Position your group at one end or edge of a wide open space.
Nominate a specific object at the opposite end of the space, approx 50 to 100 metres away, eg a tree, door.
Group aims to walk in a straight line to this object with their eyes closed, stopping just short of the object.
Group must remain in total physical contact with one another at all times.
Group may stop and start as often they choose along their journey, and may communicate (with eyes closed) at all times.
Upon reaching its target, ask your group to keep their eyes closed and, as individuals, point in the direction of where they personally believe the object is situated.
Finally, ask everyone to open their eyes.
Invite your group to reflect on the outcome, and the process they undertook to plan and execute their journey.
Video Transcript for Group Compass Walk
presented by Mark Collard
And now we are going to put all together the things that you’ve talked of and have experienced in your navigational skills as human beings into one group. We started in singles we then moved into pairs where you tried to balance biases. Now I am going to put all nine of you together.
And here’s your task, as a group of nine people you’re going to have a couple of minutes to discuss how you’re going to create your strategy to get from here to that pine tree that the tree trunk is mostly in the sun. It’s the bigger of that set over there. Not this really large elm, it’s that pine tree. There’s a little bit of mulch directly in front of it.
Your objective, whoever is at the front of the group, is to stop directly in front of it. Not to step onto the mulch. If you go onto the mulch you’ve gone too far. So it’s to stop directly at the edge of the grass.
As a group you will all be physically connected. When I say physically connected I typically suggest you place a hand on a shoulder, or maybe you wish to hold hands. But I would recommend, so you don’t get too far because if we hold hands I can be too far away from someone, I would suggest you have a hand on a shoulder. And it is either behind or maybe to the side.
Your formation will be three, three, three. All of you will have some form of connection to each other. So three, three, and three.
However how you get from there to there is completely up to yourself.
The idea is when I ask you to start, you will all close your eyes, you can still talk to each other, you will move from here and as best as you can hit that tree.
(What do you mean three, three, and three?)
There will be three people in the front, three people in the second row, three people in the back row.
(Do we have to do it that way?)
Correct. Yes. That’s…
(And we’re connected.)
I will have my eyes open so you won’t be racing out onto 128, so that will keep you safe. And of course if you are about to hit something other than your target I will say stop.
So to repeat you have those three three three, you’ll have your eyes closed, you can talk all the way.
Now if at some point as a group you decide that you actually need to stop to reassess, keep your eyes closed do whatever you need to do to reassess and review before you start again.
When you as a group have consensus that you’ve arrived at your target as best as you can, and it might be that you are way off track and you just say, you’re like “you know what this is as good as we’re going to get.”
Then keep your eyes closed, I will repeat this again later, but keep your eyes closed. I will ask you to disconnect from the rest of the group and then personally and slowly point to where you personally think that target is. The group may have brought you to here, but you think it might be over there. And when I say to do it slowly, if you do it really quickly you might poke someone in the eye, so to do it slowly. I will repeat that, but I am just giving you an advanced warning of it.
So starting here eyes closed stop and start as often as you like, but most groups just simply keep on going and talking and adjusting as they go. When you arrive at your destination you will stop, keep your eyes closed, disconnect, point to where you think, and it might be right in front of you. That is you agree with the group, and then at that point please open your eyes.
(Group gets together to discuss how to solve the problem of Group Compass Walk)
Are you ready?
Do we have anything else to share?
Eyes closed please ladies and gentlemen. Everyone eyes closed, and go.
(Group begins to walk together as Group Compass Walk while Mark follows behind marking the group’s progress)
Stop! Keep your eyes closed. At this point I would like you to disconnect keeping you eyes closed, and slowly point to where you believe the target is.
(Each person points in a direction as part of Group Compass Walk)
(I know I am pointing over your shoulder.)
Okay you may now open your eyes.
(The group discusses the result of their Group Compass Walk while laughing.)
And if you have a look behind you you’ll see your path.
(Yeah, look at that. That’s interesting.)
Where there are two yellow balls together is where you stopped and talked about where your bias was.
(group’s shocked responses as they looked at Group Compass Walk trail)
And you were pretty much on target and then you went way off.
(This was a good way to mark it.)
This is very nice. This is the Hansel and Gretel version folks…
How To Play Narrative
Take a look at Pairs Compass Walk to give you some ideas for how you may sequence your program to lead up to this group exercise.
Standing at one edge of your wide, open space, identify an object about 50 to 100 metres (160′-330′) away, eg a tree, a door, a pole, etc that you would like your group to walk towards.
Their object is simple – with their eyes closed (or blindfolds on), the group is to walk directly to the nominated target and stop just short of touching it.
Explain that the group gets just one attempt, and must remain in total physical contact with one another at all times as they walk. They will have whatever planning time you choose to give them to prepare themselves for the task, eg five minutes is normally sufficient.
The group may also stop and start as often as they like once they have begun their journey, communicating all the way, but they can never open their eyes.
As facilitator, stroll quietly behind your group as they walk doggedly towards their target. Alert them to any harmful hazards along the way, stopping them just short of any danger, but requesting that they continue to keep their eyes closed to manage the situation.
When the group decides that they have arrived just short of their target, or they are about to hit it, ask everyone to keep their eyes closed and to release the contact they have with their group.
Then ask everyone to point in the direction they personally believe the target is situated, ie suggesting not everyone will concur with the group’s sense of direction. Then, ask everyone to open their eyes. Voila!
This exercise is as much fun as it reveals interesting results. Be sure to invite your group to reflect on the outcome, and to process their planning and execution, as appropriate.
See Reflection tab for some sample questions to get your started.
Practical Leadership Tips
Consider presenting one or more variations of Pairs Compass Walk prior to this exercise, as a wonderful warm-up to prepare your group for this task.
Simply closing one’s eyes is the easiest and most hygienic method to ‘blindfold’ someone. However, if the temptation to peek is too great for your group (especially as they will have their eyes closed for many minutes,) use the real thing, actual blindfolds.
The ‘total physical contact’ rule simply means that every person must somehow be connected to every other person in the group, so that if one person was touched by an electric current, everyone would be affected.
A group may structure themselves any way they choose, but I would strongly recommended that you limit the number of people at the front of the group to no more than four people. Otherwise, the group tends to span too far and wide, which may cause issues during the journey.
Encourage your group to seek consensus when it makes a decision, especially when the group is moving towards its target, or stops part way through the journey.
Avoid walking besides the group as they wander to their target, because your presence may influence the sense of direction of the group.
This pointing of fingers blindfolded at the end is a moment of truth for the group. Invite everyone to look around, not only for the target, but at the direction many other people are pointing. Questions like why did so many people think the target was somewhere else, did the original plan work, and was there a contingency? should all spring to mind.
You could integrate Group Compass Walk as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
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
Working together with eyes shut towards a common goal is a task that provides ample opportunities to explore behavioural norms and full value agreements. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on their goal-setting process, their ability to be present and safe with one another and how well they cared for each other during the exercise. Another key focus of discussion could be the effectiveness of any leadership exhibited during the activity.
With so many faculties at play in this exercise, Group Compass Walk is also ideal for exploring many social and interpersonal skills. In addition to those described in the Social-Emotional Learning tab, this exercise can really test some people’s sense of perception, ie an individual may truly think that they are walking to the right, but the group is actually walking in a straight line. Experiences like this can trigger a wonderful conversation about how our perception can warp what is actually true, such as when we make snap judgements about others. Adding to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, the following questions may be useful conversation starters for you to reflect on healthy and supportive behavioural norms:
What sorts of emotions did you experience during the trek?
Do you think other people felt the same way? How do you know?
How did your group organise itself? Was this effective?
In what ways was your perspective challenged in this activity?
What problems did you have to negotiate? How did your group analyse these problems, and were they solved?
Hansel & Gretel: Silently drop an easy-to-see-at-a-distance item directly behind the group as they tramp along to mark their path. When you ask your group to look back over their path, the line of items will invariably spark many oohs and ahhhs, not to mention a real sense of what was happening when. Even better, don’t tell the group that you will do this, and delight in their surprise at the end.
Fun blindfold task to sharpen communication skills.
Fun & active trust-building exercise for partners.
Blindfold group initiative to sharpen listening skills.
Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever been in a situation where the group was heading or thinking in one direction, and you thought it should be going somewhere else? Sometimes it’s hard to be a part of a group that you don’t always agree with. What do you do in these situations? You could leave the group, or resign from your position, or withdraw from the discussion, or… choose to make a difference from within. Some people choose to take this less-trodden path, and work hard to transform their group from within. Your next task explores this issue in a fun way…
You’ve probably heard the general principle that the strongest and most successful teams attract a diversity of skills and opinions. It’s their diversity, their ability to see a situation from many perspectives, that allows such groups to be so successful, because they often make better-informed and balanced decisions. This next exercise will explore this principle in practice as your group attempts to solve a blindfolded problem…
Here’s some useful advice the next time you are lost in the middle of nowhere… if your compass says to go one direction, but your gut feeling strongly suggests another, trust the compass! Generally speaking, human beings are not made with an innate sense of direction, especially when our senses are handicapped, for example, when our vision is impaired or non-existent. This next exercise demonstrates this lack of ability to know which way is which…
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, trust- and team-building exercise:
What observations did you make as your group travelled towards the target?
Did your group progress as planned, or did you have to adjust along the way? Why?
Individually, which sense was more accurate for you – direction or distance?
Did most people point in the direction of the target at the end? What might this suggest?
Did anything help or hinder your attempts to arrive at your destination?
Did your final destination surprise you? Why?
How might this exercise teach us about how to work together?
The inspiration for Group Compass Walk, and many more dynamic, group initiatives, was sourced from the following publication: