
self confidence. We constantly are questioning ourselves as to whether or not we are valuable to
those around us and too often we feel less than we should simply because of the way that groups
are made. It is a skill that everyone needs to learn which is one of the reasons why I keep
allowing the people I work with try to make groups in a positive way but also why I take over if I
feel that someone is feeling negatively towards the process.

   One of the hardest moments for anyone, whether they are a child at school or an adult in a
university course or training session with people that they are not that familiar with, is when the
facilitator says to them, “Everyone get with a partner.” What if the person that I want to be with
partners up with someone else? What if I don’t really know anybody? What if I get stuck with
someone that no one wants to be with? It is because of these questions and the issues that raised
these concerns that I try as much as possible to make the partners for everyone, especially in the

    Again, as with my group making, I will allow experienced groups to get together with their
own partners. I do inform them that I expect everyone to be taken care of and no one to feel left
out or I will make the partners. I also tell them that they should avoid going with the same
people over and over again and if I notice this that I will again make the partners.

     The biggest thing to teach and demand from the people in your group is empathy. You need
to let them know how it feels to be the last person picked or the person that no one wants to
partner with. After spending time and teaching on this idea of empathy and holding firm to my
expectations, the result with my group was that the students who were typically picked last were
consistently being picked first as everyone tried to make the group one cohesive unit. I always
try to teach my students and get them to live by the motto of “One for all and all for one.” As
hooky as it sounds, it works.

     One of the things that you do need to do as the leader is to debrief the group after the
initiative task. This means sitting them down in a circle or some formation that allows everyone
to face everyone else and discuss what just happened. The task provided the challenge and the
opportunity for the group to learn about themselves and about how they work together and the
debriefing session afterwards is where they actually get to reflect and learn about what they did,
what happened and what they should do next time.

    If you don’t debrief with the group afterwards, the things that they learned usually get lost. If
you don’t debrief afterwards then all you really did was play a game. A fun game but still just a
game. As groups work together more often, you can guide them to debrief during the actual task
so that they can solve some of their problems before it is too late.

    One description of debriefing that I’ve always liked is for you to view it as a fishing trip. You
can’t just reach down in the water and grab the fish, you have to tease them with your lure.
When you get a little nibble, you play with your line some more until you finaly get a bite and
you can reel it in. Use the questions below to provoke answers, concerns and more questions.
Be ready to follow up people’s statements with more questions that help the group realize what
they’ve accomplished and what helped them and what didn’t.

    You should try as much as possible to use open-ended questions. How did you feel during
the activity? What allowed the group to be successful? What just took place in this activity?
Avoid asking closed questions: Did you succeed at this task? Was there good commu-nication?
Did anyone see examples of leader-ship? All these questions basically result in yes or no
answers and that won’t provoke much of a discussion.
    The key to good debriefing is being able to read the group and their responses and see what
you can do to bring out what happened from the group. Be careful about guiding the group to a
specific response that you are looking for. If need be, you bring up your own observations after
the group has finished. Make sure that everyone in the group has a chance to have their say
during the debriefing session. Don’t let one person dominate the debrief process as they might
have already done during the activity itself.

     Especially when you first begin doing these activities with a group, you and they might find
it difficult to start sharing things in a debriefing session, especially if you ask some big heavy
question right off the bat and then ask for someone to volunteer an answer. Be prepared for a
very long period of silence. What follows are some methods that can be used to get a group
warmed up and into the debriefing process without a lot of individual risk on their part. All
things are easier if you know that you aren’t going to be alone in responding or acting.

·     Go around the group and each person has to contribute one word, phrase or sentence that
describes the whole experience for them as an individual.

·    Have each person end a phrase in his/her own way. For example: I’m glad that….I wish
we had….I didn’t like…...I liked…..I didn’t like….. etc.

·     Each person holds out their hand with their thumb up, down or somewhere in between
measuring whatever it is you asked them to measure. Was the group successful? Did the group
work well together? Was everyone involved in a positive way? Once everyone has shown their
feelings on the question through the location of their thumb, you can use this information to
begin a discussion on why they feel the way that they do.

·      Ask one volunteer to describe what happened from beginning to end. If someone else feels
that the volunteer is missing something, s/he can say “Hold It” and then take up the description
from that point and so on.

·     Use a Polaroid camera or video camera to take pictures or film of the group solving the
challenge and then show them to the group. Discussion is sure to follow. The group will be
surprised by the things that they see on the tape and did not realize were happening.

    Once you have the group warmed up, you can then start in with more specific questions.
Don’t overdo it. This list is just some suggestions of things that you could ask to lead a group
into a discussion and to create a learning experience out of the debriefing session. You don’t
have to and shouldn’t ask all of them.

·     What things interfered with getting the activity done and what could have been done about
those things? (no names please)

·    What things made the activity work better and why?
·     If you could have had one wish during the activity to help you and your group, what would
it have been and why?

·     If you were going to do the activity again, what would you do the same, different and why?

·     How did you feel about the procedure your group used?

·     How does what happened in this activity apply to your real life?

·     I tried to make the initiative good for myself by...

·     My highlight during the initiative was...

·     One thing I have learned about myself from the initiatives was...

·     A personal challenge I had during the initiatives was...

·     One strength I have come away appreciating about myself is...

·     I tried to make the initiatives good for others by...

·     One thing I have learned about people that I can apply elsewhere in my life is...

·     How did our team function?

·     What were some team strengths?

·     What is one word that would describe why your team was successful?

·      Did you notice any changes in the team from the start of the initiatives to the end of the

·     Have you gained any insights about teamwork that you can use elsewhere in your life?

·     What has this team meant to you?

    As groups become more experienced working on initiative tasks, you can guide them into
debriefing on their own during the initiative task instead of just at the end. Since the entire
purpose of debriefing is to allow the participants to learn from their mistakes, it is often a good
idea to do a “debrief” when the group is not being successful. It gives everyone an opportunity
to share some ideas on how to make the group more effective.

    A couple of potential problems with debriefing in the middle of a task is that the group will
spend more time talking and not enough time doing. The one thing that you might need to do as
the facilitator is to actually stop the group from debriefing and get them back to attempting the
task. Try to avoid stepping in and directing them to the task as this does take away from them
succeeding on their own. This might be something that you will want to bring up at the end of
the session debriefing by provoking a discussion as to how time was spent talking and how much
time was spent doing. This is probably better than you actually stepping in and telling them to
get back on task. If they spend their entire time talking, so be it. It’s their challenge, not yours.

    Another thing that you will probably see them doing is changing their approach to the task
after every debriefing or idea brainstorming session. Of course, you and I both know that this is
probably not the most effective way of solving a task. They have not really given any one idea an
opportunity to succeed nor have they become proficient enough at any of their strategies for it to
work but again, that is their problem, not yours. Keep your big mouth and nose out of it. Bring
it up during the end debriefing session and for now, chew your fingernails or something.

    As I said earlier, no debrief means a missed opportunity to really drive the lessons learned
during the challenge home. Don’t over do it though. If the group knows that at the end of the
task they will be faced with a thirty-minute discussion over every last detail of what happened
during the task, it is likely they will not be too enthusiastic about ever reaching the end.
Personally, I would rather fail at a challenge than succeed and spend the next thirty minutes to an
hour discussing our success. A quality five to ten minute discussion or even no debriefing
session sometimes is more valuable than making a group dread doing initiative tasks because of
the long discussion at the end. Do it but do it well and quick.

    The larger the imagination of the facilitator and participants, the more enjoyable the task will
be. Where possible, try to create a fanciful situation that the people find themselves in. Instead
of crossing a gym floor, they could be crossing a toxic swamp. Instead of their teacher
interfering and causing new problems, it is an evil bog monster that they must avoid. Instead of
carrying a glass of water with them, they are transporting lifesaving medicine to someone who
needs it. Obviously, these sorts of things really appeal to younger people.

    I still remember the one group of grade six students who had to help each other cross a rope
course. In one group, there were four boys, three of whom were very athletic and one who was
not. They had to have at least three people reach the finish in order to actually be able to start the
spaceship that would take them to safety. At one point in the course, the non-athletic boy was
having major difficulty crossing a balance rope and was about to fall off and into the toxic
swamp which would result in him being out of the game. The other three boys had a hold of
different limbs and refused to let go even as he told them to and go on without him. It was like a
scene out of a bad war movie. He was screaming at them to go on and they were insisting that he
was going to make it too through clenched teeth. He did make it through with their help and all
of them got to escape. The actual height of the potential fall into the sand below, two feet. But
to those grade six students it was 100 feet into a deadly swamp where the evil bog monster
awaited. They totally bought into the scenario and had a whole lot of fun because of it. They
also felt greater satisfaction at accomplishing the task because of it. This is what imagination
can do.
   It also works with older participants including adults. I had a bunch of teachers that I was
doing a session for and it was the raft rescue using gym mats in a high school wrestling room.
The wrestling mat was the toxic swamp and the gym mats were their transport pads and of
course, I was the bog monster. It didn’t take too long before every adult was right into it,
jumping from mat to mat and helping each other through as if their very lives depended on it.
They were also very wary of the bog monster.

    Imagination and fanciful situations don’t work for every initiative task and/or for every group
of people. You need to use some judgement before creating some elaborate story as part of the
task. You don’t want to turn off a group from trying these challenges. If you aren’t sure if the
group will be willing to use their imagination, try some warm-up activities with the group first.
As they participate in the activities, you can slowly move onto some of the tried and true
scenario initiative tasks.

    Some of the tasks and games in this book don’t need some creative scenario as part of their
presentation. Activities like Moon Ball or Round the Clock just are. A good idea with these
activities that don’t really lend themselves well to scenarios is to present them as dares. I tend to
start out my presentation of these activities in such a way as to throw down the gauntlet to the
participants and dare them to prove me wrong and that they can accomplish the challenge and
more. Again, you have to be careful when doing this. If you do this with a group that you are
just starting with, it is quite possible that they will simply agree with you that the task is
impossible and that they can’t do it. This kind of screws up the whole idea of self concept and
team building. Use easier versions of the tasks in the beginning and when they have been
successful at those, then you can begin to make them harder and challenge them to accomplish
the impossible.

     Whenever possible, create an actual situation where the initiative task fits in. It requires that
both the leader and the group members have to “buy” into the situation. People who can’t buy
in, should not participate as they will ruin it for the rest. The more you can “ham” it up and stick
to the hamming, the better it will work. After all, there is no real challenge is going across a
creative playground simply to get to the other end but crossing a toxic swamp while avoiding
killer reptiles and evil bog monsters, that’s just plain fun.

Teamwork & Trust
    One of the goals of an initiative task is to have the group work together as a team. One of the
ways that you can accomplish this is by defining success as the entire group being successful.
Any one person can probably accomplish the goal, depending on the goal. The real challenge is
getting everyone across to the safe area. This means that if one person dies or is unsuccessful,
the entire group must start over. This will force the group to work as a single unit. You will
have do some work on accepting mistakes and failure otherwise the group will act negatively
towards this person.
    This also ties into the idea of trust. For these tasks to be successful in bringing your group
closer and working together more, they need to be able to develop their trust in each other. Any
person who would deliberately ruin that trust cannot be allowed to participate. Especially in the
younger teenage ages, you will often find one or more individuals who have a hard time in
focusing on the objectives and rules of the task or challenge. If their actions are interfering with
the rest of the group and wrecking any trust between group members, you need to remove that
person immediately and sit them on the sidelines. This is not the best solution as anyone sitting
on the side is not learning a whole lot. In fact, I really don’t believe in sitting on the side or
outside of the classroom as a suitable punishment at any time but when it comes right down to it,
if your choice is between destroyed group dynamics or a person sitting on the side for a bit, have
the person sit on the side.

    You may choose to allow the person(s) to continue with their behavior as another real life
lesson. There will be people out in the real world that will not be the most contributing or
supportive member of the group. There will be people who do nothing or worse, do something
negative that brings the group down. By leaving this person in there, you give everyone a
chance to deal with him/her and figure out an effective way of bringing that person into the
group as a contributing member. Quite often, the reason this person is acting this way is because
s/he feels left out. This is something to draw out in your debriefing sessions.

    Another solution that I have done include having everyone sit down and making this person
the leader. Everyone in the group had to listen to him/her and only follow his/her suggestions
and ideas to solve the problem. It’s amazing what happens to a troublemaker when all of a
sudden, s/he is put in charge. I’ll never forget the comment from one of my more challenging
students who was in charge of the class trying to solve one of the mysteries located in the Group
Work Activities section of this book. Everyone was interrupting each other and talking loudly
and he was trying to get them quiet and listen to him. He turned to me and said, “I never knew
how hard your job really was. I hate it and I’ll never want to be a teacher.” You would have
liked to think that this newly discovered information would have led him to be better behaved in
the future but no such luck. Oh well, it was funny.

    Forcing the group to follow a specific person is also a good way to allow some of your more
quiet and less aggressive group members to take a leadership role and share their ideas and
opinions. You, along with the rest of the group, might just be surprise by what is kept hidden by
some of your shy group members. The best way to accomplish this is to make it a rule that only
certain people are allowed to talk throughout the activity.

Following The Rules
    The members have to buy into the rules as well as the scenario. You need to set out clear
rules and real consequences at the beginning and be able to expect that all of the group will
follow them. For an initiative task to work there cannot really be a person playing ref. If you
can’t trust your group to follow the rules, you can’t really play the game.
   Emphasize that these are “real-life” situations. In the real world, if someone touches
something that would harm them, there is no ref that tells them, the reality of it catches up with
them and they are injured or killed. The challenge that you need to present is for the group to
succeed at the task within the rules, not outside of them. It’s like playing an arcade game with
codes. While it might be easier, anyone can do it. This means that you have to be able to trust
everyone in the group and everyone in the group has to buy into the task as a whole.

It Won’t Work
    If you are reading this and thinking that everything in this book is just great but there is no
way that it will work with the group of people that you have, I have to disagree. I’ve done these
activities with rich, middle class and inner city youth. I’ve done these activities with 6, 10, 13,
16, 25 and even a bunch of 40 year old people. I’ve done these activities with teachers, students,
coaches, players and troubled teens. I have never found a group of people who were not willing,
after some work and some warming up, to let everything go, rise to the challenge and just have

     Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning your difficulty and problems with your specific
group but I am saying that if you persist and take the time to do the simpler and warm-up tasks
first, you will eventually have your group willing to work together, play together and meet even
the toughest challenges in this book. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. It might take a very
very long time but if you persist, it will happen. Think of it as your very own personal initiative

    Modify things as much as you need to. Simplify things as much as you need to. Some
people aren’t into silly imaginative scenarios, at least not in the beginning. I’ll never forget one
young lady who was very prim and proper and felt that participation in these activities was very
much beneath her. It took a while but I can still see her in my mind screaming her defiance at
the evil bog monster that was threatening to pull her into the swamp and her doom as she crossed
the rope course and helped her entire group do the same.

    If it doesn’t work, feel free to contact me. My email address and phone number are listed in
this book so that I can receive any new ideas and suggestions from readers. I would be more
than willing to help you succeed with your group.

Okay, it’s now time for me to get off of my soapbox and give you a little practical advice on how
to actually use this book and do the activities in it in the most beneficial way for your group.
First of all, you need to make sure that everyone knows each other. If everyone does, fine move
on. Personally, I’ve never been a real big fan of the get to know each other’s names activities
but that’s probably because I’ve always been in groups where I did know everyone. If you are
working with a group that has come from a bunch of different places and don’t know each other,
it’s probably a good idea to spend a little time on the get to know each other’s names activities
listed in the Ice Breakers & Warm-Ups section of this book. Pay attention to your group. Some
groups will get into these activities and play them until you have to pull them away while others
will do what they need to and then want to move on.

Once everyone knows each other’s names, you should move on to doing some of the warm-up
activities listed in that section. You need to have a group that is relaxed with each other and
willing to play, have fun and work together at least somewhat before you dare move onto the
Group Work Activities or other sections of this book. Don’t be afraid to tell the group that
either. Some groups may come together quickly and be laughing, sharing, helping each other
and be ready to move on to more challenging and trusting activities. Some groups may be mired
with all sorts of baggage that you will need to help them remove first before moving on. With
these groups you may need to provide some variety by moving on the Group Work Activities,
the Games or even a few of the simply Initiative Tasks but do not do any Trust Activities or
more challenging Initiative Tasks with a group that is bogged down by an inability to lower their
barriers to each other and to work together. That is a recipe for disaster.

Once a group is ready and you are going to do one of the initiative tasks, gather the equipment
necessary, lay it in front of the group, present the scenario, read the rules and then step back. If
they ask you questions like, “Can we do this?” refuse to answer. Answering them is basically
giving them clues on how to solve the problem. You’ve told them the rules and if they go
against one of the those rules you will remind them of it but other than that, they are on their

Keep an eye on the group throughout their attempts. If any serious negative attitudes start to
develop, you should step in and stop the activity. At this point you can either lead a quick
debrief on the negativity and on how to prevent it or you can simply pack things up and tell them
that they’ll get a chance again tomorrow. This is what I quite often do. No talking, no
discussion, just pack everything up and back to class. They learn pretty quick that negative
behavior will not be accepted and if they want the chance to accomplish the task, they better
keep an eye on it.

When the group has been successful, when the group has failed or when the time allotted is
running out, lead the group through a debriefing session. As indicated in the debriefing notes
previously, don’t spend too much time on the debrief. You want to talk about things with the
group to re-enforce any lessons learned but you don’t want to drag things out or bore people.

It is very important that if a group was unsuccessful at a task, that they get another opportunity to
come back to that task and be successful at it. Nothing leaves a bad taste in the mouth than not
having accomplished something as a group and not getting a chance at it again. If this means
that you keep coming back to the same task over and over again throughout the year until the
group succeeds, then do so. Don’t leave it hanging out there as a big failure banner around their
necks. While I mentioned earlier that failure is a good opportunity for learning, it can also be a
draining experience on a group if that’s all they’ve experienced.

I did have a group leave a leadership camp once on a failing note. All 70 of them were doing the
Switching Places task on benches and it had taken them 90 minutes to get to the point that they
were at. They were almost done and successful when one student slipped off and touched the
ground causing the attempt to be a failure. There was no time for us to try again as this was the
last activity before we left for home and I was a little miffed inside by own head that the great
feeling everyone was supposed to have being successful at a very difficult task was now ruined.
Then I witnessed the most unbelievable thing. Everyone of those grade 8 students approached
the poor kid who had fallen off and let him know in no uncertain terms that everything was okay
and that it wasn’t his fault. A couple of the more athletic and cool students told him that really it
was their fault for not supporting him better. They all knew in their own hearts that they had
been pretty much done and when it came right down to it, they were successful and they all knew
that. It turned out to be an awesome way to end a leadership camp. They were leaders. That
leadership showed up throughout the rest of the year at our school.

Another thing to watch for when you are doing any of the activities in this book is boredom. A
little bit of boredom can be allowed if for no other reason than as a learning experience. Again,
there will be times in the real world, too many unfortunately, where things get boring. It is a
necessary skill to be able to work past the boredom and accomplish the task. If you are playing a
game and things are getting boring, you’ve played the game too much. One of my rules is to
avoid playing any game more than twice in a row. You need to play a game more than once to
get everyone into the swing of things and you can always come back to it but playing King’s
Court Dodgeball every single gym period is ridiculous. PT Barnum said it best when he said,
“Always leave them wanting more.” Move on before they want something else.

So good luck and have fun. That's what this book and the activities inside it are all about.
Learning and having fun doing so.

To top