One of the most important decisions we make as group facilitators is to know at what level to pitch the challenge of any particular activity to our groups. So, it came as no surprise when this question from a playmeo member crossed my inbox:
What do you do when the group solves the activity quicker than you expect?
When pitching the challenge of an activity, hitting the sweet spot is harder than it looks. There are just so many variables. Make the activity too easy and you risk boring the group or make it too hard and you risk frustrating your group beyond their ability to cope.
Here’s an extract of what I shared in response:
Like you, I wrestle with this idea too. And while I feel I have gotten better at making good decisions over the course of my career, I believe having a suite of strategies up my sleeve to navigate these situations is what has really helped me help my group.
There are two key strategies I have developed to manage those situations when my group has completed the activity or has solved it too quickly. Or, should I say more accurately, quicker than I expected?
1. Have More Up Your Sleeve
This can manifest in at least one of two ways:
- Prepare to present more difficult activities to ramp up the challenge as soon as the first one is complete if solved too quickly, eg have several team puzzles up your sleeve just in case you need to engage them with more. For example, many people have seen the solution to the T-Puzzle, but you can never know. But as soon as I discover one or more people know the solution, I introduce a much tougher puzzle such as the Arrowheads Puzzle.
- Frame the activity to allow you to easily tweak the challenge when necessary. For example, if you happen to give them a time limit, introduce the possibility that one or more ‘random’ events may occur that will reduce the time. Or, if your group manages to solve the problem with 9 moves, challenge them to find a solution that involves 7 moves. To this end, your language will make all the difference. Saying something like “… in as few falls as possible…” will provide you with a lot more wriggle room than if you said “… achieve the task with no more than five falls…”
2. Group Coaching
If I suspect that my group reflects a wide variety of experiences and skills, I may choose to present the activity to multiple small groups or teams. In effect, I will have introduced the same problem to multiple workstations. Careful in the manner in which I present the challenge – wary of not leveraging a hyper-competitive mood – I encourage those groups that solve the activity first to coach other groups to find a solution. This is always a very interesting scenario. Some groups will simply demonstrate how to solve the activity, while others may choose to facilitate the discovery of a solution by the other group. There is no right or wrong approach here, it will all depend on your objectives. The interplay between offering help and receiving it may also be a wonderful conversation starter when you later reflect on the different team approaches.
What do you do when an activity is solved too quickly or ends quicker than you expect?
Please share your strategies in the comments below.