In advance, lay a long rope on the floor/ground to form a large circle.
Collect and number as many spot markers as you have people in your group.
Randomly distribute the numbered spot markers inside the circle.
Ask each person to stand on top of one of the spot markers.
When ready, instruct each individual to move to and touch every other spot in the ascending order of the numbers.
For example, the person standing on spot #8 will move to 9, 10, 11 and 12 (presuming there are 12 people in the group,) before moving to 1, 2, 3 through to 8.
As soon as an individual has touched all of the spot-markers and returns to their own, they will exit the circle.
Challenge your group to perform this task as accurately and as fast as possible.
Furthermore, challenge your group to solve this problem without stepping outside of the (roped) circle or touching any other person in the process (touching elsewhere within the circle is permitted.)
Encourage your group to make as many attempts as possible within a specified time period, aiming to improve their performance with each attempt.
Allow ample time for planning and problem-solving.
How To Play Narrative
If you are familiar with the classic Key Punch group initiative, then you’re going to enjoy this wonderful variation.
To prepare, lay a long length of rope (at least 7 metres or 24′) on the floor/ground and randomly place an equal number of numbered spot markers as you have people in your group, eg if you have 12 people, the spot markers will be labelled 1 through 12.
When ready, explain to your group that they are about to enter an invisible maze and that the route of the maze is marked by the set of numbered spots which lay before them.
Announce that your group’s objective is to pass through the maze in the fastest possible time.
To begin timing the task, each team member must enter the maze (from standing outside it) and stand on any one of the numbered spots. Only after all the spots are covered, may each team member begin to move completely through the maze, from spot to spot in ascending order.
For example, presuming a group of 12 people, explain that a person standing on spot marker #8 must first move to #9, then 10, 11 and 12, and then 1, 2, 3, etc before returning to their own spot.
This task is fun enough on its own, but there’s more – add two further parameters to ramp up the challenge:
No person is entitled to touch any other team member while negotiating the maze; and
No one may step outside the circle while passing through the maze.
Provided these two parameters are met, an individual is permitted to stand anywhere else inside the (roped) circle in an effort to solve the problem.
Only after everyone has returned to their original spot may all team members exit the maze.
To be clear, the time will be measured from the moment the first team member enters the maze (rope circle) until the moment the last team member exits it.
Provide ample opportunities for your group to identify the various problems and time to plan and solve them.
Normally, I allow up to 20 minutes, inviting my group to have at least 3 or 4 ‘official’ attempts during this period, aiming to achieve their fastest time possible.
If possible, find time to invite your group to reflect on their process of solving problems and working together. Refer to the Reflection Tips tab for some useful starting points.
Practical Leadership Tips
Given the objective to record a fast time, beware that people may purposefully or inadvertently collide with others. For purposes of safety or to simply slow things down, instruct everyone to perform the task using ‘pigeon steps’ – heel (of one foot) touching toe (of other foot) on every step. This parameter will definitely slow things down and create a different dynamic.
Feel free to issue your own brand of penalties for particular infringements. For example, you may add 5 seconds for every instance in which a person steps outside of the circle while they are negotiating the maze.
Clearly, the ‘honour system’ is heavily relied upon here. It would be very difficult for you, or any facilitator, to police the exact path of every person in the group to know with precision if the several parameters were met, or not. Ideally, invite your group to monitor its own quality control, but naturally, you will make your own observations, too. Manage appropriately.
It is not necessary to jump between spots. Not only would this become a little dangerous, but the distance between certain spots would prohibit this even being possible (on most occasions.)
The set-up of Pressure Cooker visually resembles the famous Key Punch group initiative. You can use the same resources.
You could integrate Pressure Cooker as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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
The dynamics of this fun group initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with each other in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
Generally speaking, how did the group make decisions? How were all members involved?
Describe your group’s goal-setting process?
Was everyone fully aware of the group’s goal? If not, why not?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Were there moments of accountability that concerned you? Why?
This is a tough challenge to complete, so it will test your group’s patience and resilience. To this end, you may wish to present this exercise as an opportunity to (a) explore effective strategies in advance that build resilience (ie to practice during the activity) and/or (b) to explore the triggers and impacts of when one is unable to cope with frustration and events that may be out of your control. From my experience, the most common frustrations lie in the tension between planning and execution. Striking the right balance between these two necessary elements can be tough for some groups.
Target Practice: Ask your group to set a target time at the beginning of each attempt. The implication here is that you want your group to do more than continuously improve, but aspire to higher ambitions.
All Together: Everyone jumps or steps onto their next spot at the same time. To help your group manage this extremely difficult task, permit them to jump/step anywhere inside the (roped) circle that is not a spot directly before they jump onto their next spot. In effect, each person lands on a spot with every second jump. Challenge your group to complete this task with every member of the group landing on their spot at the same time.
Metronome: As for above option, but every move, jump or step is timed to match a beat, ie every member of the group lands on their spot (or elsewhere within the circle) at exactly the same time. Introduce an actual metronome to keep the beat, or simply clap your hands, roughly every 2 seconds.
Original Set-Up: Take a look at Key Punch to explore the classic group initiative on which this exercise was based.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Let’s imagine you are a group of town planners trying to work out the best way of negotiating a busy metro train station…
For most problems, there may exist a series of tasks that needs to be completed in a particular order. This next exercise reflects this scheduling imperative as much as the pressure of aiming to continuously improve…
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 challenging group initiative:
What observations did you make during the exercise?
What were the greatest challenges you faced as a group? As an individual?
Comment on your group’s process of working together to solve the problem, ie did you work as individuals, or as a team?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your group’s level of quality control?
Why is truthfulness, honesty or integrity important?
When is it okay to ‘cut corners’ so to speak? When is it unacceptable?
Can you apply any lessons from this exercise to the life of our group?
The inspiration for Pressure Cooker was sourced from Neil Mercer, an enthusiastic playmeo member who wanted to share one of his favourite group initiatives with others.