Starting with one tossable item, pass it to one person on the other side of the circle.
Ask this person to pass the item to another person, and so on, until every person has received and passed the item once.
To reinforce this exact sequence, repeat it several times.
Challenge your group to repeat this sequence without the item touching the ground.
When ready, introduce two more tossable items.
Explain that all three items will be passed from person to person in the exact same sequence, one after another, at the same time.
Challenge your group to pass all three tossables without any item touching the ground.
Allow ample time for problem-solving, discussion and trial and error.
To further challenge your group, try a variation.
How To Play Narrative
There are so many variations to Group Juggle, I’ll describe the basic set-up and then let you loose.
Ask your group to form a circle, facing in. Not too close but certainly standing less than a metre apart.
Starting with a soft tossable in your hand (eg a fleece-ball,) instruct your group to create a memorable sequence of passes involving every person in the circle. That is, every person will receive the tossable once, and pass it once.
Ideally, ask each person to choose someone on the other side of the circle to establish the sequence, and to remember who they passed the item to.
Upon the first sequence of passes, you are well advised to ask your group to repeat the sequence exactly as it just occurred. Invariably, one or more people will forget who they received it from or passed it to.
In any event, you need to establish one familiar passing sequence which your group can repeat easily.
Next, announce that you would like to introduce an element of quality control into the sequence. In order to record an official attempt, it is necessary that the item never touches the ground.
Explain, that if the item is dropped or missed at any time, that’s okay – just record the miss, pick up the item and continue on. Then try again, until your group records a clean, no-drop attempt.
Having reinforced the sequence and promoted a sense of high performance, it’s time to raise the stakes – introduce two more items. Yes, that’s right, the group will now juggle three items in a row at the same time.
In practical terms, it looks like this: You start with all three items in your hand, and having attracted the attention of your receiver, you pass the first ball, and then after they have passed it along, you pass the second item to your receiver, and so on.
It’s at this point, you can expect one or more items to either be dropped or collide mid-pass. Clearly, your group is now challenged to juggle all three items as safely as possible, with no drops.
Allow ample time for problem-solving, discussion, trial and error. Competency takes time to develop, so encourage your group to be patient.
Take a look at the Leadership Tips and Variations tabs to become familiar with some powerful, metaphoric variations and useful observations garnered from 30+ years of leading this activity.
Practical Leadership Tips
Works best with groups of no more than 20 people. If you have a large group, divide into smaller groups of 12 to 15 people.
To first establish the sequence, I like to ask everyone to start with one of their hands raised. Then, when an individual receives and passes the tossable, they will keep their hands down. This makes it very easy to identify those who have not been involved in the passing sequence.
I like to model what a useful pass looks like, and if necessary may also accompany this with matching language such as “gentle loop” and not “zing.”
On occasions, a group will quickly cotton on to the idea of re-arranging their circle so that everyone simply passes the tossable to their direct (left or right-hand) neighbour. A great idea, and this will often boost productivity. However, watch what happens next – at some point, your group may challenge the concept of ‘receive’ and ‘pass’ and interpret it to mean to simply pass over or touch one’s hands or fingers. If your program is looking to inspire creativity, you may be okay with this – otherwise, I would encourage you to challenge your group to respect the parameters of the exercise.
Surely it is possible to see why this classic problem-solving exercise is called Group Juggle. If not, stand back from your group as you observe them tossing the items, and you’ll quickly get the idea.
This was one of the first group initiatives I was introduced to as a participant, more than 30 years ago. It’s still a favourite and often features in the programs I lead today, although in one of its many variant forms. Check out the Variations tab for ideas.
You could integrate Group Juggle as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
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
Frustration, persistence, teamwork and focus are just a few of the common issues most groups encounter during this activity. To this end, it is an ideal mechanism to explore what full value means and how to behave as a group.
It is such a dynamic problem-solving activity, your group will have many opportunities to explore certain personal behaviour and social interaction skills during their experience. Adding to the questions described in the Reflection Tips tab, you may also wish to consider framing your group’s experience in the following ways to explore:
Organisation skills – invite your group to set goals and tackle this problem while focused on effectively organising their resources.
Valuing diversity – throwing and catching skills are learned abilities, so how might your group be able to embrace and accommodate all of the different skill levels to be successful?
Teamwork – in what ways can your group develop and nourish positive relationships during this exercise?
Solving problems – invite your group to adopt an effective model for responsible decision-making as they work together to solve the stated problem.
There are just so many variables in this activity to get right, it can be a frustrating experience for many groups and individuals to keep focused and persist. For this purpose, you could open a conversation about strategies that build resilience. For example, the simple request to ask for help (to throw or catch an item) can be a wonderful way to seek support and share the burden of just wanting to give up.
Time Trial: Challenge your group to record the quickest sequence of passes. Ordinarily the time starts when you pass the item, and stops as soon as you receive it back in your hands. Start with one item, and then introduce two or more.
Odd Objects: Deploy a variety of soft tossable items. Koosh balls, fleece-balls, rubber chooks, nerf-balls, etc. Their different weights, sizes and tossabilities will further challenge your group to develop their competency.
Reverse Sequence: In addition to the three existing tossable items, introduce three more items which are passed in the reverse order, ie you pass to the person who you normally receive from, and receive from whom you normally pass to. It helps if you distinguish the ‘normal’ items from the ‘reverse’ items, eg colour, texture, etc. Same rules apply – challenge your group to record as many no-drop attempts as possible.
Mandatory Absences: Only moments before you start a round, request one or more members of your group to depart the circle. And then without further ado, start passing. Observe what happens. How did your group cope with these absences? Did their performance drop, or did one or more people step in to lead the group to a successful conclusion? So much to process in this variation.
The Rumour Mill: Introduce one unique item, such as a rubber chicken, and instruct your group that it is possible to pass this item to anyone at any time. Furthermore, if someone is offered this random pass, they must accept it. Better still, anyone who has received the item must get rid of it within three seconds. Again, observe what happens. Typically, the productivity of the group will plummet as it tries to deal with the random passing of this item. Imagine this random object is a distracting and possibly destructive rumour that is passed around the group. Anyone could choose to toss it away from the group at any time, but most people will feel compelled to keep it in play.
Goal-Oriented: Embracing any one or more of the above variations, provide a very full cup of water to the group. Ask any random person in your group to hold it. Explain that this cup of water is a physical representation of your group’s primary goal (in life, business, etc.) Instruct your group that when the passing commences, the cup of water must be passed in a clockwise direction and must never stop moving, nor should any water ever be permitted to escape from it (it’s that precious.) As a measure of success, your group is challenged to pass this cup of water around the circle as many times as possible before the last ball is passed and received. Play several rounds to record the highest number of (dry) rotations.
2D: Pass the objects by rolling them on the floor/ground, ie you will need to use spherical objects for this purpose. At first, this sounds easy, until you realise that your group will need to micromanage every pass to ensure that no objects touch each other.
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Classic problem-solving exercise to inspire creativity.
Playful group initiative with a difficult solution.
The Passing Game
Small group initiative that demands critical thinking.
Useful Framing Ideas
In life, we all juggle many responsibilities at the same time. Some are personal, some are work-related, and others are social. Yet only one of these many responsibilities can be managed at any point int time. What happens when one of these tasks is dropped or not managed properly? How do we cope with too many things at once? This next exercise will permit us to explore these issues and more…
People respond differently to change. Some are prepared to step in and help out, while others are quite happy to look after their own lot and blame others for not looking after their responsibilities. Some people are very goal-oriented, while others are more concerned with the process. Let’s see how our group manages chance in this next activity…
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 classic problem-solving exercise:
What did it take for your group to become competent, produce regular ‘no-drop’ rounds?
What problems did you encounter, and how did you solve them?
Were there any significant ‘technologies’ or ideas that boosted your performance?
How strictly did your group stick to the parameters of the exercise? Did you take any short-cuts?
How might this exercise reflect the juggling of our real life responsibilities? Explain.
If you choose to adopt one of the more complex variations of this exercise, the following questions may also be helpful to you:
When you learned you needed to juggle the items in reverse, what did you tell yourself?
Were new strategies introduced to maintain a no-drop performance?
How did your group immediately respond when you discovered some people were absent from the group? How does this mirror what happens in your real world?
Why did your group persist to keep passing the rumour around the group? Who could have taken responsibility to stop spreading the rumour?
What was the impact of the random item being passed around? How does this reflect what happens in real life?
On occasions, the cup of water had to wait for people to either pass or receive it? Why?
Did any water spill? What was the cost, and what does this mean in the context of your life/business/classroom?
The inspiration for Group Juggle, and many more simple, yet dynamic group initiatives, was sourced from the following publications: