What I want you to do now is come in nice and close so that you’re right up against the edges of each of your neighbours. Okay, fantastic.
Great, so what we actually really need though is to have a circle-circle. So have a look at where your feet are. They can be spread apart so that maybe they’re shoulder length apart, your own feet. They don’t need to be touching people next to you. Okay?
Now if right now there is actually a gap between your arms and your partner’s you’re going to have to come in because you do need to be right up against them. And indeed it’s the shoulders that I would like you now to focus on to the point where, as best as you can.
So if you don’t already have a good deal of pressure on the shoulders still keep moving. We still want to keep that circle as best as possible. Alright.
Okay, here’s what we’re going to end up doing. Does anyone understand what a ‘keystone’ is in the life of an archway? Anyone happen to know what a keystone is in the life of an archway?
(The one right at the top of the arch that’s kind of a wedge shape.)
It’s a wedge shape or a pizza shape part. Exactly, that is the keystone in the life of an arch as it creates a whole lot of stones. There’s one in the middle that just through engineering of it keeps it all in place.
I’d like you to imagine that the space between your two shoulders, and basically the rest of your body, is the keystone, but we actually have ten, twelve, fifteen of them in this space.
In a moment, but not yet, I’m going to ask you to slowly move your feet behind you. So in a moment it’s going to look like they start to move out one foot at a time. You start to lean in with your shoulders.
Now this need to happen (a) slowly, and (b) sensitively so we don’t end up collapsing because the whole point is to create a keystone arch, but one whole circle.
So now that you’ve got that sense of where we’re headed think about…
(Like we all move one foot backwards first and once we got that then move the second foot backwards. So if you move your right foot backwards first so on the count…okay yeah.)
I would suggest centimetres at a time. Centimetres. Do not jump like thirty centimetres at a time.
(We do need to come in a bit further too.)
(So on the count of three. One, two, three.)
Just a little. If you need to adjust go ahead. Oh I’m definitely going to fall here so.
(We need to be tighter.)
Oh that’s good here. How are you guys?
I’ve got it good here.
(Yeah we’re good.)
That’s good. Good! How we doing? Alright can you go back another centimetre.
(Wedge, wedge, wedge.)
Alright, try to adjust. Alright, in most cases our feet are now behind our butts. Stand up nice and straight by bringing one foot forward. Fantastic, excellent! Good job, good job, good job.
I’ve brought you straight to what would often be the final result. I frequently would ask groups of three, four, or five people to start that together. Imagine that you started in a group of three, four, or five and started that same exercise.
So quickly just go into a group of say four or five, I’m not sure how the numbers work, but just have a quick look at what that would look like and test it out as if there was only a group of four or five keystone in your group, and reflect the same exercise.
Why don’t you guys split up. I have a group of six here and a group of five here. Same thing. I can have a group of five here. One of you can jump here. There you go. See what you can do.
(Groups separate and try to be a keystone.)
Go slowly, bit by bit. You may want to re-establish a different position in the group to the people that you’re standing next to. It may make a difference about the shoulders.
(Groups continue to complete the Keystone activity.)
Nice ladies. Good job. Give it ten more seconds.
How To Play Narrative
How often in a program do you ask your group to form a circle? Well, add one more to the count. But this time, ask everyone to form as perfect a circle as possible. No bends, no corners, just a perfectly round-edged circle.
Good, now come in closer, and closer still – until everyone is just touching the upper arms and shoulders of their neighbours. Stop there.
Your next move is to invite everyone to lean in slowly, without moving their feet. And as they produce moderate levels of pressure and balance, to slowly, ever so slowly, start to slide their feet backwards just a smidge or two.
The objective of this task is to create the impression that every person is a keystone – an engineering term used to describe the wedge-shaped stone which is placed at the apex of a masonry arch that locks all of the other stones into position.
In other words, the ultimate goal is to create an evenly balanced circle in which everyone feels supported and yet critical to the overall balance of the structure, ie as if they were the keystone.
Your group should aim to keep this up for as long as possible.
With each smidgen, review the balance and composure of your group, and if considered safe, suggest stepping back a little further. Anything up to 30cm (1′) extended back from the starting position is cool – beyond this point, encourage your group to brace for a topple, or be ready to stop the exercise.
Invite your group to discuss what is and isn’t working between a series of attempts, and encourage them to keep practising until they reach the desired level of challenge, balance and comfort.
There’s something pretty special about a large group of people leaning in toward each other attempting to reach that pinnacle of balance, where just one bad move will cause the pieces to topple. It’s difficult to find this sweet spot, but worth every effort.
Take a look at the Reflection Tipstab to learn some valuable discussion points to process your group’s experience, especially around the theme of relationships and teamwork.
Practical Leadership Tips
Although it seems obvious, it is always a good idea to remind people that they should take a quick step forward if they feel that they are going to fall, or if they are experiencing discomfort.
Clearly, this exercise will test the physical capabilities of, and the trust within your group. There is also the potential for harm if you do not prepare your group appropriately with a series of lead-in activities. Consider a solid sequence of activities that will build the physical dexterity of your group, not to mention their aptitude for balance and trust.
To achieve an appropriate lead-in (see above point,) practice the highly refined art of leaning with smaller groups, and then gradually build up to the whole group (if they are ready.)
This is a truly shared experience. One person should not be doing all the work, so the balance and pressure should be evenly spread.
Practice is the key. It’s easy for many groups to quickly become disengaged after a couple of poor attempts, so look for the positives and offer lots of encouragement. It can be done, and the sense of shared accomplishment when the ‘sweet spot’ is discovered is just wonderful.
This exercise is sometimes called Eileen. Get it?
You could integrate Keystone as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
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
There would be no two groups that would meet the challenge of this group initiative in the same way. Every group and every one of its members are different, and therefore, a degree of adaptability will be critical to the success of the group’s task. Frame Keystone in advance as an opportunity for your group to explore what it means to be adaptable, the positives and the negatives. Then invite your group to reflect on those times and places when the group was adaptable or discovered it needed to adapt. For example, the physical relocation of certain members to different spots in the circle, or the willingness of one person (who thinks they have the best idea) to try something new, are both useful examples of adaptability.
Your group is challenged to achieve one very clear goal – to create an evenly balanced circle in which everyone feels supported and yet critical to the overall balance of the structure. Most often this goal is explicit and offered to a group as an instruction from you, the facilitator. However, there are often other unspoken or implicit goals at play. For example, is your group aiming to be (physically and emotionally) challenged, or does it want to achieve a perfect balance in the safest possible way, or perhaps it wants to achieve a mix of both? And do they want to complete this task quickly? Consider exploring what makes a goal effective in advance of the activity by reviewing SMART Goal guidelines.
From Little Things, Big Things Grow: Start in small groups of 5 or 6 people and then build up to larger and larger groups. This can often be a good option if your group needs to develop their confidence gradually to tackle the initiative as a whole group.
Leaning Out: Ever mindful of your sequence and the safety considerations of your group, try it backwards, asking your participants to face out of the circle. This technique often works a little better because we tend to have more beefy edges to the back of our shoulders than the front. Well, I do anyway.
Paired Challenge: Take a look at Lean Walk for another simple, yet powerful trust-building exercise for partners.
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Useful Framing Ideas
If you looked closely at old stone archways and certain other architectural elements, and you may have noticed an object called the ‘keystone.’ Does anyone happen to know what this is? [allow time for suggestions…] A keystone is, as it sounds, the key to keeping a particular structure such as an arch from falling apart. It keeps or locks all other parts of the structure together. This next exercise will provide each of you with an opportunity to be a human keystone…
Has anyone heard of the term ‘yurt’ before? Do you know what it means? [allow time for comments…] It has many uses, but in essence it is an engineering term used to describe a self-supporting structure. They are often quite simple in construction, yet very strong. This next exercise will explore the mechanics of a yurt as applied to human beings as if each of us was a keystone in its design…
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 trust-building exercise:
What worked and what did not work to keep the circle balanced evenly?
What adjustments had to be made to achieve the objective?
Can we apply any of the design principles here to our relationships with others?
What do you think is the keystone of healthy, balanced relationships?
Fun ‘Trust-Building’ Session
What You Need:
8+ people, 45 mins, 3 x coloured objects (red, yellow, green)
ESP – passive fun activity which invites partners to think alike
Human Spring – fun & dynamic balancing exercise for two people
Keystone – challenging group balance and trust exercise