As a leader on campus, there have been dozens of times that I have had to facilitate a conference, activity, or just a simple icebreaker. My time is usually spent trying to prepare materials or finding creative ways of making it not as cheesy as other times before. If you told me I had to watch the human knot one more time, you may catch a glimpse of a quick eye roll. After the activity, we would quickly rush through a few questions, hear from the courageous person that always speaks up, and move on to our next order of business. However, what if we spent less time with finding the perfect activity, and spent more time with the debrief?
Yes, activities are a wonderful way to engage your audience, and the fastest way to use up some time, however, having your participants process the activity and come up with their own reasons is how the group can truly add meaning. Notice how I bolded “their” and “the group”? If you are anything like me, you are a type-A, over-thinking planner that already has the purpose of the activity in your back pocket. Group activities are like when your teacher says there’s no wrong answer. The focus needs to be on the group, and not your specific insights. Changing your attention from your pre-formulated answers to listening to participants analyze the activity from their unique perspective gives you the opportunity transform a popular activity (i.e. the human knot) into the coolest discussion you’ve ever heard.
When someone answers the discussion question, do not be complacent with one-liners. It can be easy for a participant to come up with a general statement that sounds really good, and for you to quickly move on. Dig deeper. Ask them why they think that way, a specific time the statement applied to them, a time it would work, a time it will not work. Digging deeper does not mean you are testing them, but that you are making that activity relevant and applicable.
Change the dynamics. Your group will probably have an array of diverse individuals with different thoughts, values, and lifestyles. The group does not get to tap into that collective knowledge if the same 3-4 people are the only ones to speak up. Challenge group members to participate or engage in different ways they feel comfortable. Simple tactics can be, asking individuals their thoughts or having individuals describe their actions/feelings. Rarely, everyone will unlock all the intricate secrets of your activity, but they all probably felt something. Use this to your advantage in unbalanced power dynamics. It is also fun to see group members interact and answer to each other, not you as the facilitator. Jump in when you need to, but have those who experienced the activity together, process it together.
Finally, be present and listen. It seems obvious, but there may be an urge to either breathe a sigh of relief that the activity is over or only listen for the answer you have been fishing for. Meaning is applied, and ideas are powerful. Your discussion does not have to be answering three questions and wrapping up. It can be a continued and layered conversation, one that does not have to be confined to the 15 minutes of your agenda. Listen to your participants, ask questions to deepen thought, and sit back and be amazed.
I recently had the opportunity to facilitate for a group of 19 high school students. I needed a game that was easy, needed no resources, and took a lot of time. The first one I thought of was the human knot. In this game, group members create a circle and grab on to different people’s hand, tangling themselves into a knot. Group members have to untangle themselves without letting go. Variations are splitting up into smaller groups, doing it without speaking, and doing it within a certain time. After doing it year after year, I thought I knew everything there was to this one specific activity (collaboration, communication, etc.). To take up more time I wanted to really draw out the conversation. Before I knew it, we had hit topics I never thought of like roles individuals took and how they applied it back home or the power of observation. These students bonded through their conversation, not the entanglement. Every student walked away feeling like they understood each other and themselves a little more. That is when I realized why I was actually doing the activity and the power of intentional discussion.
Training and Leadership Co-Director (18-19)
The Service Coordinators develop active citizens on our campus and in our community through immersive service-based trips and days of service.
Yelena Bagdasaryan and Loghan Currin