Tips for Trainers

The Elephant In the Room...

Have you ever in the middle of facilitating a program, and you can tell there is a big elephant in the room that no one is talking about? I’ve definitely been there, and I have one tool that I always keep in my toolbox that is my go-to activity to help surface the elephant. The Pocket Processor. This round deck of cards uses the Ying Yang metaphor and has two different behavior preferences written on each card. For example, one of the cards in the picture has these two behaviors printed on it: Enjoying Chaos / Enjoying Order. I use these cards as my question prompters to allow people to reflect on what their behaviors are. I did an article on the Pocket Processor tool a few months ago with a different activity I like to do using these cards, called the Human Continuum.  (Click here to read that article.)  

For The Elephant in the Room activity, divide the group into groups of 4-5 people. Keeping the size of the groups to 4-5 people is important, so each person provides equal input. Too many more than that and it is easy for people to silently bail on the process and let other people do the talking. Randomly select 8-10 of the cards and place them face up on the table or floor in the middle of the group. (There are 52 cards in each deck, so depending on the size of your group, you might need 2 decks.) Then ask the group to peer over the different behaviors listed on the cards, and come to consensus on two cards. The first: What is one thing we are doing well as a team? And the second: What is one thing we need to work on? …And right there, you will surface the elephant.

How does this work, you ask? Well, the behaviors that are listed on these cards are not easy categories to just bring up in normal conversation, unless you have a reason. By providing structure around the conversations, and a plan for how to deal with them when they surface, is key to making this work.

Once you have the cards on the table (literally and figuratively), invite them to spend a good 20 minutes discussing each category thoroughly. By asking them to come to consensus on these two cards means they actually have to discuss ALL of the behaviors, not just a few of them. So if you have 8 cards in front of the group, they actually have 16 behaviors they need to discuss. As they are deep in their discussions, walk around the room and listen in on some of their conversations. It’s fascinating to hear some of the same discussions going on in the various small groups.

After 15 minutes, check in with each small group and give them a 5-minute warning. When time has expired collect the ‘discarded cards’ from each group and prepare the group for reporting out their findings. Provide two separate areas to record what is said (like a white board or poster paper). Make one list: Things we are doing well, and the other list: Things to work on. Ask each group to give a brief report on how they came to consensus on their two cards and capture what is said on your white board or poster paper. If you have a group of 20 people, and 4 small groups, then you’ll end up with 4 reasons to celebrate and 4 things to set action plans and goals around.

What I love about this process is that the areas they think they need to work on came from them, not from me. It’s not a consultant coming in and trying to tell them what they need to celebrate or what they work on, it’s real examples and issues coming from them. I’ve always found that the more you invite your participants to help create the experience, the more buy-in they have, and the more they get out of the day. By creating space to talk about things that are working, and things that are not working, you help them tackle the issues head on (elephants!) that otherwise might be left unsaid.

When helping them set goals and action plans around the things they need to work on, be sure to ask questions like:

• What’s it going to look like if it’s working?
• What’s it going to look like if it’s not working?
• How are you going to hold one another accountable if it’s not working?
• Who is the point person?
• What is a realistic timeframe to achieve this goal?
• How would it affect team performance if we could move this to the ‘Things we are doing well’ page?

The idea of proactively surfacing dysfunction may not appeal to everyone, but the goal in surfacing it is to help make it better. Buddha put it most eloquently when he said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” The elephant will make itself known at some point, and the longer we put it off, the less productive we are and the more time we take away from what the company mission.

Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  
 

Essential Staff Training Activities

You expect staff to think on their feet, why not train them on their feet?  Many of my clients are in the summer camp industry, and summer is just around the corner!  As you start to plan your staff training week, make sure you incorporate a wide range of helpful experiential topics, from icebreakers, getting-to-know you activities, to activities that help staff embrace their different work styles and gifts.  These are not only team-building activities, but team bonding, too - both of which are important for uniting your staff. Best of all, once you have acquainted your staff with these activities, they can in turn use them with your participants and campers to continue the process of building a truly connected group.  Help your staff develop skills for how a team communicates, makes decisions, recognizes conflicts and solves problems---all during their staff training!  Plus, if they are having fun while they are learning, they are more apt to use these new skills with their campers.
 
Here's one of my favorite, non-prop staff training activity from my book, Setting the Conflict Compass:  As If  
 
Activity Directions:
  • Divide your group into pairs.  Have the pairs stand about 6 feet apart from one another and face each other. 
  • Instruct them to walk forward towards one another and greet one another AS IF they were....  and give them a role to play out.
  • Each interaction is approximately 60 seconds in duration.
  • After the interaction is over, ask them to get back into their original stance, about 6 feet away from one another.
  • Debrief that round.
  • Proceed with a different role play.
  • Debrief the second round.
  • Proceed with a third role play.
  • Debrief the third round.
Facilitator script: “Please find a partner and stand about 6 feet away from them and face one another.  (Pause until they are ready.)  This activity is called “As If”.  In a moment I’m going to give you a role I’d like you to play out with your partner.  Once I say ‘Go’, I want you to walk towards your partner and greet your partner AS IF you were in the role I’m about to give you.  I want you to stay in this role for about 60 seconds.  Once you hear me say “STOP!”, that round is over and I want you to get back into this starting position, where you are standing 6 feet away from your partner.  Are there any questions?  OK, for this first interaction, I want you to greet your partner AS IF you were long lost college roommates.  Ready?  Go!”
Let this interaction go on for about 60 seconds.  It will be loud and energetic.  When 60 seconds is up, yell out STOP (or use a noisemaker to get their attention.)  Ask them to get back into their original 6-feet-away position.  Then ask these debriefing questions: 
  • What was that interaction like?
  • It appeared to be pretty high-energy.  Was there anyone not excited to see their college roommate?
  • What were some of the things you talked about?
Then move onto your second role play.

Facilitator Script:  "OK, the beauty of this activity is that we can change the roles to be whatever we want them to be.  Let's have this next round be a little harder.  This time I want you to pretend that you and your partner are co-workers, and the two of you got into an argument yesterday.  It's now the next day and you walk in and see one another for the first time.  Go ahead and greet your partner AS IF you are seeing one another for the first time since your argument yesterday.  Ready?  Go!" 

Let this interaction go on for about 60 seconds.  This interaction will have multiple different responses.  Some of the pairs will take accountability and resolve their conflict.  Other pairs will ignore each other altogether.  Some will start out with a 'pretend' angry tone, then start to work towards a resolution.  When 60 seconds is up, yell out STOP (or use a noisemaker to get their attention.)  Ask them to get back into their original 6-feet-away position.  Then ask these debriefing questions:
  • What was that interaction like?
  • Did you resolve your conflict in that 60 second time period?  Wouldn't it be great if that's the way it happened out in the real world?
  • What made this interaction awkward?
  • How do you respond to conflict in the real world?
Then move onto a third role play.

Facilitator Script:  "OK, let's do one more.  This time, I need one person to be a new camper that was just dropped off by their parents and is not too sure about this whole camp-thing.  The other person will be their counselor.  Please have the camper be whatever age child that the person in the counselor role is working with this summer.  Decide who is going to be in each role.  (Pause a few moments.)  This time, I want the 'counselor' to greet their 'new camper' AS IF they were just dropped off at camp and a little unsure of themselves.   Ready?  Go!" 

Let this interaction go on for about 60 seconds.  This interaction will have multiple different responses.  Some campers will cry, others will be quiet, and some will be excited!  When 60 seconds is up, yell out STOP (or use a noisemaker to get their attention.)  Ask them to get back into their original 6-feet-away position.  Then ask these debriefing questions:
  • What was that interaction like?
  • Let's hear from the new campers first, how did your counselor do?  What was that experience like for you?
  • Now let's hear from those that in the counselor.  What was that experience like for you?
  • How does this relate to camp?  What kind of environment do we want to foster for our newcomers?
 Suggested other role plays:
  • Talking with disgruntled parents.
  • Discussing behavior issues with a child.
  • Talking with the camp director about time-off.
I still have a few open dates in my training calendar in the next few weeks, in case you are interested in bringing me out to help lead a full day of Staff Training Activities. Email me or give me a call to check availability.    
Have Fun Out There!
~Michelle Cummings
'The Big Wheel'
Training Wheels

A 'Piece of Advice'

A 'Piece of Advice'
  
I love a good metaphor.  In fact, even the name of my company is one big metaphor.  Training Wheels:  you only use training for a little while, before you take the Training Wheels off and 'make it your own.'  That's how all of my trainings are conducted.  I'm only there for a short while and it's up to the participants to take what they learn in the workshop and 'make it their own.'  I love it!  

This time of year is full of planning for bridal showers, weddings, graduation, baby showers and other events.  I love using a twist on The Community Puzzle for events such as these.  In team building, I use the Community Puzzle as a debriefing tool.  I ask participants to think about how they are an 'essential piece' of the team and write down or draw some of their unique skills on a puzzle piece.  Another option is to use it at the end of a program and ask them to jot down a few key 'pieces of learning' they got out of the day.  It makes a nice way to artistically illustrate the 'aha' moments.  Then the group puts the puzzle together and it looks like a great big quilt!  I love to see all of the colors and patterns come to life.  
 
For weddings, graduations and other events, I love to use the Community Puzzle as a unique Guest book.  Have each guest write their name on a puzzle piece and leave a 'piece of advice' for the bride/groom/graduate.  Pair that with a play on words and you've got a unique, memorable guest book that you can keep forever!   Check out The Community Puzzle for your next event.
 
What creative way can you use the puzzle metaphor?  
Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

May the 4th be with you...

May the 4th be with you...
  
Tomorrow is International Star Wars Day, or May the 4th... and I love a good play on words.  I also have two teenage boys (and husband!) who love the Star Wars movies, so they each plan on wearing their favorite 'geek' t-shirt to school (and work!) tomorrow.
 
For today's newsletter, I have two Ropes Course jokes for you.  Today seemed like a good day to be silly, so today's tip is to have a little fun!
 
First joke:
Did you know that Luke Skywalker was a good teambuilding facilitator as well?  He was always telling people, "Metaphors be with you!"
 
Second joke:
Did you know that Speedy Gonzales was a Ropes Course facilitator?  He was always saying, "On belay, On belay, On belay!"
 
Ok, so they aren't good jokes, but they made me giggle so I thought I'd pass them along on International Star Wars Day, May 4th.  Be a teambuilding Jedi!  Metaphors Be With You!  
 
Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

Leadership On the Fly

Leadership On the Fly
  
This morning as you are reading this newsletter, I'm on my annual fly fishing trip.  Once a year I head out to the Arkansas River for a week of unplugged solitude.  The Caddis fly is hatching right now and the rainbows and browns are hungry.  
Michelle Fly Fishing
I started fly fishing in 2009.  I found fly fishing to be a lot tougher than I had expected and I nearly gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts.  I usually pick things up very rapidly and I was astounded by how much there was to learn. I was hopelessly discouraged, after my initial exposure found me overwhelmed by what seemed to be an endless array of complexities, dozens of casting techniques, and enough knots to hold Houdini captive.
 
But I kept pushing myself. Tried a new casting technique, tried a new fly, hired a guide to help mend my mistakes.  Then one day I realized that I could improve my casting by focusing on my goals, adjusting my techniques and following through with commitment--all things I instruct my clients to do to meet their business objectives.  

When it dawned on me that I had found something that was pushing me outside my comfort zone, I got excited.  In business, I ask people to step outside their comfort zones on a regular basis.  Finding something that did the same for me gave me new perspective, and an opportunity to find some parallels back to leadership.
 
There are several techniques in Leadership that remind me of Fly Fishing:  Focus, Adaptability, Passion, Desire and Continuous Improvement.
 
Here are a few of my favorite parallels between leadership and fly fishing this week:
  • You have to know when to untangle a knot and when to cut your losses.  One time I was standing in the river untangling a horrible knot.  For some reason I was hell-bent on untangling it instead of cutting off the fly and starting over.  Suddenly something caught my eye, and when I looked down I literally had a fish swimming at my knees.  Because I was so focused on untangling a knot, I missed the opportunities that were right in front of me.  I think we do this in business as well.  There are times we spend so much time focused on the mistakes we have made in the past, that we don't see the opportunities that are right in front of us.fly fishing
  • Conditions change--you have to be prepared to change with them.  There's a saying in fly fishing:  'Don't fish yesterday's fish.' Just because you were successful doing something yesterday, or if one tactic worked for a week, or a month, or a year, that was then. You have to figure out the now. Tides change, weather changes, fish move. Try to look ahead to the next spot, where you can use the knowledge you gained at your old spot. That's how you repeat success.
  • You have to want to get better or you will become complacent and frustrated.
  • The last 10% of your backcast is the most important part of your cast.  Most anglers work 2-3 times harder than they need to when trying to catch a fish.  Most leaders work 2-3 times harder than necessary.  Better results are necessary with less effort.
Have a great week!  What are you wading for?  
 
Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

A-Ten-Shun! Playing With a Full Deck Turns 10!

A-Ten-Shun!  Playing With a Full Deck Turns 10!
 
It's hard to believe that my book, Playing With a Full Deck, has been out for 10 years now.  That completely blows my mind!  Playing With a Full Deck
 
I've been hanging around Jokers most of my life, so it makes sense that I like playing cards!  The first card games I remember playing as a kid were Nerts and Solitaire.  Nerts was a competitive version of Solitaire that we played as a family all of the time.  I had 5 siblings and a slew of cousins that lived nearby and during those long, cold winter days in Kansas we'd always play cards.  Solitaire...  There is something very satisfying in starting with disorder--a random arrangement of cards--and watching order restored, as the cards fall into a special pattern, change places according to a plan, or form an ordered  sequence from Ace through King.  There's a good metaphor there for life and anyone who works with groups. 
 
A simple deck of cards can cover so much ground with any group that you work with.  Everything from mixers and get to know you activities, problem solving initiatives, powerful diversity activities and great debriefing activities can all be done with a deck of cards.  If you think about it, in a traditional sit-around-a-table card game, your hands, eyes, and mind are all busy.  Rules must be remembered and followed.  All players are equal, whether adult or child, and there are winners and losers.  In card games and solitaire, there is an element of suspense because the outcome is unpredictable.  It's the result of skill, luck, or both.   Sound like any programs you have facilitated lately?  There are a lot of similarities to team building to traditional card games.  That's why creating so many activities from such a simple prop came pretty easy!  
Michelle w cards
 
I also love to use playing cards to randomly divide large groups into smaller groups.  Cards from a standard deck can be divided in many ways-into red and black (26); suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades)(13);  and denominations (aces, twos, threes, etc.) (4).  Card games can also engage players in classifying, ordering, reasoning, deducing, and devising strategies to solve a problem.  These same skills help in science, math, and other studies.  They help us concentrate, focus attention, hone motor skills, and become more sociable.  

To celebrate 10 years of playing card fun, here's a free ebook with 9 activities from the full book.  If you'd like to purchase the full book, find it on sale here!
 
Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

Hoop Pass

Facilitator Tip: Hoop Pass
 
This activity is an oldie but a goodie.  It probably originated with Karl Rohnke.  This was one of the first activities I learned when I took my first job as a teambuilding facilitator.  Although I haven't used it in a little while, it's still a favorite.  You can use it with both adult groups or kid groups alike.  

Type of Activity: Problem-Solving, Cooperation, Opener/Closer

Props Needed: Hula Hoop/Webbing circle, Stopwatch

Process: This event is both a typical warm-up activity, and an opportunity for cooperation. With the entire group holding hands in a circle, ask them to pass a hula hoop completely around the circle.

Have the group form a circle and join hands. Insert a hula hoop or webbing circle between two people so it rests on their conjoined hands. Instruct the group that the hoop must pass through the entire group, starting and ending at the same spot, without letting go of the person next to them. Use the stopwatch to time them. After their first time, ask the group if they feel they can do better than that time. Do it about 3 times and see if they decrease their time each time. Encourage participants that this is not a race (unless that is what you would like). After completing one full circle, the facilitator can add a second hula hoop, (at least one section smaller than the other hoop), and ask that one hula hoop move to the left (clockwise), while the second hula hoop moves to the right (counterclockwise). This works well if you have segmented hula hoops, so you can adjust the size of the hoops.
Debriefing Topics: If you start your program with this activity, come back to it at the end of the day to see if they can apply some of the skills they learned throughout the program and decrease their time even more.
  • How did the group cooperate during the activity? 
  • Were you worried about slowing the group down when the hoop came to you? 
  • What were some strategies you used to ensure a smooth transition?
  • How were you able to decrease your time?
  • How can you relate this experience to the real world?
  • What elements of project management would relate to this activity?
  • Why is it important to strive for continuous improvement?
Check out our Segmented Hoop Pass on sale below!

Enjoy!
Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

The Versatility of the Bull Ring

Facilitator Tip: The Versatility of the Bull Ring
 
I still remember the first time I saw the Bull Ring activity.  I was in grad school and attending my first AEE conference in Lake Geneva, WI, and I fell in love with the versatility of this tool.  I thought I would share several different ways you can adapt this activity for my tip today.  Hopefully this gets your creative juices flowing, and that you try one of them out!
Bull Ring
The Bull Ring in it's simplest form is a team activity that requires a group to work together to lift a ball off of a cone using a ring with strings as the system to transport the ball.  The challenge is to carry a ball through a series of obstacles and place the ball onto the goal, the ball stand, using the bull ring.  One of the things I love about this activity, is that you can incorporate as many limitations and obstacles as you want to make this activity more difficult.  For example, only allow the participants to hold the very end of the strings.  Or the only people who can touch the strings are blindfolded.  Generally you want one string per participant, however, if you have more people than strings introduce blindfolds or other limitations to ensure that everyone is involved with the process.  Create obstacles such as doorways, trees or a table.  Get creative and have fun!
 
This activity can be hard or easy based on the parameters that you set up for the group.  One suggestion is to let your participants choose the level of challenge they would prefer to have.  This allows your participants to have more ownership of their experience.  Give them an option to choose a desired level of difficulty ranging from 1-5.  For example:  Level 1 would be a very simple task, 3 would be a medium challenge, and 5 would be very difficult.  
Level 1 challenge:  Let the group get close to the ball in the center.  Allow the group to drop the ball without starting over.
Level 5 challenge:  Incorporate another initiative while doing bull ring.  This group is traversing on the TP Shuffle ropes course initiative while doing Bull Ring.
Another common variation is the Bull Ring Candelabra, where multiple groups have to all place their ball on the same apparatus all at the same time.  

Use PVC pipe to create a Candelabra as the ending point.  Each ending point must be at a different height for this to work.

Another variation would be the Bull Ring Cup Stack activity.  I like to use Dixie cups and let groups brainstorm what the essential elements of working together as a team are.  Then I have them write these on the Dixie Cups.  Then, instead of a metal ring I use a rubber band.  The group must then build a pyramid with their cups, making the foundation the most important team elements are, then build up from there.  This creates wonderful dialog during the activity.

Bull Ring Cup Stack
You can also restrict movement by only allowing them the use their non-dominant hand on the strings.  They may not touch the cups with their hands.

Bull Ring Cup Stack:  This also works well for large groups in a confined area.
The versatility of this activity makes it one of my favorites.  I'd love to hear some of your variations as well!  

Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

FUNdoing interview with Chris Cavert

Facilitator Tip: FUNdoing interview with Chris Cavert
 
Last November I had the privilege of sitting down with dear friend, colleague and fellow teambuilding author, Chris Cavert of FUNdoing.  Chris was the very first person I met in my first class in graduate school at Minnesota State University at Mankato.  We were both attending getting our Master's degree in Experiential Education.  Since then he has authored eight books in the teambuilding field including a few of my favorites, The Empty Bag, Portable Teambuilding Activities and The More the Merrier.

Chris puts out a weekly newsletter as well and he interviewed me on what my Top 10 teambuilding activities are.  
  
Check out the interview here!  

To celebrate I'm putting all of Chris' books on sale in my store today (plus about 10 others!)  Visit our Activities Book Section on our online store and stock up today!  And remember, all orders over $100 ship for free!

Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  

The Courageous Leader book

Facilitator Tip: The Courageous Leader book
 
Many of your know that I have a second company outside of Training Wheels called Personify Leadership.  Personify Leadership is a two-day leadership development program based on 8 core competencies of effective leadership.  I am pleased to announce that my business partner, Angela Sebaly, has just written a new book called The Courageous Leader, How To Face Any Challenge and Lead Your Team to Success.  I could not be more proud of her!  Here is a little information about the book:
 
The Courageous Leader is about being Courageous in the face of tough times. Courage is defined as "what moves us to action in the face of tough times." Tough times are defined as "situations and people that cause us some level of discomfort or pain." So the question for every leader who wants to personify the Spine of a Leader is: "Are you willing to move to action in the face of discomfort or pain?" It's not that courageous leaders derive pleasure from pain, but rather, that they are willing to accept pain as part of the process. Traditionally, courage has been viewed as something reserved for the elite and well trained. Leaders falsely believe they are required to be the "Navy Seals" of the workplace to be considered courageous but in reality, courage is accessible to everyone. Courage is required not just with the grandiose problems but in the simple every day challenges that we all have the capacity to tap into. The Courageous Leader provides a different lens for how to see and leverage courage in day to day application by using stories of every day leaders.
 
Angela Sebaly shares a few insights from her new book, The Courageous Leader
Angela Sebaly shares a few insights from her new book, The Courageous Leader
Please join me in supporting Angela by Purchasing your copy today!


Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings
Michelle        
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  
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