Early in the week with the Boxwood Teens, I did a teambuilding activity that I frankly adore.  It’s about how everyone in the group matters, and how, whether musically or otherwise, we all have to trust each other.

rope circle

Basically, you use a circle of strong rope to do a group trust fall.  Everyone stands in a circle with both hands on the rope.  I tell them that the goal is for everyone to be leaning so far back that our arms are all straight and we would fall if anything happened to the group.  Then I tell them that the way they get to that point is up to them.  We can fall over as many times as we like trying to get there – and I’m fine with that.  But we will all definitely get there, and they will lead the way.

This usually leads to a couple of hilarious attempts before we actually make it.  Once we’re there, I ask a few questions:

  • How are we trusting each other right now?
  • What would happen if someone jerked on the rope suddenly as a joke?
  • What would happen if someone got tired and just let go instead of telling us first?
  • What did the process of getting here feel like?
  • Who was a leader as we got here?  What kinds of leadership are there?  Could the person who was quiet and didn’t add ideas still be contributing?  Tell me more about that.
  • Is it getting harder the longer we stay here?  I’m asking you to focus over time.  It’s not enough to get there – we have to keep our attention on the group even after we think everything’s going fine.
  • How is this like playing music with each other?  What is it like to be in an ensemble with other musicians?  What skills do you need?

And so forth.  Getting back up out of the lean back is its own process too.  And you might find that the more you do this, even with the same group, they’ll be successful the first few times and not the third or fourth.  It’s a great activity because it demands being truly present with each other in this moment – as with music, it doesn’t matter that you played it correctly 500 times.  The 501st time is its own thing.

A few more things are important for this to be successful:

1)    Resist the urge to give the group a solution.  (This gets tricky when you have parents or teachers watching on – it’s amazing how fast they try to “organize” the kids into doing something that they have probably never done themselves.)  There are multiple ways to succeed at this.  The point is the process – as a facilitator, you have to care deeply about how the group gets to its end goal.

2)    The group has to be able to fail.  This is really hard for many people to accept (“but what about my child’s self-esteem?”).  As a facilitator, I usually feel pretty ambivalent about the end goal itself.  Again, it’s all about process.  Now, letting the group fail doesn’t mean making them feel bad about it – but it does mean observing it and giving voice to it out loud.  “We’re not being successful at this right now,” you might say.  “Why do you think that is?  How does it feel when you have to work at something?”  And then you give the group time to feel that, and then work out their own solution.

3)    As facilitator, you have to participate fully.  This means trusting the kids to hold you up (and falling down with them if they don’t).  You might even point this out to them: “I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not willing to do myself.”  I’ve had a great time falling down in a heap with kids, actually – and I never cease being thrilled at being held up by a group of students who are half the size I am.

4)    Actually, this is priority #1: the rope you buy has to be the strongest rock-climbing rope you can get your hands on, tied the right way, and the students need to know this.  “I could hang all of us off a cliff with this rope,” I tell them.  “Just if you want to do this at home, please make sure you don’t do it with just any rope you find.”  Knowing this not only helps keep them safe in the future – it also means helping them feel safe enough to trust the activity today.

One more note about this activity: I learned it in a workshop and from what I understand it comes from this book, although I haven’t read it (yet).   Since I’m not teaching this to you in person, I’d definitely recommend reading it to be sure that you’re tying the right knots and doing it safely.  You might also check out this PDF that I found online.

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