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February 26, 2007 » 9:40 pm

Group Counting Icebreaker

One of the sessions I sat in on at last week’s Nonprofit Software Development Summit was, “Hierarchy on the Fly: Making Collaborative Projects Work Without Predefined Structures.” Amanda Hickman and Mark Libkuman, the leaders of the session, discussed some specific cases, and we also had a good discussion about general issues.    (LWG)

The discussion reminded me of an ice-breaking exercise I learned from Deborah Meehan at the Leadership Learning Community: Group Counting. The goal is for the group to count to the size of the group. In other words, if there are ten people, the group counts to ten. Each person may only say one number, with the leader of the exercise starting the process with “one.” If two people say the same number at the same time, the group has to start over.    (LWH)

If you have a large group, you generally won’t get through the count successfully. After failing a few times, tell everyone to close their eyes. Breathe deeply. Listen to your breathing. Listen to the breathing of your peers. Be present, and be aware of the presence of your peers. Then, with your eyes still closed, try it again.    (LWI)

When we tried this with a group of 14, it worked. When we tried it the following day with a group of 35, it also worked.    (LWJ)

Playing this game successfully with large groups seems to be a task that is crying out for top-down hierarchy. Maybe our intuition is wrong. Maybe we can — as a group — be aware of each other and learn to act as one without having someone tell us how to act. The group counting exercise seems to imply as much.    (LWK)

I’m planning to try this exercise on a teleconference sometime. If you try this exercise with your group, please let me know how it goes.    (LWL)

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