Your group’s goal is to shake the hands of every person while observing two rules:
– Each person must shake hands with every other person only once; and
– Each person must alternate hands with each handshake, ie if Jake uses his left hand to shake with Sherry, he must use his right hand to shake the hand of the next person, etc.
Give your group the responsibility to ensure that it complies with the two rules.
A handshake is defined as one person gripping and shaking the hand of another person.
Allow ample time for your group to make several attempts.
Continue until your group has solved the problem successfully.
The problem is that, while it’s very passive. Your object is for each single one of you to complete this task in the context of the whole group. Is that every one of you, needs to shake the hand of every other person in the group once.
So let me just say that again, because sometimes there’s quite a bit of confusion around what I’m asking you to do. The objective is that each one of you must shake the hand of every other person in the group, but only once.
And, every time you go to shake a hand, you must alternate hands. Here’s what I mean.
For example if Colette and I, we’ve not shaken hand yet, we shake hands. So that part is done. I’ve now done this part of my task. I’ve got, let’s say nine others to shake hands with.
Here’s the kicker though, I’ve used my right hand to shake with Colette. The next time I shake hands, I must use my left hand.
Which means the next person also. It does need to be a left with left or a right with right. It’s not anything like this… You can use your right hand.
(We go in a circle or just random?)
I’m not asking you to create any shape, you can create a pentagon for all I could care.
Your object is to do two things. So before you start thinking about how to solve it, let me just be really clear on what the parameters are.
Josh you ready to go?
(Yeah, I’m good)
So that each person, and it’s an honour system because it’s way too complicated for me to be on top of. You will know that if there is ten of you in the group you’ve shaken hands with every other person… nine others. And each time you’ve shaken hands, you have alternated hands. And it must be a right for right… left for left.
Okay? They are the two parameters. There is no time limit, although I’m going to give you five to eight minutes just to simply play with this and see if you can get it out. Got the basics? Any questions?
Go! Bunch together, see what you can do?
(Chatter about the game)
Remember your own hand has to alternate. Your own two hands need to alternate.
How To Play Narrative
This is one of those activities that is so simple and obvious, you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself.
Start by gathering your group in an open space. If you have more than 20 people, I would suggest breaking into one or more smaller groups (of about 8 to 15 people is ideal.)
Set the scene by announcing that the goal of this exercise is for every person to shake the hand of every other person in the group. However, it’s not that easy.
Explain that to complete this task, your group must observe to two strict rules:
Each person must shake hands with every other person, once and only once; and
Each person must alternate hands with each handshake, ie if Jake uses his left hand to shake with Sunny, he must use his right hand to shake the hand of the next person, etc.
Even with these extra rules, the challenge often seems simple, that is, until a group actively starts shaking hands.
Preferably, give your group the responsibility to ensure that it adheres strictly to the two hand-shaking rules (above.) Not only is it easier for you (because there is often more than one set of hands being shaken at any point in time,) but it empowers your group to manage its own affairs.
Once all questions have been answered, step back and allow your group to find a solution.
A surprising question which sometimes pops up is – What constitutes a ‘handshake?’ To be clear, a handshake is defined as one person gripping and shaking the hand of another person.
Allow as many attempts as your group needs to solve the puzzle.
Practical Leadership Tips
Alter Shake is a challenging problem-solving activity that has sometimes resulted in groups shutting down, losing interest, or yearning to be doing something else. Therefore, it’s not for everyone, so consider your sequence and the abilities of your group before you launch into it. That said, for the right group, the experience of solving this problem and the discoveries it may present can be profound.
Most groups have successfully solved the problem by accepting a truly alternate handshake. That is, the right hand of one person shaking the left hand of another person, thumbs oriented in opposing directions (one up, one down.)
To date, I am aware of only one group (8 participants) who solved the Alter Shake activity by exclusively using traditional handshakes, ie right hand to right hand both thumbs oriented up and left hand to left hand both thumbs oriented up. Curious souls may then ask, “Is this solution possible with any group, with any number of participants?” and, “Is there a pattern, or mathematical reason, that explains or verifies the solution to this problem?” Umm, I have no idea. If you find out, let me know!
Time-Trial: As above, but record the experience, in one of two ways. Prescribe a time limit within which multiple trials may be conducted to find a solution, or once an acceptable solution has been discovered, record how quickly your group can perform the solution from start to finish.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
This will work for small groups only. Or, at least for only as many participants you can see on video on one screen. Rather than physically shaking hands, invite each interaction to be a virtual ‘High-5’ where the two people involved thrust their (relevant) hand directly in front of the camera, ie so the open palm of a hand can be seen on the (two) participant’s screens.
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Useful Framing Ideas
There are many ways to solve a problem. One way is through trial and error. A group may try a solution to the problem only to learn that it doesn’t work. The effort is not all lost, however, as the group may have learned something that could be used for the next attempt, such as you may discover in this next exercise…
This activity is sure to test your persistence, communication, and perception. It requires you to communicate effectively, make decisions efficiently, and be persistent and innovative in the midst of a baffling challenge…
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 problem-solving exercise:
Describe the process your group took to solve the problem.
What was the most difficult part of this challenge?
What skills did this exercise demand of your group to complete it successfully?
Did you make any compromises? Why?
Are you satisfied with your result?
The inspiration for Alter Shake, and many more simple team-building exercises, was sourced in the following publication: