Use masking tape to make a square in an area of the room that is free from tables and the like. It can be near a wall or in a corner but might be best if it is a few feet away from them. The area should allow people enough room to move around.
Now, give each participant a colored balloon. You may choose to say that certain colors represent the quality initiatives of different departments or some such set-up to get people thinking about the balloons as organizational tasks and corporate objectives.
Ask them to please blow up the balloons and to tie them off. (This gives them a little ownership of their balloon and you may see people comparing theirs to others.)
Announce that they have 10 seconds in which to practice keeping the balloons in the air.
Now, inform them that they have one minute and that their task is to keep all the balloons in the air. As they start to do this, begin to toss additional balloons into the area. Depending on your themes and learning outcomes, these could be of one particular color or a random selection of the colors already in the exercise.
When the energy begins to dissipate, stop the exercise and begin the debriefing.
(Consider having the group leave the area and see if the balloons that hit the floor are picked up or not... This can also function as a debriefing point.)
You can also sub-divide the large area into smaller ones and put color codes within each block symbolizing a product or service. You can do this as part of the first exercise or do it as a followon activity (Phase 2) to take the activity, teamwork and discussion to another level.
The task is to get all the balloons into the same colored and marked areas without losing any of them out-of-bounds. Or, to make it more difficult, no two of the same color can wind up in the same block. You may make it non-verbal or you can tell people that they cannot move(!).
Conduct the activity non-verbally. People are free to move (but avoid purposefully mentioning this). For safety sake, ask people to spread out and minimize physical contact.
You will need at least one large balloon per person (multiple colors) some extra for breakage, and rope or tape to mark the boundaries and "different" areas if you use the latter options.
The debriefing can include things like:
Ownership - Did group members take care of all the balloons or just the one that they inflated? What happens to projects when there is no ownership? What are some ways that we could build more overall ownership for results (aka interdepartmental collaboration and support) within the different departments?
Dealing with Change - What were the individual reactions when new and different colored balloons were introduced to the exercise. Initial ones. Later reactions.
Mission and Goals - The goal was to keep all the balloons in the air. Did the group do this? How important is collaboration and teamwork to success?
Teamwork - Would it have made any difference if people were told that teamwork was important? How might teamwork be introduced most effectively in explaining the exercise? How is this like what happens (or what does not happen) in the workplace? How can we clarify expectations?
Dealing with Failure - What happened when one of the balloons went out of the area or landed on the floor. Did people feel responsible for "picking up the ball?"
Were there balloons left on the floor when the group left? Who is responsible for managing corporate initiatives? What happens to projects when there is no ownership?
Motivation - How important is FUN when we are asked to accomplish things? What are some ways that we can introduce more fun in the workplace to get people and projects to "lighten up?" (You may make the point that this is a lot easier to do with light balloons than with heavy bowling balls!)
Constraints - How did people feel about moving outside the tape boundary? But wasn't that necessary when the balloons were headed in the wrong direction? How might that be like what happens with (customer service, etc.)
You might then allow them some closure, especially if they felt that the initial exercise was not highly successful, by allowing them to do it again -- you can now even have them inflate MORE balloons to add to the pile.
Remember -- Keep this FUN! You might even play some upbeat music at this point to anchor the positive feelings.
Thanks to Simon Priest (email) for creating some other ideas to further develop these exercises.
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