Here’s a fun engagement exercise that was used in a workshop I recently attended. You can use this with any size group, although it will be more effective with a bigger rather than a smaller group.
You’re home alone, and these six things happen at once:
- a water pipe bursts in the kitchen
- the baby is crying
- the phone starts ringing
- your neighbour’s alarm is going off
- the cat has the budgie in its mouth
- someone is knocking at your door
Augh! What to respond to first?
Challenge the participants to rank all of these events according to priority of how they would handle them – give them no more than one minute to complete this task (this is so they can’t think about it too long).
Invite participants to stand up when they have completed their ranking.
When everyone is standing, ask them to move around the room and see if they can find someone who has these things ranked in exactly the same order. They must keep going until they find someone whose ranking matches theirs exactly.
Give the participants five minutes to see if they can find a match.
The number of matches may be none, one or many, depending on the group size and participants’ choices of how they ranked the events, and who they spoke to.
Ask the participants (or selected participants, depending on the size of the group) to share a little about whether they found a match; what others’ reactions were to their choice of task ordering; and what they thought of the choices of others who had the list in a different order to themselves.
People may report being taken aback at others’ ordering of priorities (‘you attended to the baby over saving the budgie?’; ‘you went to the burst pipe first before seeing to the baby?’), and often people will explain their reasons for doing the things in that particular order (‘the baby is just crying – the budgie is about to die!’; ‘I can check on the alarm while carrying the baby’).
Participants will have their reasons for choosing their particular response sequence.
Now – ask the participants what they think just happened.
Tell them ‘you just had a conversation about values’.
We all carry our assumptions into whatever we do, and we must remember that other people don’t always
share our values.
This exercise is both a great icebreaker, and a reminder to be aware of our own values and assumptions, and our judgments of others’ values and assumptions, in any group situation.