This in and of itself has been one of the most successful strategies I have used with groups, particularly young people, because often when they’re just simply facing me or I’ve got a gaggle or I’ve got a problem with the little side chats where they just don’t think because it’s a large group anyone’s going to notice that they’re talking. But you get enough of those, everyone ends up talking and it becomes a distraction not only to yourself but to other people.
But immediately you put them back to back, yes it doesn’t stop them from talking but more often than not the person closest to them, the one behind their back, is now very difficult to talk to. So I’ve found this, even if it’s not an activity, is a great strategy to stop the chatter.
So I’m sharing that with you. But while you are there, here’s the exercise. While you are standing back to back, you and your partner get to determine how long you stand there before you turn around and share.
What I will invite you to share when the two of you are ready… So basically say hey, I’m ready, are you yet? If not, wait a little longer until they are, then turn around.
And when you turn around share in turn with each other just at least one observation you had about our morning… one observation about our morning.
Connect it though to the work that you were doing yesterday related to those learning themes, you know, stronger sense of community, connected to nature. Alright, we’re not necessarily in nature today but think of the ways in which the activities that we’ve been doing could have perhaps contributed to personal growth.
So think for a moment. When you’re ready let your partner know that you’re ready to turn around and then turn around and then share.
If you need thirty seconds before you’ve got something to share then stay in the back to back position until you’re ready.
Got the basics? So connected to those three key learning outcomes, so there’s development or personal growth, the connection to nature, and that stronger sense of community. Anything about our morning, how might that be useful to you as a programmer to achieve those objectives within your program.
Start when you’re ready.
How To Play Narrative
Sometimes, you just don’t have much time at the conclusion of an activity, but you’d still like to process the experience every so briefly. This exercise is perfect for these times.
First, ask your group to form into pairs. Instruct them to stand back to back so that they can’t see each other.
Explain that you would like each person to consider a score, to a question you’re about to pose, on a scale of 1 to 5 by extending their fingers on one hand. Typically 1 is lowest and 5 is highest.
State your question, and give everyone 5 seconds to consider their answers. Then, on “GO,” ask everyone to quickly turn around to face their partner at the same time as they extend their fingers. Allow a moment for each pair to compare their scores.
Now, you have several choices. You can move on, happy that you have at least asked your group to reflect ever so briefly on the activity. Or, you can ask each person to share with their partner why they chose the score they did.
You may even choose to survey the results of the group, to obtain an average score. If it’s worth measuring, then it’s possibly also worth seeking some comments to understand how this score was achieved.
Practical Leadership Tips
Take a look at Useful Debriefing Tips to learn about the benefits of processing your group’s experience, and how to run a successful debrief.
The greatest value of completing this exercise back to back is that for the most part, individuals will not be overly influenced by what other people are doing. This is why I suggest that you ask people to wait until they are turning around before they extend their fingers. That is, if fingers are extended in advance (while waiting to turn around), it is highly likely many people will be able to view the hands and fingers of other partners, and possibly influence the result.
One of the quickest ways to evaluate or reflect upon an activity is to provide a five-finger score – see Fist to Five. However, sometimes when this is conducted in a large group, only a few people may be willing to share why they scored the number they did. Breaking into pairs fixes this issue.
You could vary this exercise by asking your group to use up to ten fingers, but nit-picking the difference between, say, 6 and 7, is not very useful. In my experience, stick to five fingers.
You could integrate Back to Back as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand and manage their emotions, thoughts and values and those of others.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
When standing back to back, one must work a bit harder to focus on the response of a partner, to be mindful of their partner’s conversation. This takes a little bit of effort and focus, and there is no doubt that on occasions some people will be distracted from their desired focus. In these circumstances, routinely remind your group to re-focus on their partner if they happen to observe their minds wandering off-topic.
Furthermore, any opportunity to reflect on an experience is valuable, especially so when it can be shared with just one other person. Groups of only two or three heighten the ability for people to feel comfortable and share willingly. As I say, it’s very hard to be left out of a pair – think, accountability – so it is easier to cooperate and be heard when there is only one other person involved.
Small Groups: As above, but in small groups of 4 to 8 people.
Emotive Response: Establish a prescribed set of non-verbal gestures to indicate a certain response to your question, eg clenched fists to reflect anger, or happy smiley face to reflect positive feelings, etc.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It may sound like…
“NOW THAT YOU ARE STANDING BACK TO BACK WITH A PARTNER, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO THINK BACK OVER THE ACTIVITY AND GIVE YOUR TEAM A SCORE OUT OF 1 TO 5 FOR HOW WELL YOU COMMUNICATED AS A TEAM – 1 REPRESENTS VERY POOR, WHILE 5 MEANS PERFECT. WAIT UNTIL I CALL ‘GO’ AND ONLY AS YOU ARE TURNING, DO YOU EXTEND YOUR FINGERS ON ONE HAND. ARE YOU READY?…”
“… I WANT EACH OF YOU TO THINK ABOUT THE ROLE YOU PLAYED DURING THIS PROJECT, AND THE INFLUENCE YOU THINK IT HAD ON THE FINAL RESULT. ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 5, I WANT YOU TO SCORE YOUR ROLE IN TERMS OF INFLUENCE – 1 MEANS NO INFLUENCE AT ALL, WHILE 5 MEANS EXTREMELY INFLUENTIAL…”
The inspiration for Back to Back was sourced from a participant in one of my many training programs, too long ago to recall exactly when.