Our string theory activity will demonstrate the power of relationship within a team, and how everything else depends on strong connections with those you work with. If you’re setting up a new team, you can use this to get to know each other and lead into a ‘team charter’ or ‘mission statement’ writing session.Teams solve complex problems where individuals would become overwhelmed. When teams form and collaborate, one plus one does not equal two. There’s a compounding effect when we share ideas, leverage each other’s skills, build on our successes and learn from each other’s failures - this is where the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts.The team are going to share facts about themselves whilst passing around the string, creating a web that can provide a base for the flip chart paper and subsequent blocks of post-it notes.The string represents their connections, the flip chart represents their purpose and the post-its represent the day-to-day work. With strong connections and clear purpose, the team are strong, yet when connections are severed things quickly fall apart…
- Ball of string
- Flip chart paper
- Blocks of post-its
- Begin by assembling your group in a circle, each person standing to face the centre of the circle. Allow about a foot of space between each person.
- Pass the ball of string to someone in the circle, ask them to hold the ball of string in their dominant hand and the loose end in the other hand. Ask them not to let go of the loose end of the string - this is critical!
- Ask the person holding the string to reveal a fact about themselves to another member of the team e.g. “my favourite band is The Rolling Stones”, then prompt another member of the team to respond if they have a common connection e.g. “I play guitar”. Then ask the person holding the ball of string to throw the ball to that new person (whilst holding onto the other end of the string!)
- This new person will now hold the string in their weak hand and the ball in their dominant hand then reveal a new fact about themselves for someone else to respond to, and so the ball of string is passed around the team until everyone has at least one piece OR the ball of string is used up.
- You should have a web of string where every team member is holding at least one bit of the string. Ask the players to tug a little at the strings they hold, or to loosen the tension a little. Let the group do this for a few moments and then ask the group:"Can you feel the connections?""Do you feel like a single entity?”
- Now place a pad of flip chart paper in middle of the web (it should lay flat and feel quite stable). Tell the team that this represents their purpose, their mission.
- Then break up some blocks of post-its into small chunks and place randomly across the flipchart paper. They should sit comfortably and not disturb the flipchart paper. Explain these represent the projects and tasks to be done within the team.
- Ask team to tug and loosen slightly, representing the naturally movements in team life. Ask them how it feels? Pretty stable, right? If you feel comfortable, give one or two of the team members a slight push and explain you’re simulating an outsider trying to disturb the team. It shouldn’t make much difference, because their connections are tight.
- Now, announce that one person in the team has had an argument with someone else in the team, they’ve fallen out and refuse to make amends…This team member has become disengaged! Pick someone to drop a connection - ask them to physically drop their string. You will see this doesn’t make much difference to begin with, but continue this role play and pick on members of the team who have ‘spoilt’ their relationships and ask them to drop their connects one by one, and eventually corners of the flip chart paper will fall and the post-it blocks will fall off.Eventually, the whole flip chart falls through with all the post-it blocks ending up on the floor.
- Keeping the team in a circle, you can begin to ask some questions and draw out some learnings as explained in the next section...
- What happened when a team member let go of their connections and became disengaged?
- How did this disengagement affect the team?
- How did this disengagement affect the projects and team purpose?
- Why is disengagement infectious? How does it affect collaboration?
- Would it have been easy to re-engage team members once they were disengaged?
- What is more expensive - engagement or disengagement?
- How easy would it have been to put more ‘work’ on top of your purpose once a handful of team members had become disconnected?
- Does anyone have any examples of teams where they experienced this disconnection and disengagement?
- Does anyone have any examples of teams where they’ve had really strong connections and therefore been able weather any storm?
As mentioned earlier - this string theory activity leads really well into a mission statement or team-charter writing session. You can look at behaviours that create strong connections and agree on which ones in particular will be championed in the team, or you can craft a mission statement (represented by your flip chart paper) and clarify the team’s purpose.Enjoy getting to know your team, have fun with this hands-on exercise and watch as the lightbulbs moments happen in front of your eyes whilst uncovering the power in team relationships, engagement and purpose.
- I first encountered String Theory a number of years ago, however, it was done purely to show how we're all connected.
- I later worked with some brilliant Agile coaches who introduced me to an adaption of the activity that included extra elements to demonstrate how a team's purpose and projects rest on those connections.
- For more information: www.beliminal.com/agile-resources/agile-games-and-exercises/