Lay a long rope (5 to 10 metres) on the ground in the middle of your playing space.
Divide your group roughly into two teams, with each half standing on one side of the rope facing the other team.
Announce that you will only state the goal of this exercise once, and no questions may be asked.
Ask each team to agree to respect the physical, emotional and mental well-being of the other team at all times during the exercise.
The boundary line situated between the two teams is fixed and cannot be moved.
Finally, state the goal of the exercise: for each team to attract as many people from the other team to stand on their side of the rope, as quickly as possible.
Expect the exercise to be accomplished very quickly, or over a long period of time.
Allow time at the conclusion of the exercise to reflect on the group’s experience.
How To Play Narrative
Lay a rope on the ground/floor which is long enough (5 to 10 metres) for all of the people in your group to stand opposite one another.
Separate your group into two, roughly-equal teams with each half standing opposite the other. That is, Team A stands on one side of the rope facing Team B on the other side of the rope.
Explain to your group that, in a few moments, you will state the goal of this exercise once and one time only. Furthermore, once you have stated this goal, no-one may ask any further questions. Tough, I know!
Before the big reveal, alert your group to the fact that it is critical both teams respect a safe ‘working’ environment at all times during the exercise. That is to say, each person agrees to behave in a manner that respects everyone’s physical, mental and emotional safety.
At this point, your group will start to look at you with an intriguing glint in their eye, but push on.
Explain to your group that the rope boundary which separates the two teams should be thought of as fixed, and hence, cannot be moved in any way.
Finally, clearly state the goal, as follows:
The goal for the team on the left side of the rope is to get as many people who are standing opposite them to stand on their side of the rope. And, the goal for the team on the right side of the rope is to get as many people who are standing opposite them onto their side of the rope.
Importantly, this mutual objective should be accomplished as quickly as possible.
OK, that’s it. No questions are permitted beyond this point, so call “GO.”
Generally, allow for 5 to 10 minutes for the two teams to work on solving the problem, sometimes longer. Critically, and for purposes of reflecting back on significant processes, it is important to allow enough time for group members to act and react to the various behaviours each team exhibits to reach their goals.
Strictly speaking, this exercise can be solved in less than five seconds. But, given that most groups will view this task as a competition, rather than a mutual, co-operative goal, you can expect it to take up a lot more time. See Leadership Tips tab for more information about this process.
To squeeze the most value from this exercise, allow for plenty of time at the end of the activity to invite your group to reflect on their experience. See the Reflection tab below for many ideas.
Practical Leadership Tips
Naturally, if you don’t have a long rope, simply use a sporting court boundary, or draw a chalk line on the ground, or scratch a line in the sand, etc. No matter, all you need is two, clearly identifiable sides to help people cross the line.
Note, reflecting the proclivity of the western world to view everything with a scarcity mindset, expect your group to infer that this exercise is a competition, a task in which one team must win at the expense of the other. But this exercise is a powerful demonstration that the task can only be fully accomplished if the teams approach the problem as a collaboration, where co-operative behaviours work best. Which brings me to…
Spoiler Alert: The simple solution to this problem is for the members of each team to quickly change places with one another by stepping across the line, which may take five seconds at most. It is often quite humorous to invite people to share what they did and didn’t do to achieve their objective, and what was done to them. As important, it is interesting to hear why they did what they did too.
Behaving from a competitive, win-lose mindset, beware the possibility of overtly physical manoeuvres, eg dragging people across the line. If necessary, review your Full Value Contract prior to getting started, especially the commitment to adhere to certain safety guidelines.
As your group engages with one another, observe the various behaviours that occur between teams and individuals as they struggle to get folks opposite them over to their side, but not allowing themselves to pass over to the other side. More often than not, you will observe a variety of futile, non-productive behaviours that personify lose-win and lose-lose behaviours, sprinkled with some interactions that are more positive.
If a satisfying result does not eventuate in the allotted time, ie the teams are fixated on competing, and not collaborating, ask a few leading questions to guide them to success:
Please restate the goal of this exercise.
How many people from the other team, must your team have on your side to win?
What is the risk or penalty to your team when members of the other team swap to your side?
Can anyone see an alternative solution that may involve collaborative, rather than competitive behaviours?
Patriotic Set-Up: Explain that each team is standing in their own ‘country’ which is separated from another ‘country’ by the boundary rope. To heighten the significance of your framing, emphasise how each country represents the best of everything, insofar as the land belonging to each team is theirs to preserve and protect. Observe how this framing will significantly ramp up the patriotism people bring to this exercise.
Take a look at Hip Tag, a very quick, yet powerful problem-solving exercise in which mindsets can be further explored.
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Useful Framing Ideas
The problem I am about to present is so simple, you could honestly solve it within a few seconds. However, your path to a simple solution could be blocked by a more powerful force – competition. Let’s see what happens…
One half of your group shall belong to the land on this side of the rope, while the other half belongs to the other side of the rope. You love your side of the rope and wish to attract as many people as possible from the other side to your side. If your side can attract the most number of people from the other side to yours, you win…
Have you ever been told not cross the line in regards your behaviour? Behaviour is all about ‘being’ and to this end, this next exercise will invite you to consider who you are being as you cross the line…
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 simple, yet incredibly complex group initiative:
What was your team’s thinking process?
Based on what you heard as the goal and rules for the activity, what, if any, were your preconceived notions?
What assumptions did you make based on what you heard?
What behaviours did you observe within your own team, and between the two teams?
How many possible solutions did your team(s) explore? What were the reactions to some of these solutions?
Did trust or a lack thereof influence your behaviour?
Why do you think the more competitive behaviours surfaced so quickly?
What might this exercise teach us about working together?
Usually, you will hear some interesting discussion about – winning at all costs – for someone to win, someone has to lose – I’m sticking with my team – I couldn’t trust the ideas and suggestions of others in my group or from the other group. Interestingly, you rarely ever hear, at first, conversation that confirms or acknowledges an understanding that both teams were one large group which shared a mutual goal. As a clearly mutual goal, collaborative and cooperative behaviours would have served them much better.
The inspiration for Cross The Line, and many more simple, yet very dynamic group problem-solving activities, was sourced in the following publication: