In advance, form 5 x independent rope circles by tying their ends together. Then, after threading the sixth rope through the loops of each of these five rope circles, tie the ends of this sixth rope.
Lay this bunch of rope circles on a flat surface and then purposefully twist and turn some of the ropes so that is looks tangled, ie so that it is not obvious which rope is threaded through all other rope rings.
Challenge your group to examine this bunch of ropes closely, from all sorts of angles to determine which one rope is threaded through all others.
Ultimately, invite your group to make their decision by consensus.
Importantly, people are entitled to point, describe and look closer, but they are never permitted to touch or hold any of the ropes.
Allow ample time for your group to discuss and solve the problem.
When ready, ask your group to nominate which one (coloured) rope they believe is the one threaded through all other rope rings.
Pick up the nominated rope ring, and shake out the tangles.
If the nominated rope has all other rope circles hanging off it, your group succeeded.
Regardless of the result, invite your group to reflect on their decision-making process.
How To Play Narrative
The prep for this awesome group initiative is not difficult, but really important to get right.
Ideally, you want to find or purchase 6 lengths of cord or rope that are all different colours. Think 3mm cord or something similar. See the sample photo below. Their lengths can vary but it is best if they are all similar, eg approx 60 to 80cm long.
Your first step is to take five of these rope lengths and form five little rope circles by tying their ends together. A simple overhand knot will suffice.
Then, taking your sixth rope length, thread it through the loop inside each of these five rope circles and then – with all five rope circles hanging from it – tie the ends of this sixth rope together as well, ie effectively locking these 5 rope circles onto the sixth.
If it helps, think of this sixth rope circle a bit like a key ring, with 5 keys (rope circles) hanging off it.
Now, you want to lay this bunch of ropes onto a flat surface such as a table. It’s best if it is laying on something that is off the ground because you want your group to be able to look closely at it.
Finally, and most importantly, you want to purposefully twist and turn some of the sections of rope so that it looks a bit jumbled. Not too jumbled that it would be impossible to untangle, just a little confused (if this was possible for rope.)
What you’re hoping to achieve is the presence of a bunch of ropes that are somewhat tangled in and out of each other so that it is not obvious (emphasis on obvious) that any two ropes are interlocked.
When ready, here’s the challenge (if you haven’t already guessed it.)
Ask your group to look at the six jumbled rope circles and agree on which one of the six ropes is threaded through the other five. Ideally, you would like your group to arrive at this decision by consensus because this will present many more teachable moments for your group, but of course, it all depends on your objectives.
Importantly, it is crucial that the ropes – none of them – are ever touched. People may point, describe and look closer, but they are never permitted to touch or hold any part of the ropes.
Having stepped back, observe the ways in which your group seeks to make a decision. Take particular note of the different roles people play, how diverse views are managed and the manner in which decisions are made.
Once your group achieves consensus (or gets very close,) ask them to nominate which one (coloured) rope is the one they believe to be threaded through all other rope rings.
It’s now time to test their theory.
Pick up the nominated rope ring, and shake out the other rings to achieve a little untangling. If the nominated rope has all other rope circles hanging off it, voila – your group succeeded. However, if it has only one other ring hanging off it, they have got it wrong.
Either way, there is always a lot to chat about. Refer to the Reflection Tips tab for some useful conversation points.
Practical Leadership Tips
Small groups of say 5 to 10 people work best for this exercise., otherwise, it is difficult for most people to lean in and look closely at the tangle.
If you have a large group, divide them into smaller teams and then either set up multiple spaghetti junctions for each team to solve, or permit one person (from each team) at a time to inspect your solitary rope tangle.
The best place to get a bunch of different coloured cords or thin ropes is your local hardware, outdoors or climbing retailer. You can often buy it in short lengths off the reel.
Don’t be tempted to use very thick rope, eg 12mm kernmantle. First of all, it will be very heavy and harder to manage and carry. Also, thicker rope tends to be easier to trace in and out of a tangle because, well, it’s bigger and easier to see.
Spaghetti Junction, get it? At first glance, the jumbled ropes look akin to a bowl of pasta.
You could integrate Spaghetti Junction as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The dynamics of this intriguing group initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with each other in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
Generally speaking, how did the group make decisions? How were all members involved?
Describe a time when your group needed to resolve a conflict of opinion. Was it resolved?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of the group’s success? What’s an example?
Same Rope: Increase the challenge by using the exact same type of rope for all six rings. When it comes time to verify the correct rope, ask your group to very clearly indicate a part that belongs to the rope they wish to test (and that is what you use to pick up the ropes.)
Take a look at Not A Knot to present another powerful rope exercise that will help your group explore different perspectives.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
If you carefully position the various crisscrossing ropes, it could be possible to present this experience online. I would suggest taking 2 or more photographs of the tangled bunch of ropes from different angles to make it easier to discern the various paths of the different ropes. Allow online access to each of these images – via padlet, a website, etc – and invite your group to conduct their conversation remotely.
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Useful Framing Ideas
We all know how hard it is to convince another person of your point of view, you know, how you see the world. Our perspective seems so obvious to us, often we cannot understand why other people can’t see it the same way as we do. This next exercise will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to hone your communications skills to articulate exactly what you are thinking to someone who has a different point of view…
To achieve true consensus requires each person in a group to willingly agree to vote the same way as everyone else. That is, it should not be necessary for some people to have to ‘give in’ or compromise on some issue just to make the rest of the group happy. But how often does this truly happen? Have you ever been in this situation? If not, then you soon maybe…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after engaging with this complex group initiative:
What systems or structures did you or your group apply to solve this problem?
What was difficult to communicate to others? Why?
What difference did your perspective have on your ability to ‘see?’
Describe the process your group used to make decisions?
How difficult was it for your group to achieve consensus. Why?
Did you see patterns of behaviour here that reflect how your group interacts in the real world?
The inspiration for Spaghetti Junction was sourced from one of my Project Adventure trainer colleagues, so long ago, that I cannot recall who it was. And as far as I’m aware, it is not published in any book either.