Distribute a specified number of wooden toy blocks to small groups of 4 to 10 people.
Announce that each group’s goal is to lift as many blocks as possible, as high as possible.
To govern fair play, describe the following three parameters:
– All blocks must start on the floor (or ground) and be physically connected throughout the duration of the lift;
– The group may determine the shape, and may exist in two geometric planes; and
– Each person must have one or two fingers (maximum) connected to the structure at all times during the lift;
If one or more blocks fall, the group may continue to lift or choose to start over.
Allow ample time for many attempts.
Monitor the progress of each group and encourage as required.
Continue play for 10 to 15 minutes.
If possible, process and reflect at the conclusion of the exercise.
Video Transcript for Block Party
presented by Nate Folan
… A lot of our work has to do with building community, whether it’s about building a community for enriching the learning environment, for enhancing the performance of a team whether it’s in the workplace or other places, whether you’re onstage or whether you’re working with a group of students, whatever it might be, and really for overall satisfaction in our lives, if you think about that.
So this activity is inspired by that idea of building community.
And maybe some of you have experienced a block party. Have you? Has anyone experienced a Block Party like where the streets are shut down, no cars can come through? And what types of things happen at block parties?
(People get drunk.)
People get drunk. We’ll have to edit that one.
So people play games at block parties. Good food.
Meeting new people.
(Yeah, sometimes for me I like met neighbours I’ve never talked to before.)
So meeting people that you’ve never talked to before… so all these pieces of bringing a community together.
So the invitation in just a minute is to break into three smaller groups, so roughly eight or nine people in a group, and your goal is to have a block party in a little bit of a different way, but using these blocks literally to connect.
Each person has the opportunity to use at least two fingers per person, it does not matter what finger that is for you, and what you’re going to do is create a shape of blocks, your choice, and as many blocks as your choice. So you might go for as many as we can. You might say you know what, we like the idea of lifting a triangle.
But the shape needs to start on the ground and similar to doing this in a two-person version, is trying to get this block shape that you’ve created to lift above your chin, to your eyes, and above your head. Is that making sense?
So bringing people together, a minimum of… we’ll say a minimum of one finger per person, if it’s helpful to have more, fine, but try to create a shape that you desire, as many blocks as you desire, and lifting that to your chin, to your eyes, and above your head as you go.
So you had some successes with your block parties after some failures, maybe some learnings, like it all crumbled and you learned from that, some tweaks came up and different ideas.
The cool thing from an outside perspective was, and maybe you noticed this, maybe you didn’t, but all three groups lifted different block structures.
It was more of a pyramid here, more of a square filled in here and then it eventually had a tower in the middle of it, and this one you started off with a square that was hollow in the middle, essentially an outline of a square, and then in this last attempt you decided to fill it in.
So just from an outside perspective and the idea of this activity about building community is here we are building three unique micro-communities if you will in this space.
It was neat to see what showed up and all your listening and input to bring that together. I know it’s just a brief moment but consider that with other groups that you might work with and what it actually takes to put this together, to lift it, and to own it so to speak.
How To Play Narrative
Block Party is a great activity for exploring communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
More so, it challenges most groups’ decision-making processes, motivation, and commitment. Often different ideas emerge from different people. Then the group needs to decide which idea to try, let go of, stick with, and eventually strive towards their goal.
To start, place a bunch of wooden blocks in a pile within a cleared, open space.
This exercise works best with small teams of 4 to 10 people, so distribute a specified number of blocks to each team if you have a large group.
Tell each small group that their goal is to lift as many blocks as possible, to the highest height possible.
Allow for reactions, then explain the following parameters to govern fair play:
The blocks must start on the floor or ground and be physically connected throughout the duration of the lift. In other words, blocks may not be lifted in separate sections then physically connected at a later time;
The group may determine the shape, and this shape may exist in two geometric planes; and
At least one finger or thumb (and no more than two) of each person must be connected to the block shape throughout the entire lift.
If a block or a few blocks fall, the group may continue to lift or choose to start over.
You determine the number of attempts each group may have within the allocated time frame, eg 10-15 minutes seems to work well.
As the group engages in the process, monitor their progress and motivation. Some groups are extremely committed, others may prefer only a few attempts, before moving on.
Observe, there are times when, one or a few individuals are extremely committed, while the rest of the group is not. Certainly, interesting dynamics tend to play out.
If needed, assist in determining when the final attempt will occur or allow the dynamics to emerge during a productive amount of time.
The level of engagement and commitment will likely determine the level of value you may glean during a recommended debrief or reflection time at the end.
One option for reflection employs the blocks, the very prop that was used during the activity, as a reflection tool (take a look at Crossword Debrief for more details.)
Most groups will concentrate blocks in a compact shape such as a cube or pyramid if able to exist in two geometric planes or if restricted to only one geometric plane, a square or diamond. There has been a group though, that when challenged to create and lift a block structure in a single geometric plane, seemed to discover a solution that could allow for groups larger than 14 to lift one entire structure together. Curious what the group’s solution was? If you are, we invite you to figure it out. At some point, the solution may be added to the description or comments below, but for now it will serve as an invitation to go play and be with your curiosity.
With thanks to Ryan McCormick who first showed me this activity.
Levels of Success: Offer three levels of success a group may choose to challenge themselves. For example, lifting the blocks just to the average height of shoulders in the group is ‘good,’ lifting to the average height of eyes in the group is ‘great,’ and lifting above the average height of heads in the group is ‘sheer awesomeness.’
One Geometric Plane: To ramp up the challenge, require that the shape remains in one geometric plane, either lying horizontally in the x-axis or standing vertically in the y-axis.
DIY Goal-Setting Challenge: Invite the group to set and adjust their own goals, according to the following parameters:
– Specific number of blocks;
– Height level (as stated above;)
– Distance travelled with a particular number of blocks; or
– Combination of any two or three options above.
Hand-Off: Challenge one group to lift a particular number of blocks, then hand it off to another group. I’ve never tried this, but the idea emerged as I was writing so thought I would share it. If you try it, let others know by posting your experience in the comments below. There seems to be the potential for a great metaphor here, related to succession planning, onboarding and off-boarding, passing a project on to another workgroup or customer, etc.
Distant Connections: Consider connecting and lifting blocks using the end of particular objects, eg wooden dowels (with rubber caps attached, perhaps,) pens, sticks, etc.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Has everyone heard of a block party? A block party is a large public party in which many community members of a single neighbourhood gather to celebrate their connectedness. Block parties can be challenging to get off the ground and typically improve with time. Idea-sharing, coordinating efforts, collaboration, and learning from successes and failures are necessary for block parties to be successful. Let’s see how we do with our own block party…
What does it take for a group of people to really get an idea or project off the ground? Consider this as you collaborate to literally lift these blocks off the ground…
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 dynamic team-building exercise:
Would you agree that your progress improved over time? What allowed for that to happen?
What was your contribution? What role did you play?
Can you recall a time when an individual or group goal was revised? What would you consider the benefits of this activity?
What might this experience have been like without the social support that was demonstrated?
What might that tell us regarding the significance of social support contributing to and sustaining a healthy lifestyle?
The inspiration for Block Party, and many more playful, yet challenging team-building activities, was sourced from the following publication: