I am going to ask you now, and this will be the hard part probably the hardest part of the day. Is that I am going to come around, and these are regular playing set of cards it’s just they are big, as we go around I am going to ask you to simply take one card and not look at it.
What did I just say?
(Not to look at it)
Right don’t look at it.
When I say Go, as you know that is going to be a great way to start the game, you will then turn your card over for the first time and look at it.
So there are only ever two commands, Go is one of them. I will describe the second in a second. So you look at your card on Go.
When you see your card your objective as a group is to form one straight line according to the sequence of your cards, suit not dependent.
So I am going to make it Aces high today. So it goes two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, Jack, Queen, King, Ace.
Now it is possible because there are more than twelve of you here that there is bound to be one or more doubles. And there could be that there are some cards not even represented. You don’t know that until you see your cards.
(Which end is Ace?)
You’ll work that out, that is just something as a group you’ll work out.
You have full faculty about you just that you cannot see the cards. Everyone ready? Go!
(Group moving and organising by their cards)
The cards that you have at the moment is all the group will ever possess. However, their ownership will change. Here is what’s going to happen.
With your card face down in a moment I am going to ask you for a one for one swap. That is to bunch in completely randomly without pattern to pass your cards for and do a one for one swap. The idea is you will end up with a card you don’t know what it is.
When I say Stop, which is your second command, you are to stop with that one card you have in your hand. You won’t know what it is. And when I say Go, at whatever point you are ready, you can then for the first time turn it around and quickly form this one straight line.
So to repeat, in a moment with your cards face down to do a lot of swapping. One for one. When I say Stop, you’ll stop, hold that card and then when I say Go, whenever you are ready, you’ll turn it around for the first time, look at it and form this straight line.
The object is to do it as quickly as possible. I will be using a stopwatch to measure your success.
(One for one, can we only swap once?)
No, you are swapping as many times until I say stop.
(Group is swapping)
Find someone on the other side to you to swap with.
And Stop! Don’t look at your card. Hang on to your card. Alright now listen up, between stop and the next command, which is Go, you as a group can control when that occurs.
So right now, as there won’t have been any sort of conversation around how you are going to plan to solve this problem, I will take it as you are ready to go. So on go you know what needs to happen.
Go. (Group moving and organising by their cards)
Alright, is everyone in the right spot? Can you just have a quick check to make sure you are in the right spots.
You’re first record folks, of several attempts, is 14.00 seconds. Your object now as a group over the next couple of attempts is to beat that time. Nothing about the parameters that I have given you will have changed.
That is you must have a completely random way of distributing the cards as often as you can until I say stop. You then tell me when you want me to say the next command, which is go, at which point you form this line as quickly as possible.
Everybody ready? Go.
Alright, I am not going to bother checking you tell me for quality control purposes, are you in the right spots? (Yes)
Beautiful, another official record folks you almost halved it, 7.91 seconds. So you have still several more attempts.
I would suggest before you swap your cards now bunch together, start to solve the problem because it is possible to do this much quicker than 7.91 seconds.
Okay look so I‘ve truncated the activity because there is actually a great deal more to come apart from just spending more time on the exercise.
The activity is referred to as Change Up because the part that would normally come next, I mean what you have just done is enough. Like it can be an initiative on its own for a group. Clearly is it dealing with goal setting and teamwork and problem solving and blah blah blah.
But where it gets its name, where it gets its power comes from, is this next one thing I will tell you. Is that a bit like here the criteria, the way in which I measure your success, is numerically. That is it goes two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight all the way through the numbers.
But then there is a change in government, or a change of management, or there is a new set of rules brought in. And the way you are now measured for your success is alphabetically, and so now you need to line up according to the alphabetical order of the way you say the cards.
So if you are holding the aces of spades, that would be A.C.E.O.F.S.P.A.D.E.S So now suits matter. So the three Kings there would be a particular order, but you wouldn’t be at the end you would be somewhere in the middle now because you start with a K.
And if you are a two you would have normally been at one end, but now you are a T. You will be at the other. You’ve got to be perfect. You are ahead of your time. You’re ahead of your time Tim.
So if you are just mentally trying to work out, what would that be like? Imagine it if you having to actually do it. You can honestly hear the cogs turning because it’s like ‘Oh my goodness’ and it takes a lot longer.
And so what is happening there it is all about change management. You know what happens when we change ordinarily the group will hang onto the solution that they have had in the past and adapt it to the new system.
And that is often how change is worked off in the beginning, is that it is not terribly successful because they try to hang onto the past by trying to move it into the future. Doesn’t always work and that is a great activity for illustrating that.
How To Play Narrative
This initiative has become one of my latest favourites because it’s so simple, and always provides plenty of opportunity for discussion at the end.
Start by randomly distributing one card (face-down) from a regular deck of cards to each person in the group. Ask people not to look at their card, or show it to another person.
Explain that you will issue two loud commands for each of several rounds – “GO” and “STOP.”
On “GO,” you invite everyone to turn their card over (for the first time) and then as quickly as possible, form one straight line according to the numerical order of the cards, aces high.
For exmaple, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace – regardless of suits, so if three people were holding 7’s, it would not matter in what order they stood provided they all lined up between the 6’s and 8’s.
Using a stopwatch, your job is to time how long this process takes.
Between each round, the group is entitled to pool their creative resources and try to think of ways to improve their time. When the group is prepared to be timed again, explain that, first, you want all cards turned face down again, and then with a simple one-for-one swap, invite everyone to mingle and make as many trades as possible… until you say “STOP.”
At this point, without turning the cards over, invite the group to do whatever it needs to do to be ready for the next command… “GO” which means the clock starts ticking again.
Invite four or five rounds, aiming to record the quickest time.
Practical Leadership Tips
Hint, be sure to focus the group’s efforts on solving the ‘timing’ problem, and not the method in which the cards are ‘randomly’ distributed between each round (which is what groups often do when they have not identified the actual problem.)
Good solutions not only feature good problem-solving and decision-making skills, but also an emphasis on systems and creativity.
For the record, no matter how often I instruct people NOT to look at the card I give them, there is always one person who, by the time I have distributed all of the cards, catches themselves looking. When (and not if) this happens, simply swap their card with another from the pack. Hilarious.
Alpha Order: Same as above, yet explain the criterion of success is the alphabetical order of the cards (not numerical). You will literally hear the cogs grinding in people’s heads as they grapple with this change. So, now, suits do matter (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades – in that order) when two or more of the same card value occur. For example, the 3’s will now necessarily sit between the 6’s and the 2’s (… six, three, two …)
Coins: Use a bunch of coins, and distribute as above, with the goal of forming a line according to the order of their year of manufacture, eg 1978, 1982, 1983, 1991…
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Useful Framing Ideas
In many organisations, the ‘system’ is king. And when change occurs, the most common response is to cling to the old system as long as possible. Ordinarily, it is not until the old system is dead, can the new system have a chance to breathe. This exercise will explore this social phenomenon in more detail…
Often the most difficult part of solving a problem is identifying exactly what IS the problem. When the actual problem is isolated, from the flotsam and jetsam of the situation, it is much easier to solve. One method of identifying the actual problem is to ask The Five Whys? For example, why did the machine stop working? Because a vital part could not be replaced. Why? Because we have run out of spare parts. Why? Because a delivery of spare parts did not arrive today? Why? Because the delivery company is short of staff. Why? Because one of their staff is on vacation. So, in summary, the reason the machine is not working is because a delivery guy is on vacation (which triggers a whole new series of why questions.) There’s no point in trying to fix other ‘problems’ such as buying a more reliable machine, because the machine is not the problem. Consider the Five Whys and how it could apply in this next exercise…
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 group initiative:
In the beginning, how would you describe your group’s process? Did this change over time?
How did your group make decisions? Was this effective? Why or why not?
What were some of the most useful strategies that your group used to solve the problem?
How might this activity reflect on how your group normally operates?
What did you learn about creating effective systems?
Fun & Challenging ‘Team-Building’ Program
What You Need: 8+ people, 2 hours
Props: deck of playing cards, stopwatch, set of poly spots
Elevator Air– quick exercise to successfully frame your group’s experience
ESP– partner activity which explores the importance of common goals