In advance, lay one rope on the ground/floor in the shape of a square or circle.
Place the second rope in a straight line approx 10 metres (33′) away from the first roped area.
Randomly place a set of 30 poly-spots numbered 1 to 30 inside this roped perimeter.
When ready, invite your group to stand behind the second rope, ie starting line.
Challenge your group to touch as many (if not all) of the 30 spots in order from 1 to 30 in less than 30 seconds.
Announce that the time starts as soon as the first person crosses the starting line and stops when the last person crosses back over the line.
Only one person is entitled to be inside the roped-area at any point in time and only this person is permitted to touch the spots (in sequence from 1 to 30.) Otherwise, declare that round as ‘unofficial.’
Tell your group that they have a total of eight rounds in which to complete the task.
If the whole group does not return behind the starting line in less than 30 seconds, they forfeit one round.
Allow 2 to 3 minutes between each round for your group to plan their process.
Monitor the time your group takes for each round and the degree to which they manage their quality.
Once complete, invite your group to reflect on their experience.
How To Play Narrative
Key Punch represents one of the few iconic group initiatives that people just love to play. It’s fun, engaging, challenging and can be varied in many, many ways.
In advance, you’ll need to lay a very long rope (approx 10-15 metres) on the ground in the shape of a square, rectangle or circle. I prefer a rectangle because it will soon represent a regular keyboard as if belonging to a calculator. It’s up to you.
To this end, randomly place a set of 30 spot-markers or gym-spots inside this shape, each of them marked with a number (facing up) from 1 to 30.
Finally, lay a second rope in a straight line about 10-15 metres away from the calculator and gather your group behind this line.
Adopting a clever scenario or just telling it as it is, announce that the area they can’t see very well is filled with a jumble of 30 spots with the numbers 1 to 30 marked on them.
Explain that the group’s task is to physically touch as many, if not every one of these spots in sequence from 1 to 30 in less than 30 seconds.
The time will start as soon as the first person crosses the start line, and will stop as soon as the last person in the group crosses back on their return.
At first glance, this will seem like a tough challenge, and for most groups, it will be.
To govern fair play, explain two more critical parameters:
Only one person is entitled to stand or be inside the roped-area at any point in time, and only this person is permitted to touch the spots. The person inside the roped-area can change, but there can only ever be one person inside this area at any point in time; and
The spots must be touched in the ordinary sequence of 1 through 30 (in case that wasn’t obvious.)
If one or both of these parameters are infringed, issue a penalty. Ordinarily, I will simply declare that round as ‘unofficial’ and they need to start a new round to record an official attempt.
Give your group the opportunity to use a total of eight rounds in which to complete their task. Oh, and one final very important parameter – at any time the entire group does not return behind the starting line in under 30 seconds, the group will lose or forfeit one round. Ouch, that hurts.
This means, if it takes longer than 30 seconds for every member of the group to cross back over the starting line, the group will lose one round, eg if this occurs during their 2nd round, they lose their 3rd round, and will have only 5 rounds left to play. Like I said, tough.
Allow ample time between each round for your group to discuss strategies and plan their next attempt. Clearly, all of this planning time will occur behind the starting line.
You can expect that your group’s first attempts will be a mix of having achieved a very low tally of touched spots (maybe up to 10 spots) and returning to the starting line after 30 seconds has elapsed. Gradually, their discipline and systems-thinking will improve their performance.
Your role is primarily concerned with recording the time and monitoring the level of integrity your group brings to the exercise, eg did they touch every spot in sequence, and did more than one person stand inside the roped-area at any point in time.
As with all group activities, a more significant role of yours is to pitch the appropriate level of challenge to suit your group’s needs. Many elements can be tweaked to vary the challenge, including the distance between the starting line and the roped-area, the number of spots, the placement of the spots, etc.
Certainly, you can expect there to be many teachable moments in the activity, so be sure to find the time to invite your group to process their experience at the end.
Practical Leadership Tips
If possible, locate the starting line as far away from the roped key punch area so that your group can not read the numbers on the spots.
If you don’t have 30 gym-spots or do not want to write numbers on them, use a bunch of smaller circle-shaped plastic camps, eg tennis ball cans caps. The key is that they do not move on the surface you place them. There will always be a little bit of movement, but you want to avoid any dramatic slipping when they are touched.
Any part of the human body is entitled to touch the spots. Ordinarily, this will mean feet, but on occasions, a good system involving hands works well too.
To be honest, it can sometimes be hard to know if a particular spot was touched (or not) owing to the rush and random nature of the spots. Do your best and, perhaps, err on the side of effort and not so much perfection – unless this is your goal for introducing the exercise.
Note, a switched-on group may game the system to their advantage by using one of their early rounds to study the numbers inside the roped-area for as long as they like, knowing that they will incur a one-round penalty. The penalty will be totally worth it in their opinion. This is true, and entirely permissible – a wonderful example of truly understanding and identifying the problem at hand.
For the record, this initiative was first called Going for Gold because the final 15 spots (16 to 30) were gold-coloured to differentiate them from the first 15 green spots, to add an embedded system to the puzzle. Karl Rohnke observed me presenting this exercise during one of his tours of Australia in the early 1990’s, loved it and promised to feature it in his next book QuickSilver (which was published 1995). True to his word, it did appear in the book, but, by his own admission, forgot the name I gave it. Under pressure to give it a title before publication, it became Key Punch and this name has stuck ever since. He was most embarrassed.
All Hands on Deck: A lesser challenge, allow as many people inside the roped area as desired. The numbers must still be touched in the correct sequence.
Alphabet Challenge: Replace numbers with the letters of the alphabet. In which case, you can challenge your group to touch all of the letters in alphabetical sequence or to spell one or more words, write a sentence, etc.
Key Punch World Record: Permit your group as long as they need to complete the task to touch all 30 of the spots. Their mission is to complete the task as quickly as possible over, say, four rounds.
Systems Thinking: Deliberately place the 30 spots to reflect a specific system or order (instead of random.) For example, here are three common systems I use: place all odd numbers of the left-hand side (even numbers on the right,) all numbers ending in the same last digit lay close to each other (eg 2, 12, 22) and/or lay the numbers in a criss-cross pattern up and down the allocated area (to aid the efficient touching of such numbers.) In most cases, these systems will not be obvious at first, but once observed (or hinted at) the solution becomes a lot quicker to achieve. This set-up may also open up many valuable teachable moments to discuss in your reflection.
Electrified Fence: Announce that the boundaries of the protected area have invisible vertical electric walls. One person is still entitled to enter into the maze but no body part of any other person is permitted to cross over the boundary lest they incur a penalty, ie a team member pointing (over the boundary) to the next spot to be touched. Apply whatever penalty makes sense to you when these infractions occur, eg recognise that attempt as ‘unofficial’ or add 10 seconds to the recorded time, etc.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
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Take a look at Jamboard which is part of Google Chrome’s suite of free apps. It provides synchronous action for all participants once they have clicked on the link you supply, ie this means everyone can view the moves of any participant in real-time.
You can also use Zoom with the annotate function. First, create your randomly distributed set of 30 numbers on a slide which is then shared with your group. One or more people are nominated to be “inside” the circle whose role is to use the annotate function to mark or circle the numbers as they progress from 1 to 30. As host, you can wipe the screen between rounds.
Further to above, to invite greater levels of participation from your group, set some parameters such as:
– Each person must move at least three numbers;
– Certain people are only entitled to move certain numbers, eg Jane can move odd numbers, Pedro is the only one who can move any number with a 7, etc.
Useful Framing Ideas
The company’s IT system has been hacked and a virus has infected everyone’s computers. The only way to stop the virus from spreading is to debug it in a very specific coded sequence…
Did you do the beep test in school? For those who don’t know, this test would measure how quickly you could run between two points on the ground. The challenge gets progressively harder over time. If you happen to be good on your feet, then you’re going to love this next exercise…
The instructions to open a vault of money – a lot of money – has been lost up and only your group can solve the problem. There are a total of 30 combinations and they must be touched in order from 1 to 30, however, a malfunction has occurred and the order of the numbers has been messed up…
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 team-building exercise:
What did your group focus on during its initial planning stages?
What did you learn as the activity progressed (that you did not know in the beginning?)
How were decisions made? Did every idea get acknowledged and/or tried? Why or why not?
Did your group build any systems, and if so, were these beneficial?
How might this exercise reflect something about how your group works together?
Did identifying a system help you?
As noted in the Leadership Tips tab, the initial inspiration for Key Punch was developed by me during my time as a senior trainer for Project Adventure Australia (early 1990s.) It was first called Going for Gold and was later published as Key Punch in the following publication: