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Joanna Howard

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The most popular Trainer’s Tips ever! Team communication exercise


Joanna Howard submitted this fun exercise, which helps open up discussion about team communication.

I've used this with surprising effectiveness: my colleagues have had the same experience. The debriefing often shows amazing insights about work style and communication.

You need to have the people in a circle and up to eight soft juggling balls.

1. Explain that you'll be throwing a ball to someone, who has to remember that I threw it to them, and they have to throw it to someone else (remembering who) and so on until everyone has had the ball thrown to them - then it comes back to you. Be very clear that the challenge is to throw it in such a way that the person can easily catch it.

2. Do it again, only quicker. Remind people to remember who threw the ball to them, and who they threw it to.

3. Then say: "Keeping this pattern exactly, I'm going to be adding more balls. If you drop it, don't worry - pick it up if you can, or let someone else pick it up if it's near them. If you pick up a ball, keep on with the pattern of throwing."

4. Then keep on adding balls to the group, with the challenge: "Let's see how many we can keep in the air."

5. The debrief is to ask for general comments, and then to ask how it demonstrates anything about communication in the team. I have always been impressed by how easy people find it to see the game as a metaphor for their own communication.

The only drawback is that it isn't suitable for visually impaired team members, or people with very restricted movement, although it's fine for many wheelchair users.

Allow 30+ minutes. Then you can move on to the old one of putting people back to back in pairs - one with a pattern, who has to instruct the other one in drawing the pattern - which is also fun, and a very good communication exercise.

This tip first appeared on site back in 2005! Got any other exercises that are great at encouraging teams to communicate? Please post a comment below and share your tips with the community.


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