One person identifies an object that is at least 50 metres away.
This person will then close their eyes, or put on a blindfold, and aim to walk in a straight line directly towards the object, stopping directly in front of it.
Meanwhile, the sighted person will walk silently behind their partner and prevent the latter from hitting any unforeseen obstacles.
Note the results of each attempt they make, observing accuracy, biases, etc.
Swap roles and repeat several times.
Video Transcript for Pairs Compass Walk Trust-Building Exercise presented by Mark Collard
In this exercise, working in pairs, we’re going to invite you now to test… to test your navigational skills, but in the dark. Now most animals are pretty good at navigating their way through the dark, but I can guarantee that as humans we’re not particularly good at this.
That’s why they invented the GPS and the compass. So if you’re lost and you think we should go this way and your compass says you should go that way, trust the compass. That’s what you’re going to do.
So we’re going to test those intuitions, that instinct for direction. Here’s how it works. Scott and I might be partners. One of us will elect to volunteer to be blindfolded. I don’t actually have blindfolds, if you don’t mind just simply closing your eyes.
I’m going to nominate to Scott, for example, I might say that lovely conifer, directly in the middle of it, wherever that trunk is, that’s where I’m going to walk. So he knows that’s where I’m going to go.
I then prepare. I can have my bumpers up if you choose, but there’s really not many opportunities to bump in. So feel free to keep them down. But have your eyes closed.
So there’s two things you’re trying to work out. One is the distance, and two is the direction. Your object is to try and get as close to those two things as you can. Scott’s role is to walk behind me. And I want to point that out, it’s behind, not to the side or in front, because that may influence me. If he’s behind me, I really am on my own trying to navigate my way there.
Here’s there for my safety. If for any reason I happen to go way off course and should bang into something or someone, he at the very last moment, the 11th hour, will say stop. That will be an instruction for you to stop and don’t go any further.
Now I would suggest if that happens early in the piece, keep your eyes closed and then suggest, okay, clearly I’m off track and you may wish to re-establish yourself without opening your eyes to continue on your way. The other time he will stop me is if I’m about to actually hit my target, like bang straight into something else.
So as best as you possibly can, your opportunity is to stand directly in front of the thing that you said you’re aiming for. Once you get there, it’s your partner’s turn to do the same thing. Identify whatever it is, from a water bottle or a bag of balls to a tree and telephone pole and so forth.
My only suggestion is make it a long way away. The shorter it is, the easier it becomes. So make it challenging. Make it the other side of the field or something of that nature. So as I said, swap it over, and you probably have time to do it at least once if not twice over the next few minutes.
(people practising Pairs Compass walk trust-building exercise)
So just out of interest, as you were aiming towards a point, you possibly were either right on it, you were biased to the left or biased to the right. Hands up those folks who managed pretty much straight on it. Okay, one or two people, great. Who perhaps biased a little to the left?
(That was me there.)
Okay. What about biased to the right? Few of you, okay. Here’s the next task. For those folks who were biased to the right, find someone who’s biased to the left, and then vice versa of course. If you’re in the centre, it’ll just be how all the numbers work out, but you’ll end up with someone who has a different bias to you.
Now, for example, let’s say Scott is either smack on or he biased a little to the right, and I’m definitely way to the left. We will now hold hands. Okay, we’re both fighting over this because we both want to do the male-dominated version.
So we now pick together with our eyes open… okay, I’m going to go for that cypress tree. Great. We get ourselves ready. We do whatever we need to do to plan. We can talk all the way, but we can’t look.
So we’re going to be in groups of three on this occasion. We’ll have one person to protect us, and then off you go. Same exercise and see how you go. And note and observe what occurs, not only between your partnership, but as an observer what you’re actually seeing as well. Okay?
(people practising Pairs Compass Walk trust-building exercise
How To Play Narrative
Ask your group to divide into pairs.
To start, one person identifies a distant object from across the space – a tree, a rock, a door, etc – and announces the object to their partner.
With their eyes completely closed (no peeking) they begin to move slowly and directly towards it. Their aim is to walk ‘straight’ to the object, stopping directly in front of it, to test their ability to judge the distance and direction accurately.
To ensure a safe arrival, the sighted partner follows their blindfolded partner silently from behind. They cannot verbally or physically assist their partner, rather their role is to prevent their partner from encountering any ‘unplanned’ obstacles by stopping them just short of a collision, ie they are a spotter.
This activity works best if the targets are at least 50 – 100 metres (160′ – 330′) away, so it is ideally played outside.
Instruct the ‘spotters’ to observe and note the tendency for their partners to veer either left or right, and to what extent. The looks on people’s faces when they discover how far off they were from their target is priceless. Full circles are not uncommon.
Invite each partner to test their internal compass skills several times.
Follow-up with a good-natured discussion about what people discovered about their sense of direction.
Then, focus your debrief on what helped and/or hindered the process of travelling to the target and the consequential development of trust.
Practical Leadership Tips
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, use the real thing, actual blindfolds.
Choose a really large, open space to present this exercise. Smaller spaces, especially those indoors, will not deliver the value this activity is designed to provide.
Even standing in the middle of a really wide open space, encourage your group to choose objects which are a long way away – the further the better.
It may seem to make more sense to protect one’s partner by walking to their front or side, but in my experience, this practice tends to crookedly influence the blind person’s direction and is therefore not recommended.
Note, it is not the sighted person’s role to guide – either physically or verbally – their blindfolded partner to their target. The former is asked to simply ensure their partner’s safety. To this end, if the blindfolded person is about to hit an obstacle, the sighted person must stop them.
Suggest that if the eyes of the blindfolded person are opened – for any reason – they should start over, rather than correct their aim and continue their march forward.
Paired-Pairs: Ask two people (possibly with opposite biases) to walk hand in hand. Their original partners will walk directly behind the two co-joined people to make observations, and ensure their safe progress.
Group Challenge: Take a look at Group Compass Walk to explore the group initiative form of this exercise.
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Useful Framing Ideas
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…
How often have you tried to give someone directions, only to be told by a third person that the direction you are pointing at is not correct? A similar situation often occurs between the navigator and the driver of a car – one person says go this way, while the other person wants to go another. It can be frustrating to say the least, especially, when you think you are right! Well, you won’t be able to hide in this next exercise – your ability to accurately judge the distance and direction towards an object will be on display for everyone to see…
Most of us know that, from our perspective here on earth, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Yet, at night-time, or at any time when our eyes are closed, most of us are pretty much in the dark when it comes to knowing which way is up. Naturally, some of us are better than others, so this exercise will provide an opportunity to discover for yourself how good your internal compass really is…
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 did you notice as the blind person travelling to your nominated destination?
Did you progress in a straight line, or did you bias to the left or right?
Which sense was more accurate for you – direction or distance?
Did anything help or hinder your attempts to arrive at your destination?
What was the impact of having someone look out for your safety as you navigated in the dark?
Simple, Interactive ‘Trust-Building’ Program
What You Need: 8+ people, 40 mins
Star Stretch– sequenced partner exercise to build balance & trust
Lean Walk– simple partner exercise which teaches trust & reliance