Tape or pin a large index card on the back of each person in your group.
Distribute a pen or marker to each person.
Instruct each person to write their name on top of their card.
Pin or tape these cards to the back of their owner.
Instruct everyone to mingle with as many people in the group and write a short, affirming comment about that person on their index card.
If you choose, instruct people to write their comments anonymously.
Allow 5 to 10 minutes of interaction.
When ready, invite each person to remove their card and read the comments.
How To Play Narrative
Here’s a great energiser that is not only quick and fun but great for groups who already know a lot about each other. Even better, it can leverage the developing trust in your group.
Distribute a large index card and a pen to each person in your group and ask them to write their name on the top of the card.
Using a slip of sticky-tape, and possibly the help of a friend, affix the card to its owner’s back.
Next, instruct your group to mingle about the area armed with pens. Their mission is to approach as many people as possible in the time allotted and write a short remark or comment on their cards, ie effectively writing on their backs.
It should go without saying – but you may have to – the remarks should aim to be life-affirming and positive. Funny is okay, so long as the recipient would laugh too.
If you choose, invite all comments to be written anonymously.
Try not to rush people, and allow ample time for people to mingle and write their comments.
When ready, invite each person to remove the card from their backs and enjoy the comments.
Better still, lay all of the cards on a surface for public display and allow your whole group to browse them. People will quickly appreciate how others feel about them, a wonderfully affirming experience.
Practical Leadership Tips
Naturally, your group needs to have spent some time together to make this exercise possible and valuable.
You could tape a sheet of paper to people’s backs but I have often found that it’s not quite thick enough to prevent a pen occasionally penetrating the paper, and consequently the clothing behind it.
This exercise is very much a ‘warm fuzzy.’ A reward for groups that are working hard to look after each other, or simply need a little encouragement or a dose of good vibes to continue doing what they’re doing.
My advice in regards anonymity is purely a judgement call. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read a bunch of comments without knowing who wrote them. That said, there’s also wonderful value in asking people to stand by their comments and take responsibility for what they share. Your call.
Guessing Game 1: Before the cards are removed, ask each person to ruminate out loud what comments they think may have been written on their cards. This can be quite a challenge for some folks, so this variation has become a personal favourite.
Guessing Game 2: Before distribution, write the name of each person on one side of the cards. Then pin the cards to their owners with the blank-side facing out (ie name cannot be seen.) Continue as above, and when ready, remove all of the cards without their owners seeing what is written. Shuffle the cards and lay them on a surface for everyone to see (owner’s names face-down.) Challenge each person to identify which card belongs to them.
Take a look at Who Am I? and Who Is It? to enjoy a couple more interactive, get-to-know-you-better guessing games.
Useful Framing Ideas
One of the most powerful forces in the world is gratitude. This next exercise will give each one of you ample opportunities to share something that you see in others which you are grateful for…
We are all familiar with the concept of people talking behind our backs. It’s not a particularly pleasant topic and not something any of us enjoy being the subject of. Except for today, because on this occasion the focus is entirely on the positive…
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 fun, community-building game:
How do we often feel when we know people are talking behind your back?
What feelings did you experience as people were writing on your back?
How did you feel as you were writing comments on the cards of others?
Was it possible to detect the attitude of those who were writing on your back?
Describe how it felt to read the comments on your card?
Were you able to accept what people wrote?
Would it have been more or less difficult to have expressed these sentiments face to face with the person? Why?
What difference would it make to our world if we shared these types of comments more often?
The inspiration for Talking Behind Your Back, and many more fun community-building games, was sourced from the following publication: