In advance, make a list of 10 valuable characteristics of high performance teams, eg respect, communication, honesty, etc.
Write each attribute on two index cards (to use all 20 cards.)
Out of view of your group, lay these cards face-down, randomly in 4 rows of 5 cards.
Gather your group behind a boundary line, no closer than 4 metres in front of the (face-down) cards.
Challenge you group to identify and match all ten pairs of hidden cards as quickly as possible.
To begin, one person may approach the cards and turn (only) two cards over to reveal the words on the other side.
If the words match, the cards may remain turned over (face up,) otherwise, both cards must be turned face-down again.
The person flipping the cards can talk and show the turned-over cards to their group, before returning to the group inviting a new person to have a go.
One at a time, the members of the group take their turn to flip two cards attempting to reveal a match.
Play continues until all ten pairs have been revealed.
Process your group’s experience, or consider one of the variations to draw even more value from the exercise.
Video Transcript for Memory Card Game
presented by Mark Collard
So we have three groups that have been randomly created, and in a moment for each of your three groups I’m going to create an area that you’re going to work with. Right now I’ve just set up one of the areas.
In a moment once I’ve introduced the activity each of your groups is going to have two minutes maximum to plan how you plan to solve this problem. That is you won’t be able to enter into this space so that will give me time to set up the other two areas. But for now I’ve got one area set up completely.
So you have a group that’s behind a line. One person at a time… One person at a time is entitled to move past this line, come over to these 24 face-down index cards and pick up two cards.
This activity is very similar to the activity your grandmother possibly played with you when she was babysitting you. My grandma would come out with a silver tray with ten items. She would ask me to study it for about a minute before placing a tea towel over the top and then saying okay, How many of them can you remember? It is a memory task.
Your memory task here is to remember where the cards are because within these 24 cards there are 12 pairs of words or phrases… 12 pairs of words or phrases. So you will pick up two cards. You are welcome to talk, you can show the cards, you can do whatever you want, but only one person can be over here at a time.
The way it works is every time you turn two cards over that are a match, those cards can remain turned over faced up so everyone can see that match. More often than not the two that you turn over in the beginning are going to be different in which case both of them must be turned back down.
You won’t be changing the positions, in fact I would argue you shouldn’t, because you will then know where one particular card is if you remember it depending on your strategy and where the other card is.
That one person will race back. Only when that person has come back a new person can come forward and maybe you remember where one of those cards are and earlier on where the other card, it’s pair, is. There are 12 pairs.
You continue through the process inviting each person in your group as many times as is necessary to have a turn at turning these over. Just by virtue of the fact that I’ve put you into three groups immediately makes you think of what?
It’s a competition. It is in effect that we’re looking for the fastest time but I have more to share with this exercise once it’s been completed to this level. Any questions at this point?
(Do you have to flip them both at the same time?)
Yes. Both must be flipped at the same time. Great question. Thank you.
(Do you have to come back after you’ve flipped the cards?)
No, you must be swapping off, Jimmy. Are there any other questions?
If not while I set up the other two sets of cards… by the way, the cards are the same. You have exactly the same 12 phrases or words. They’ll all just clearly be in a different order so there’s no point looking at anyone else. They’ll be completely random.
You have two minutes while I set up the other two activities. Stay within your space and think about your strategy because once the time starts the time then starts ticking. Go.
Are there any other questions, any clarification before we start?
Alright, to just remind you, one person at a time is entitled to cross the line. They must turn two cards over at the same time. If they match they may remain face up, if not back down. They go back. A new person comes out. Continue that process until all 12 pairs have been matched. If there’s no other questions time starts… now!
(people playing Memory Card Game)
Alright, two more to go. Yes!
I think everyone can hear me from here. So your first task at this point was to just collapse each of the 12 pairs into 12 sets of cards. It won’t matter what colour is showing.
We’ve just made up these terms but it’s clear there’s a theme for each of the 12 things that we’ve written. They all relate to team effectiveness or development of groups, things that help them be successful.
Your next task is as a group, and we’ll end up more than likely with three different answers to this, is that you’ve starting with 12 characteristics or attributes of effective or successful teams, your group’s task over the next couple of minutes is to talk and achieve as much consensus as possible as to which five are the most important.
That is without these five attributes a team cannot be successful. You’re going to have to give up seven. You’re going to have to argue the case for why you keep those five and why you have to let go of the other seven, and as much as possible achieve consensus for that purpose.
Take the next couple of minutes chitty-chatting about which five you’re going to keep.
How To Play Narrative
This is one of those simple exercises that punches well above its weight in terms of impact.
In advance, make a list of ten words or phrases which reflect the attributes or characteristics of high performance teams.
To save time, download the Print+Play sheet located under the Resources tab, or you could simply refer to this list:
Next, write each word or phrase on two index cards, to produce 10 sets of pairs (or 20 cards in total.)
Out of view of your group, lay these cards (on a table or on the ground) face-down and randomly in 4 rows of 5 cards – no words should be showing.
Gather your group and ask them to stand behind a boundary line (or rope) situated about 4 metres (13′) away from the cards.
Explain that the group’s goal is to identify and match all ten pairs of attributes hidden among the 20 cards as quickly as possible.
To achieve this goal, explain that one person at a time is entitled to approach the cards and turn (only) two cards over to reveal the words on the other side. If the words match, the cards may remain turned over (face up), otherwise, both cards must be turned face-down again.
This first person returns to their group behind the boundary line, and a new person approaches the cards to reveal two more cards, and so on, in their attempt to reveal two matching cards.
Note, the person turning over the cards can talk and show the turned-over cards to their group if they choose.
Play continues until all ten pairs have been revealed and are facing up.
Practical Leadership Tips
To get started, download a sheet of up to 12 characteristics which you can print or paste onto a set of index cards (see Resources tab.) Produce two copies.
There is no limit to the number of characteristics or attributes you may choose to write on the cards. But to give some substance to the exercise, you want at least eight.
Generally speaking, this exercise works best with 4 to 8 people in a group for quality interaction purposes. That is, the more people involved, the more likely some people may become disengaged.
Technically, I do prefer that people flip over two cards at the same time (rather than one at a time,) but this is up to you. Two at a time is more challenging, and saves time.
I strongly recommend the variation of this exercise (see Variations tab) in which, after the task is completed, you ask your group to agree on their top five choices of the most important qualities of high performance teams. The conversations which have followed have been deep and meaningful, and has often moved a group to explore what values really matter to them the most.
As a young boy, I can recall my grandmother would place ten items on a tray and ask me to memorise them, before placing a tea-towel over the top and asking me to remember them all. Annoyingly frustrating, but fun. We played it a lot when I visited her. A simple re-working of this classic game, it can now be enjoyed by small teams of people to develop team skills.
Any Attributes: Any set of related words, objects or images can be used to the same effect.
Time Trial: Repeat the exercise several times, challenging your group to record their quickest time.
Blind Flipping: The person engaged in turning over the cards is not permitted to talk or show the cards to their group, thereby heightening the need for effective communication and problem-solving strategies.
Challenge Less: To make the task easier, remove the boundary line and invite your group to stand or sit within easy reach of the cards. As above, one person in turn may flip the cards at any point in time.
Challenge More: To make the task harder, involve more pairs of cards (for example, 40 cards featuring 20 attributes) or produce 3 or 4 cards of each attribute, meaning that each person is entitled to reveal 3 (or 4) cards at a time.
Multiple Teams: For large groups, divide into several teams, each with their own set of identical cards to pair. The quickest team to match all pairs wins (if this is important.)
What’s More Important 1: After all pairs have been revealed, ask your group to agree on which five characteristics (of the ten) represent the most important elements of high-performance teams. Invite the group to achieve consensus if at all possible. The conversation is significantly more important than the list developed.
What’s More Important 2: To extend the challenge above, ask your group to whittle their top five characteristics down to three only. Again, a discussion about what your group values is more important than ‘getting it right.’
No Memory Required: Take a look at Values Stock Market to enjoy another group initiative which may inspire a conversation about what your group values.
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Useful Framing Ideas
You may recall a fun little game your grandmother may have played with you, in which she would place ten items on a tray and ask you to memorise them, before taking them away. Your task was to remember all of the items. This next exercise is a little bit like that…
Have you ever lost your keys and felt 100% certain that they were in a particular spot, but when you looked, they weren’t there? This experience is likely to repeat itself a number of times. It will challenge you to remember a bunch of different objects in different places, and together with your team, you will try to figure it all out…
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 wonderful group initiative game:
What strategies helped your group identify pairs of cards quickly?
What challenges did you encounter?
Was there ever a time the group could not agree where a particular card was located? What does this say to you?
If you were to repeat the exercise, what would you do differently?
If you asked your group to nominate their top five (or three) characteristics of a successful team, you may also find value in these questions:
How did your group come to a decision?
What obstacles did you experience to reach consensus?
Do you think there is one right answer to this exercise? Why or why not?
The inspiration for the Memory Card Game was sourced from Jim Cain on his first visit to Australia.