Assuming you need four groups, ask everyone to think of a number 1, 2, 3 or 4 (adapt as necessary.)
Invite each person to mingle and shake hands with as many people as possible.
Each person should only shake their own hand (and arm) the number of times of the number they are thinking, and then firmly stop shaking.
When two people shake hands the same number of times, they belong in the same group.
No talking, extending fingers or clapping is allowed, but laughter is permitted.
Invite people to continue interacting with others until every one discovers their group, and the required number of groups has been formed.
Video Transcript for Psychic Handshake
presented by Mark Collard
… I’d like you to do now is to bunch in first of all. Come on in. And I’d like you now to particularly… to think of a number.
There are lots of ways of breaking groups up, but let’s say you needed say four groups. What’s your standard way of dividing a group say into four groups? What’s the way you ordinarily do it?
Yeah, it’s like one, two, three, four, which… nothing wrong with that, except it does come with its own problems because there’s kids like me at school who’s way ahead of the teacher and would move so they could be with who?
Their friends. Again not necessarily a problem, but in the objective world of hoping to mix people up, provide more opportunities for social skills, that ain’t going to happen quite so easily or readily for them.
So now I’d like you to think of a number. It’s either one, two, three, or four. No fractions, no decimals, just one, two, three, or four.
Here’s what’s going to happen. At the end of the exercise everyone who’s thinking the same number is all going to be in the same group. So all the ones will be together, all the twos will be together and so on and so on.
However the kicker to this is, that you can’t talk. You can’t say hey, I’m number two, what are you, or you can’t go… show your fingers. Too easy. High-performance group here.
So the way I invite you to communicate is a simple shaking of hands. So for example, Ro, do you have a number in mind?
Fantastic. So if you wouldn’t mind just standing here. We’re going to demonstrate to everybody else… The way I invite people to do this is by a shaking of hands, just the common, garden variety form of shaking hands.
But the kicker to this is that you’re going to shake your hand and arm quite deliberately the number of times of the number you’re thinking. Okay?
Here’s what’s important. When you get to your number hold firm and don’t go any further. So it’s quite clear to the other person that you’ve reached your number, you don’t need to go any further. Of course if you need to, then you do whatever you need to do to try and make that happen.
So let’s just see what will happen here. Here we go. Okay, so clearly on a different wavelength here. I was one, I shook once, and you could’ve been a two, three, or four, who knows.
Without talking but laughter is permitted, find everyone who’s in the same group as you by the number of handshakes you do.
When you find someone who’s in your group, stick with them, this won’t take long, there’s only a small group here, until you find everyone else who’s in your group. So it’s not about finding a partner, it’s finding everyone in your group. Go.
(people shaking hands)
Alright. It’s a good thing we don’t have five groups forming. That’s a good thing. Alright, great.
So where are the fours? Threes? Twos? And ones. I think I gave my number away. No one wanted to be with me as the case may be. Fantastic.
Here’s just a little thing. Notice that first of all the groups are not even. You could keep finding alternative categories that maybe you end up with that if that’s your objective.
Sometimes you don’t need that or fall back on the old scientific method. You’ve had some fun on the way, and then you go “1, 2, 3…” and then move them about. That can be an alternative to what you’re doing.
Here’s another thing too. I find with this exercise particularly it never works out that the four groups are even. And here’s my theory. I think people love shaking hands. I can almost guarantee every single time I do it there are more in the threes and fours than there are in the twos and ones. As I said I think it’s because people love shaking hands.
So feel free to use the scientific method to move them about as you go through in that situation.
How To Play Narrative
Begin by asking everyone in your group to think of a number, and keep it to themselves. Your choice of number will be determined by the number of small groups you wish to create – adapt as necessary to meet your team-forming purposes.
So, if you want four groups at the end of this exercise, ask them to think of the numbers 1, 2, 3 or 4.
The idea is for everyone who is thinking of the same number to find one another and gather as one group. But, unless your group has some sort of extra sensory perception at work, I would suggest they will need some further instructions to help them find their designated group. This is where the fun starts.
With a number in mind, invite each person to approach another and engage mutually in a very friendly shaking of hands. Each person will literally shake their own hand (read, arm as well) corresponding to the number they are thinking of, and so will their partner.
The key to this banter is for each person to hold their arm firm when he or she accomplishes the required number of shakes.
So, as a demonstration, if you are thinking ‘three’ and I’m thinking ‘two,’ we will happily shake together for the first two shakes, and then suddenly my arm and hand will go stiff, and prevent any further mutual shakes.
At this juncture, it will be obvious from the level of grunts and laughter that emanate from you as you struggle with my ‘holding firm’ position that we are not on the same wave-length and belong in different groups.
It’s a good idea to demonstrate what the ‘shaking-of-hands’ and ‘holding-firm’ positions look like – in front of everyone before you say “GO” to give everyone a clue and a chance to giggle at what is really a very fun exchange.
Explain that when someone finds a ‘match,’ those two people should stick together and continue to seek out other similar-hand-shaking people, until all of their kind have been found and joined the group.
As soon as everyone has found a home, check the identity (and integrity) of each group by counting down, eg “OK, HANDS UP THOSE IN THE FOUR GROUP” and so on.
Practical Leadership Tips
Suggest to your group that it is most effective if they remain silent throughout the frenetic shaking period. That is, no talking, but laughter is permitted.
If you are looking for an even split (ie an equal number of participants in each group,) simply move a few people to even out the numbers.
Make fun of the fact that, sometimes, your group will (temporarily) end up with more than the required number of groups.
From experience, this exercise works best when forming no more than five groups. People lose track of how many shakes have occurred after five.
Typically, a few smart folks will think to indicate with their out-stretched fingers, or by clapping, the number they are thinking of. Applaud their ingenuity, but suggest that it’s more fun to stick to the shaking.
Consider how much our non-verbal behaviours influence the messages we receive and send to others. How does it feel to be speaking the same language, but still not understand what the other person is saying? How does it feel when you discover that you are on the same ‘wave-length?’…
Imagine communicating in a totally new language. If you could learn this new language, imagine how hard or fun or limiting this mode of communication could be…
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 playing this fun, ice-breaker game:
How clear was your communication (shaking) in the beginning?
What did you do to ensure your message was clearly received? Why?
How confident were you that you and others were in the correct group?
Why did we laugh? Why did we end up with more than four groups?
The inspiration for Psychic Handshake, and many more fun, interactive group games, was sourced in the following publication: