1 x long rope (approx 10 to 15 metres, depending on group size)
In advance, tie the two ends of a long rope together to form a closed loop.
Gather your group and ask them to close their eyes or distribute blindfolds for them all to wear.
When ready, lay the rope at the feet of one of the participants.
Instruct your group to manipulate the rope to form a perfect square, ensuring that all participants hold the rope tautly (off the ground) to complete the task.
At no time is anyone permitted to open their eyes to view the position of the group or the shape of the rope.
Allow up to 30 minutes for the group to solve the problem.
When the group believes it has formed the square, ask everyone to stand still and open their eyes/take off their blindfolds.
Review the accuracy or otherwise of the final shape.
Allow time to invite your group to reflect on the result and their process.
How To Play Narrative
I think Blind Polygon was one of the first group initiatives I recall doing as a young person, and its memory still lives with me today. It was fun but very challenging for a variety of reasons.
Start by grabbing a long rope sufficient for all of the people in your group to hold both of their hands on it comfortably with a little distance between them and all others. Roughly speaking, a 10-metre (33′) rope is adequate for approximately 12 to 15 people.
Tie the two ends together to form a closed loop. Then, assemble your group and lay the rope at their feet.
The next step is to remove the ability for your group to see. You will either distribute a bunch of blindfolds to be worn or ask everyone to close their eyes.
To be fair, and while I am not a big fan of blindfolds, most people prefer to use them when they need to keep their eyes closed for long periods, such as required in this task.
With eyes closed (blindfolds on) and the rope at their feet, instruct your group to pick up the rope and manipulate it so that it forms the shape of a square.
To be clear, this square has four even sides with 4 x 90-degree angles, ie a shape with four even sides may look like a diamond.
Typically, I require that each group member has a hold of the rope, if not during the creation of the square, certainly at the end when it is complete. I’ll leave the introduction of this parameter for you to decide; the latter is clearly a more challenging attribute to complete the task.
Once you have dispensed with any necessary questions, it’s time to step back and observe. And, oh boy, will there be a lot to observe, all of which can be fed into your reflection at the end.
You can expect lots of frustration with too much or too little planning, lots of talking over one another, or not being heard and valued, etc. Expect this exercise to accentuate all of the usual group development issues that arise when people work together to solve a problem.
The final result should see everyone standing still, holding the rope tautly between them in the shape of an even-sided square. Or not.
Quick tip – I find it useful to ask my group (once they have formed the shape) to lay the rope on the ground at their feet and then open their eyes/remove blindfolds. Not only will this set the final result, but it will also make it easier to view the shape from above.
Refer to the Leadership Tips and Reflection Tips tabs for many useful leadership tips and strategies.
Practical Leadership Tips
Make written notes if necessary to record many of the more significant observations as the activity progresses. Remember, no one in the group can or will see what is going on, so what you see will be critical to the reflection process.
You could use a ball of wool or string instead of rope, but it may not be as durable or comfortable to hold for long periods.
Blind Polygon can be particularly difficult for some groups to achieve because it relies heavily on crystal clear communication skills and an abundance of patience. To this end, think carefully about the abilities of your group and the sequence of experiences you may facilitate leading up to this activity to prepare them for this challenge.
Not sure what a polygon is? It is a geometric shape that is defined by a finite number of straight lines, ie a circle is not a polygon.
You could integrate Blind Polygon as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to effectively manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours in different situations and achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The complexities of this fun group initiative invite group members 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 your group’s goal-setting process?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of the group’s success? How?
Were there moments of accountability that concerned you? Why?
This exercise requires a lot of patience. It is not uncommon for some people to disengage pretty quickly because they feel overlooked, ignored or under-valued – emotions all that are exacerbated by the fact that no one can see. You may consider building this exercise into a program that has explored a variety of strategies to help people cope with stress and frustration to become more resilient in the face of challenges.
Any Shape: Instruct your group to form a triangle, pentagon, hexagon, etc. In the case of small groups, choose a shape with sides that match the number of group members, eg eight people will form an octagon.
Don’t Let Go: Start your group in a circle standing on the outside perimeter of the rope loop. With eyes closed, ask everyone to pick up the rope. Participants are not permitted to let go of the rope, but may slide their hands along it to move positions where necessary.
Ones & Twos: Form pairs and nominate one person to be One and the other Two. Blindfold the Ones and instruct the Twos to guide the Ones to form the nominated shape. If it’s not obvious, the Twos cannot touch any person or the rope during the process.
Hide & Seek: Secretly position the rope in a pre-defined area while your group is not looking. Unaware of where the rope is lying and with eyes closed, your group must first locate the rope and then create the nominated shape.
Take a look at Turnstyles and Hot Box to engage your group in more activities involving a long rope.
You Might Also Like...
Watch Your Step
Progressively challenging group initiative using ropes.
Innovative, energetic & colourful group initiative.
Classic group initiative that inspires collaboration.
Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever noticed how difficult many simple tasks become when you close your eyes? We rely heavily on our vision to guide many other skills such as direction, distance and spatial awareness. These are the sorts of challenges your group will encounter in this next exercise…
If I handed you a pen and paper, you could probably draw a rather accurate shape such as a square or a triangle. What about an even-sided hexagon or octagon? What if I said you needed to do this without looking at what you were doing?…
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 challenging group initiative:
What were the most difficult challenges your group needed to overcome?
Describe one of these challenges and how you solved it? Or not.
What did you notice about your communication as a whole?
Describe some of the emotions you experienced during the exercise?
What types of leadership were exhibited during the task? Were they effective?
If you could ask the group to focus on just one thing to do well, what would that be?
What helped or hindered your communication from being effective? What’s an example?
What lessons about collaboration have we learned from this experience?
The inspiration for Blind Polygon, and many more group initiatives, was sourced from Karl Rohnke who first introduced it to me in 1988 during one of his many trips to Australia.