More ice-breaking

It’s good to be back in the classroom. So good, in fact, that within the hour I’d got back out of it.

Of course, this was all in the service of setting up the class for the semester’s work on negotiation, which I finally began at 9AM on Monday morning.

(personally, I like that slot and I do promise to students that I will make it worth their while to be there too)

As well as the usual what’s-the-module-all-about-ery, I use this opener to underline that it’s student-led and that they have to take very active responsibility for their learning.

In past years, Victor’s Hobbes game (which we’ve discussed endlessly here) has served really well, as it has a bit of getting-to-know-each-other as well as its big dollop of people-are-a-pain-to-be-with.

But as I noted last year, it’s not necessarily the freshest take and I knew that I had at least a handful of students who’d taken this module in previous years.

So what to do?

Reaching back into my metaphorical bag of activities, I recalled an activity that was rather good for exploring preparation and communication, both key themes in negotiation.

Students were split up into teams, and told to have 10 minutes to prepare for the following:

“Everyone will be blindfolded, then moved about by me. Once moved, I’d give them a number. The objective is for the team to get into a line, with the smallest number at the front, the largest at the back. Oh, and no-one can speak or make any sound with their mouth once the blindfold goes on.”

For info, I had 4 teams of 8-9 individuals apiece.

So you’ll do what they did: work out how to find each other, work out how to make sure they’re all on the same team, then work out how to order themselves in number size.

Awkward, but not impossible. Right?


Obviously there’s a twist.

The twist was that once they’d had their prep, I got them to collect their bags and coats, then we walked out to one of the university’s plazas. I then moved them apart over the entire space (bad luck, the group that had planned to tap on a table to find each other).

The second twist was that the number I whispered to individuals wasn’t part of a simple 1-9 sequence. I threw in some fractions, some very big numbers, some negatives, even Pi (as well as 3.14 to check who’d paid attention in middle school).

If you’re running this, you can riff on both twists. I did this exercise with my colleagues last week on our awayday and just moved some of them out of the room, plus I became a bit more obtuse about the numbers I gave out.

Only word of caution is if you’re outside, just underline that you’ll move people around in a responsible manner and if they feel concerned about their safety (in our case, there was a busy bus-stop on one side of the plaza) then they should remove their blindfold.


The exercise worked really well, in short.

Students got the message that when you plan you have to plan for as many possibilities as you can imagine – interestingly, both the space and the number issues were mentioned in the planning chats that groups had, but not actioned.

They also learnt about the role of non-verbal communication and of trust in each other.

It’s longer to play than Hobbes (which we also played in the session), taking about 30-40 minutes, plus a bit of de-brief. But it felt like a good use of time and I can see potential spin-offs from it too.

Add to that a bit of promotion of our work to the rest of the university (we got quite an audience) and it’s something I’ll be using again.