Place a series of gym-spots or carpet tiles on the floor arranged in several rows and columns.
Starting at one end of the spots, instruct your group to navigate their way through the maze – one step at a time – to identify the secret pathway.
Announce that the path will not travel in a straight line, it will never cross itself, and will not use any spot twice.
Only one person is permitted inside the maze at any point in time.
When a spot is stepped on with two feet, you (as instructor) will indicate if it is part of the secret pathway or not.
Apply an appropriate penalty for each step made in error.
Challenge your group to identify the secret pathway in as few errors/steps as possible.
How To Play Narrative
In advance, lay a series of rubber gym-spots or carpet tiles or simply draw chalk circles on the floor, arranged in rows and columns (download a sample maze from Resources tab) close enough that you can easily step between them.
There’s no magic number, but the more spots, the more difficult the task will be.
Start your group at one end of the spots, and explain that you would like them to navigate their way through the maze – one step at a time – to identify the secret pathway.
Announce that the correct path starts with one of the spots in the top row (closest to the group,) and will finish with one of the spots which form the final row. How the path travels between those two points is a secret (and the whole point of the exercise.)
Explain that the path will not run in a straight line, and may turn in any direction, but it will never cross itself, nor use any spot twice. Also explain that once identified, the path will not change.
Instruct your group that only one person is permitted to enter or be inside the maze of spots at any point in time. To this end, the group may choose to task several people to navigate the path, but only ever one person at a time.
Announce that every time a spot is stepped on (with both feet,) you will either give the thumbs up (yes, part of the path) or thumbs down (no, not the correct path.)
Tally the number of ‘errors,’ challenging the group to navigate the path with as few errors or steps as possible.
This is the basic set-up. To ramp-up the challenge, try something new or different from the Variations tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
This is an ideal problem-solving exercise when you don’t have a lot of room to use. Indeed, I have used it on the deck of a tall-ship where there was rarely more than three metres (10′) of width anywhere.
The instruction that both feet are firmly planted on a particular spot is important because it denotes commitment. Simply touching another spot with the toe of one foot is not enough confirm intentions.
For fun, I have used a squeaky toy which is squeezed when the group steps on a spot that is not a part of the correct path.
Note, like many problem-solving activities, this activity and its execution are wonderfully applicable to many a metaphor. Consider some of the framings described below for some powerful examples. There are ample opportunities to debrief your group’s experience around these and many other themes.
You could integrate The Maze 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:
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
As a simple, yet dynamic group initiative, it is clear that the focus required to plan, interact and make decisions as a group absolutely speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of clarity in their communication, before during and after the event, and then importantly, relate these principles to their communication patterns in real life.
The rule that requires the person in the centre to retrace their steps out of the maze (when they make an error) and start again is a powerful tool for exploring accountability. Accountability is built into the design of this exercise. Invite your group to reflect on what it takes to be accountable for one’s actions, what is at stake, and the benefits which flow from making such decisions.
In practical terms, there is no way to complete this task without making mistakes. Learning the correct pathway forward can only be discovered by stepping on the wrong spots along the way, which is a powerful teachable moment for any program that is aiming to build resilience.
Stepping Back: Each time an error is made (eg stepped on the wrong spot, or perhaps in the wrong sequence,) require the stepper to retrace their correct steps back out of the maze returning to the start.
Quality Assurance: Establish a maximum number of ‘errors’ the group can incur to be ‘successful.’ Based on the maze I often use (refer Resources tab for sample,) most groups are able to be ‘successful’ in 30 or fewer errors.
Silence Is Golden: Ask the group to complete the task silently, ie no verbal communication once the spotted area is entered for the first time. This may mean that the group can talk during their designated planning time.
Vary The Challenge: For groups still developing their social skills, use less spots or a greater number of allowable errors, or plot a maze that only travels forward.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Use Jamboard, a free Google app, to present this exercise to multiple members of your remote team. Upload an image of your desired Maze, or use the 4 x 5 matrix we created for you in the Resources tab. Upload this onto your Jamboard and invite your team to view it (configure permission settings to Edit.) Upload a smaller object (such as a little person) to act as the person “stepping” on the spots. The activity runs much like the ‘in-person’ version. When the maze is identified, a new team member assumes control of the object to manipulate their way through the maze.
Caution: if your framing precludes any resources or devices to help your group remember or recall the correct path of the maze, this will be hard to police in a virtual context. You should still frame it accordingly, but accept that some people may sneakily make notes on paper out of sight of your gaze.
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Useful Framing Ideas
We’ve all seen a lightning storm and watched as flashes of lightning-bolts pierce the sky. Have you ever noticed that these bolts of lightning are never straight, nor do they ever strike the same path twice? A lightning bolt is just a very powerful electrical current running through the air. It always follows the path of least resistance, that is, the electrical current will only travel the easiest or most convenient path. I would like you to consider that the equipment you are now looking at is the inside workings of an electrical component that is broken. Your job, as electrical engineers, is to identify the path of least resistance…
You’re all about to start a new [enter name of project, school year, job, relationship, etc]. Like a big adventure, you have no idea of what is ahead of you, and what path you can expect to take. As a metaphor, I’d like you to imagine that the maze of spots you are looking at is a bit like the journey you have embarked upon. You are standing at the beginning of your journey. It starts with your first step (into the maze,) and continues throughout the maze until you complete your [enter task] at the end. What you don’t know is what happens in the middle…
It is said that the only way to get results is to take action. And while it is true that sometimes the results you get are not what you’re looking for, you’ll never get any results from taking no action – other than more of what you’ve got. So, given this philosophy, accept that you are going to make mistakes. In fact, if you want to succeed in this next activity – as much as in your [enter area such as life, work, relationship, etc] – you have to be prepared to fail at times. Every step you take will help you learn more about the task ahead of you and will equip you to more successfully negotiate the next step you take…
There is a significant difference between failing and making a mistake. A failure is when you get a result that you didn’t expect. A mistake is when you repeat the same actions and don’t learn from your failures. I invite you to work together on this next exercise – as much as your [enter area such as life, work, relationship, etc] – expecting to fail often, but working hard to never make a mistake…
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 group initiative:
What words would you use to describe your groups process in the beginning?
What areas did your group focus on To help you solve the problem?
Did you develop a contingency plan, or not? Why?
How much time did your group spend deciding which spots to step on? Was this to little or too much?
Was your group prepared to fail?
In what areas of your life are you afraid to fail?
Fun & Challenging ‘Team-Building’ Program
What You Need:
8+ people, 2 hours, deck of playing cards, stopwatch, set of gym-spots
Elevator Air– quick exercise to successfully frame your group’s experience
ESP– partner activity which explores the importance of common goals
Jump In Jump Out– hilarious and fun energiser which will focus your group’s attention on listening skills and working together as one unit
Freeze Frame– simple walking exercise to focus your group’s attention on what it takes to work as a team
Spectrums Debrief– quick, non-verbal exercise to debrief important teachable moments so far in the program
Change Up– dynamic exercise to focus on problem-solving and goal-setting
The Maze– excellent initiative which develops an awareness of critical communication, trust and leadership skills
Paired-Share Debrief– non-threatening small and large group discussion designed to debrief the program’s key learning outcomes
The inspiration for The Maze was sourced from a corporate training colleague during the 1990s. It was all the rage.