In advance, tie two ends of a long rope together to form large circle.
Lay rope on ground so that it appears like several loops piled on top of one another.
Gather group around the rope.
Ask each person to grab one section of the rope opposite them with both hands.
As people stand, the rope should appear heavily criss-crossed between their hands.
Instruct your group to unravel the rope as best they can.
No one is permitted to let go of the rope at any time, but may slide their hands along the rope if necessary.
The task is complete once the rope is untangled and everyone is facing inside the circle.
Video Transcript for Knot My Problem
presented by Nate Folan
I’m just going to grab that rope over here that I’ve nicely set up. You can see it’s a coil of rope or a circle of rope. There’s a knot in it, and it’s a square knot with a backup. I’m just going to place this among our cards. The other piece is you’ve got these cards as a reminder of value in that regard.
Often times a circle can be a symbol of community and connection and I want to invite you into this activity thinking about what that means to be connected to a community. That’s your interpretation whatever it is.
In just a minute but not yet I’m going to invite everyone to make their way in towards this rope circle, reach across the rope and grab a section of rope. And as you’re doing that different arms and hands are coming in to grab a section of rope.
Before we move from this position I’m just going to make sure everyone’s hands are on it. What that might mean is that someone might need to take a piece of rope, bring it out just a little bit and hand to an extra layer of people just because not everyone may be able to circle around this right away.
But one hand on the rope, and once everyone’s hands are on the rope I’m going to invite you to stand up slowly so that we’re aware of other people and we’re not just pulling on one another, keeping your hand where it is and then I’ll give further instruction.
Any questions with that? Okay. Let’s try it. So go and come on in. Grab across the rope. Help others get connected to the rope.
(people grabbing rope to set up Knot My Problem)
Try to keep the rope intact as much as possible and extending out sections to other people. Great. So at this point is everyone connected to the rope? Great. And at this point the question to you is keeping your hands where they are what do you see when you look at the rope? What things come up for you?
It’s a mess. What else?
Knots. What’s that, Steph?
(Different movement trying to get through this… kinda)
Different movement. You’re on your way.
So in just a minute we will be working through this. Some groups that we worked with they see in basic terms one of two things, either a challenge or an opportunity. Sometimes a challenge sounds like it’s a mess, it’s a knot. Ugh, like that. Other times people see the opportunity that connecting this, the ability to work with one another. You’ll determine that based on your actions.
From this point your hand is stuck where it is, however it can slide. So your hand cannot come off the rope but it can slide along the rope to adjust and to accommodate. Your other hand you might use to move the rope to make some of the holes in it to be bigger or shorter, because ultimately what you’re trying to do here, your objective, is to undo this knot while staying connected to it while communicating with one another and so on to the point where this entire rope forms a large circle and that everyone is still connected to that with their hand.
Certainly there’s safety to consider, just being aware of where each other are and what’s needed as you move through the rope. So consider how you would support one another and want to be supported, but when you’re ready you can start working towards that solution.
(people un-knotting rope to solve Knot My Problem)
You all want to clap right now but you’re stuck on the rope, is that it?
How To Play Narrative
This exercise is a wonderfully accessible variation of the classic group initiative Human Knot (see Leadership Tips for why it’s become so popular.)
In advance, you need to tie the ends of a long rope (approx 10+ metres or 30′) together to form a large rope circle. Then, lay this bundle of rope on the ground in such a way that it appears as if several rope coils are sitting atop one another.
Gather your group around the rope, and ask them to step forward and grasp one section of rope with both hands. This exercise works best if you encourage your group to grab a piece of the rope which lays furthest away from them, ie the arms of most people will cross one another.
Clasping the rope, and not letting go, ask your group to stand up. From a bird’s eye perspective, the rope should appear heavily tangled and criss-crossed between your group’s many hands.
From here, explain that your group’s task is to work together to untangle the rope so that it will form one large circle. Naturally, there are a few guidelines to govern fair play:
No one may let go of the rope at any time.
Each person is entitled to slide their hand up or down the rope (but never let go.)
For the uninitiated, expect a few groans and complaints at first, but before too long, most groups work out what needs to be done. Individuals will necessarily have to follow the rope wherever it goes, which includes stepping over or under other people and through rope ‘holes.’
The group is done when the rope is fully untangled to become one large circle, with everyone facing the inside.
As with the original Human Knot, you are strongly encouraged to invite your group to reflect on their process of solving the problem (or not) to explore issues of communication, collaboration, roles, decision-making and accountability.
Practical Leadership Tips
While Human Knot was, and continues to be, a valuable problem-solving activity, it does by its very nature limit the number of people it can involve at any one time (normally 12 people maximum) and would subject many participants to long periods of discomfort or, at a minimum, sweaty hands. For these reasons alone, Knot My Problem is a terrific alternative.
In case it’s not obvious, a group may not untie the knot that connects the rope circle in their efforts to untangle the rope.
Groups of more than 15 to 20 people can be tough for every person to feel included. If you have a large group, create two or more smaller groups.
Given the physicality a solution to this exercise demands, keep an eye out that people move safely in and out of the rope, and for the inclination of some people to pull on the rope excessively.
Remind people that they are entitled to shift the position of the wrists (if they are uncomfortable,) so long as they do not let go of the rope.
Lesser Challenge: Allow individuals to grab a piece of the rope that is close to them, instead of reaching over the top of other people’s arms.
Knot First Aid: Allow the group to untie the rope knot once only in an effort to break an impasse in their problem-solving abilities.
Handicapped Challenge: As with many other initiatives, remove one or more faculties from your group, such as verbal communication (mute) or vision (blind) to ramp up the challenge.
Follow-Up Sequence: Take a look at Yurt Circle to represent an ideal follow-up to this exercise, and then use Pass The Knot Debrief to process your group’s experience because they will be perfectly set-up to start.
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Useful Framing Ideas
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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 terrific problem-solving exercise:
What helped the group to be successful in this activity?
What was your group’s greatest challenge? How did you overcome those challenges?
Did every person have an equal and valued role in the exercise? What was the impact?
What do you think your group needs to work on the most now?
The inspiration for Knot My Problem, and many other innovative problem-solving activities, was sourced in the following publication: