In small teams of 8 to 12 people, form one straight line facing the back of the person in front.
Each person holds the hand of the person in front of them and closes their eyes.
Nominate yourself as the ‘sherpa.’
Holding the hand of the person at the front of the line, announce that you will now lead the group on a mystery journey.
At all times, everyone must keep their eyes closes and remain physically connected to the group.
Encourage people to talk, especially to describe obstacles as they are encountered.
Guide the group on a walk for up to 5 minutes, traversing a variety of obstacles, eg steps up/down, furniture, low-hanging branches, etc.
The groups aims to arrive safely at the secret destination.
Once arrived, invite your group to reflect and discuss what they experienced on the walk.
Video Transcript for Sherpa Walk
presented by Nate Folan
Once again there is a variety of ways that we communicate and that we lead, and there’s an opportunity for this. In this activity though each person will likely have a chance to lead and a chance to follow. In between all of that there’s always an opportunity to communicate.
The way this is going to work starting with your line-ups as they are right now, we’re going to invite every single person except for the first person in line to shut their eyes. So in just a minute but not yet I’m going to invite everyone except for the first person in line to shut their eyes.
What’ll happen from that point on the person that’s at the very front of the line is the leader. The leader is going to have their eyes open and they can communicate verbally just like anyone else in the line. You can communicate verbally.
The leader is going to take you wherever they want to go, however they want to. It’s their choice. A couple of guidelines with this. The group needs to be intact, so hands on shoulders. At any point if you feel like there’s a separation just yell “Stop” to your group. Hopefully they’ll stop. You could open your eyes at the moment, reconnect, and continue. Okay?
If at any point you feel like the pace or the way that the group is going is not right for you as well from a safety perspective, and that’s both physical, social, emotional safety and so on, is that you have the opportunity and actually a requirement to say “Stop” if it’s not working for you so you can reassess as a group.
At some point the person that is leading this train so to speak will say “Stop” and they’re going to switch out. And just as a simple procedure to this the person at the front of the line will move to the end of the line. The person that’s now the new front will open their eyes, everyone else will keep their eyes shut continuing on.
And I actually invite you, perhaps even ask that during that exchange that everyone else will keep their eyes shut during that time so that you just have a sense of a different leadership through a non-sighted perspective.
Last piece with this, the timing on switching that front person is on you. We’ll do this for a few minutes but the invitation is to work around this space here. I find that during this exercise that working with different types of terrain are valuable. So you can notice some slight hills or humps over here. You might move… transition from grass to concrete or pavement. So looking for those opportunities…
Are there any questions? Alright, enjoy your journey.
(people forming sherpa walk)
(people continuing on their sherpa walk in different ways)
How To Play Narrative
Imagine oxygen masks, walking sticks, snowshoes and heavy woollen jackets – prepare your group for a stroll through the Himalayas, or any other open terrain you care to conquer!
Before setting off, you need a sherpa, that is, a person who is renowned for their skill in high-altitude mountaineering to guide your group on this epic trek. Often, as the facilitator, you will be the best judge of an appropriate mystery route, but you may also select a responsible member from the group whom you believe will undertake this task.
Ask your group to form a line, and grab the hand of the person in front of them, or place a hand on their partner’s shoulder, whatever is more comfortable. Everyone closes their eyes (or pulls down their blindfolds) and, on your lead, prepares to follow the person in front of them.
As the lead, talk frequently to the front blindfolded person and inform them of dips in the path, overhanging shrubs, obstacles to step over, etc. Most folks will cotton on to the idea that they should pass this information ‘down the line,’ but that doesn’t always happen.
The route you choose can be short or long, arduous or gentle, it’s up to you and your judgement of what would be an appropriate challenge for your group. It’s useful to provide moments along the journey in which some people’s comfort zones will be stretched – physically and/or emotionally.
As you can imagine, many connections can be drawn from the journey to ‘real-life’ experiences and may form the foundation of some interesting discussion points. Such as, how did you cope when faced with an obstacle, what supports were necessary to help you succeed, and when did your communication work best?
Like most things, the value of an experience is found in the journey and, not necessarily, the destination.
Practical Leadership Tips
People are permitted, indeed, encouraged to talk. Yet, I find it a strange thing that when you take someone’s vision away, most people also tend to lose their ability to speak as well!
My suggestion – don’t tell your group what they are about to do. Have them form a line, hold hands and close their eyes, and let the rest occur as an adventure (unanticipated outcome.)
This exercise is a wonderful method of moving your group from one place to another, or perhaps onto the next activity located elsewhere.
On occasions, some people will peek under their blindfolds, or simply open their eyes for a moment. Obviously, this is not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. If you sense that this may occur, ask those people whom feel tempted to take a peek, to look directly above them, rather than around their periphery.
You could integrate Sherpa Walk as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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 complexities of this fun group initiative invite group members 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?
How effective was your communication? Provide examples.
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of the group’s success? How?
Any time one or more people have their eyes closed in an activity is a time to focus your group’s attention on safety. In the context of this activity, physical safety is obvious but equally important is the emotional and mental safety of your participants. Consider your lead-up activities before launching into a Sherpa Walk as much as the dominant cultural norms of your group (see above.) When you observe one or more folks leading others deliberately into some form of harm, this would be a good time to stop the exercise and process the impact of these decisions on the group. For example, what is the impact on the development of trust in the group when you witness one group member causing harm to another? Many safety issues strike at the heart of the behavioural norms of the group.
Follow My Voice: Lead your blindfolded group members only by verbal commands, that is, offer no physical assistance at all.
Paired Walk: Form pairs and invite one person to be blindfolded at a time. The sighted person leads their partner verbally (not physically) on a journey from A to B via a series of obstacles and challenges.
Blind Maze: Take a look at The Maze for multiple variations of the classic group blindfold challenge.
Fun, trust-building navigation exercise for partners.
TP Shuffle On A Rope
Accessible & fun variation of popular group initiative.
Ground-based challenge to foster planning & creativity.
Useful Framing Ideas
I think that climbing Mt Everest would have to be one of the most challenging and amazing experiences a human could ever undertake. Very few people attempt this mammoth feat, and fewer still manage to reach the summit. And it is clear from the many tales that are told of these journeys that one of the most successful ways to climb the world’s tallest mountain is to enlist the support of a sherpa – a member of the east Nepalese community who are renowned for their skill in high-altitude mountaineering in the Himalayas. We won’t be scaling the same heights as Mt Everest today, but I would like to give you the experience of what it’s like to follow in the steps of a sherpa…
Even when our eyes are closed, our brain-generated thoughts still manage to conjure all sorts of obstacles in our path that are simply made up and imagined. Yet, our brain will force us to negotiate these obstacle as if they were real. Here’s an example of what I mean…
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, group blindfold initiative:
Was your group successful? How do you define success?
What strategies did your group use to communicate the passing of obstacles? Were they effective?
How did you support one another throughout the exercise?
Would you change anything about your process next time, to be more successful?
What are three key principles about effective communication which this activity highlights?
The inspiration for Sherpa Walk, and many more challenging group initiatives, was sourced from the following publication: