For a circle, with people standing up to a metre (3′) apart.
Starting and finishing with the same person, establish a pattern of tossing a ball within the circle so that every person tosses and receives the ball once.
Repeat this sequence of tosses several times to establish the pattern.
Challenge your group to pass the ball in this sequence as fast as possible, meeting three key parameters:
– The ball passing starts and ends with the same person;
– The ball must be passed in the same sequence every time; and
– Every person must be responsible for passing the ball.
Allow ample time for discussion, planning and trial-and-error.
Permit three official attempts to record the fastest time.
How To Play Narrative
This was one of the earliest group initiatives I learned, and I still use it today.
The set-up is simple enough. Ask your group to form a circle, and to pass a soft tossable (eg fleece-ball) around the circle so that everyone passes the item once and receives the item once.
Ideally, encourage people to pass the item across the other side of the circle, but don’t be too pedantic. What you don’t want to see are lazy passes to their direct neighbour or people too close to them.
Let’s say the ball-passing started with you, which means the sequence will end with you receiving the ball. This event is worth noting because it forms one of the three key parameters.
The other two parameters require the ball to be passed in the same sequence every time, and that everyone is responsible for passing the ball.
The next task is to repeat exactly the same sequence of tosses so that everyone passes to (and receives from) the same person as established in the first round. Often, this may need you to wait a few moments as memories are jogged.
It is critical to establish one familiar and repeatable sequence of tosses. Continue practising if necessary until this has happened.
Now, to the challenge.
Without further notice, challenge your group to repeat the sequence of tosses, in the exact order as now established, as quickly as possible. To this end, announce that you will record the time.
You can guess the rest from here.
With one official attempt under their belt, your group will now be given a specified number of attempts or minutes, etc, to record their fastest time possible. Ten minutes is typically a good length.
At this point, remind your group of the three key parameters – the ball starts and ends with you (or whomever,) the ball is passed in the exact same sequence every time, and everyone is responsible for passing the ball.
And that’s it.
If you happen to be an active part of the group, it goes without saying that you should observe and participate in the action and not directly influence the group in any particular way.
Frequently, but not always, the group will cotton on to the idea that they are not required to remain in a circle. Indeed, they will challenge the belief that they need to stand apart from their passing and receiving partners, ie they will form a new circle standing between these two partners – an obvious time-saving technology.
Observe moments of clarity, creativity and ideation. All useful points of discussion to reflect on what happened at the end.
Practical Leadership Tips
Sometimes I will preface the initial ball-passing set-up and ask people to remember who they toss it to, and who they receive it from. This may save a little time.
Expect at least two significant moments in the life of this problem-solving exercise. A flurry of time-saving ideas which significantly lower the time very quickly, and rule-bending interpretations of what it means to be ‘passing the ball’ and ‘kept in sequence.’
Groups will sometimes want to do more than warp speed, they may want to warp the meaning of the other parameters, too. So, if you want to be a stickler for the ‘rules,’ ensure that every person makes contact with the ball in the correct sequence (no matter how fast the passing may be) and that whatever strategy is adopted to pass the ball, it is acceptable to everyone.
Generally speaking, groups of 8 to 15, but no more than 20 people work well. Many more and it often gets too difficult to (a) construct a workable solution, or (b) maintain quality interaction.
Multiple Passing: Introduce two or three items to be passed at the same time, in the same sequence. This is similar to Group Juggle.
Stickler for Rules: Strictly enforce the ‘passing’ parameter, ie nothing other than physically receiving and passing the ball will be accepted as contributing to an official attempt.
Take a look at The Passing Game to explore a small group problem-solving activity that involves the passing of multiple items.
Useful Framing Ideas
Do you remember the game Hot Potato? You had to pass an item really quickly from person to person as if it truly was a hot potato. If so, this next problem-solving activity will seem familiar to you then…
There are many movies which warp speed, that is, they help us understand what it may be like to move through time really, really quickly. Your next task is to solve a problem as if you had the ability to warp speed…
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 wonderfully creative group initiative:
How was your group challenged in this exercise? Why?
Did your group get stuck at any time? Why? What were the obstacles?
Describe your ideation process.
How did your group make decisions during the activity? Was this effective?
Do you feel that the group took short-cuts, or bent the rules? Which ones?
How do you feel about the interpretation your group took on ‘passing’ and ‘in sequence?’
The inspiration for Warp Speed was sourced from two of Karl Rohnke‘s popular activity books Cowstails & Cobras II and the Bottomless Bag Again.