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Purpose: A good physical demonstration of how systems act and react to changes within them. According to Booth Sweeney and Meadows, “at the core of systems thinking and system dynamics lies the premise that the structure of a system drives the behaviours we observe” (205). By creating a system themselves, participants can experience some of the characteristics of causality and systems, such as interdependence, feedback, delays, leverage points, bottlenecks and the impact of structure on behaviour as well as exogenous inputs (Booth Sweeney & Meadows 205-214)
Materials: A large space where people can move around relatively freely, 10+ people
Time: 30 minutes
Step 1: Ask for one or two volunteers to be observers for this activity. Then have them leave the room with a facilitator.
Step 2: Ask participants to form a circle in the space, facing the centre. Explain that they will be engaged in forming a simple system.
Step 3: Ask participants to silently select two other people in the circle to be their references. They will not name these people out loud or indicate who they have chosen in any way.
Step 4: When you give them the instruction, tell participants to move to a space in the room where they are equidistant (an equal distance) between the two people they have chosen as references. This activity is done in silence. The group will move around - usually slowly at first - to try to move into the space between their two references. If one person speeds up, the whole group will. This usually goes on for a few minutes and then the system will come to a natural stop. After the group is moving, have the observers come in to observer what is happening. Then ask them to leave again after a minute or two.
Step 5: Have participants come back into the circle. This time ask them to choose two reference points, but specify that everyone has to use _________ (pick a participant at random - this participant will represent a locus of power or a high leverage point so try not to pick a white male). Then specify that in addition to this condition, participants are also not allowed to use _________ as one of their references. Here you can name a person if you know the group well, or you can say ‘anyone wearing a green shirt’. The exclusionary condition will represent a low level of influence or power, so again be careful who you choose. Run the activity again, and again ask the observers to come in to observe the group.
Step 6: Another potential round or variation is to apply pressure from outside the system. For example, you could quietly tap someone on the shoulder and ask them to slow down/speed up/stop and see what happens to the group. Or you could ask someone to slowly leave the room/space and see what happens then. This is an example of an external input.
Step 7: Ask the observers to rejoin the group and come back into circle to debrief the activity.
Start by asking the observers what they saw. You could nudge them to identify patterns or principles of what appeared to be happening (remember they won’t have heard the intro to this activity). Have the rest of the group fill in the observers if they are struggling to identify the dynamics.
Ask: What real-life behaviours did it remind you of? Where do high/low influence people show up in your organisations? What can we learn about stability, systems change, and leverage points from this activity? What happened when (if) an outsider intervened in the group? How might it feel to be a newcomer to the system? What is it like to have high/low levels of influence? There is usually quite a lot to debrief with this activity, including concepts of systems change, complexity, power and privilege.
Purpose: This is typically a teach, which can lead very well into a check-in activity. The teach can be done in 10-15 minutes (see page…?). Alternately, this check-in can be a great way to re-introduce the concept of the Breath Pattern, allowing participants to connect with feelings/experiences they might be having and embody the learning (it’s a great check-in for a groan-y day).
Materials: Roll of masking tape to tape out the Breath Pattern
Time: Just the check-in can be done in 15-20 minutes. If combined with the teach of the Breath Pattern, schedule at least 30 minutes.
Step 1: Tape out the Breath Pattern on the floor before starting the activity. Make sure that you make it large enough that all participants will be able to fit inside it.
Step 2: Ask participants to stand and place themselves inside the Breath Pattern at the spot where they feel the most comfortable (Divergence, Emergence, or Convergence - or at the intersection of two stages). Invite participants to take note of where the majority of the group is, where the rest of their teammates are, spots where there are fewer/no people, etc. Do a quick popcorn check in with participants from each stage of the Breath Pattern. Why did they locate themselves where they did? What makes them feel comfortable there?
Step 3: Now ask participants to move to where they feel they are at the moment (steps 2 + 3 can be done in any order, depending on what makes the most sense for the group and where the activity shows up in the flow of the workshop). Again, invite participants to locate the rest of their team in the Breath Pattern, note where the majority of the group is, and where there are fewer or no people. Do another popcorn check in with participants from each stage of the Breath Pattern. Why did they locate themselves where they did? Is this where they feel most comfortable? Least comfortable? Where is their body telling them it wants to get to? What might be the drawbacks/benefits of being in discomfort? What might be the drawbacks/benefits of moving to where they feel comfortable?
Step 4: Invite any final thoughts from the group as a way of debriefing the process. The Breath Pattern is a great check-in for a mid-process day, where participants might be groany, as it allows them to give voice to their frustrations, be heard and seen in them, and also take note of where the rest of their team/the group is at. It helps to raise the tension from the level of embodied unease to the level of conversation and shared experience.
Variations: You can ask participants to move to where they feel the least comfortable; where they think the rest of their team is in the process; where they feel like the whole group is in the process; where they’d like to develop skills, etc.
Purpose: This is a good check-in for one of the first few days of a workshop. It is especially useful for geographically diverse groups (i.e. newcomers to Canada, the Economic Immigration Lab cohorts, international students, etc.). It allows the whole group to be able to visualise the how everyone came to be in the room together - quite literally.
Materials: Masking tape or post-it notes to roughly mark out a world map on the floor. You don’t need to draw out every continent, but by indicating two or three major cities per continent, participants will have an idea about how to fill in the gaps.
Time: This check-in can be done in 15 mins.
Step 1: Have participants stand in the place on the map (roughly) where they were born. If you are working with a group of majority Canadians, make sure that you’ve made Canada quite big, so that everyone can find a spot.
Step 2: Explain that we are going to silently trace our life’s (physical) journey chronologically, spending 5 seconds in any place that a participant lived for longer than 3 months and finishing where the participant currently lives. It can be helpful to demonstrate yourself.
Step 3: Ask participants to trace their physical journey from the place where they were born to the place they live today - in silence. The group will be a bit chaotic for a while and then generally come to a standstill, perhaps with a few world travellers still moving.
Step 4: Generally, participants will all end up in the same spot (unless it is an international workshop). Debrief the activity by asking participants how it felt to trace their steps, to catch glimpses of other people’s journeys, or to feel the collective experience in the room.
The debrief can be a good place to talk about the diversity and abundance of experience in the room, and it sets up a good metaphor of a journey (i.e. the journeys we’ve come from, and the journey we’re about to take together).
Purpose: This is a really great way to gauge the levels of interest/engagement/equity/belonging/etc. in the room. It can be easier for participants to communicate satisfaction/dissatisfaction physically than verbally, and this exercise tends to democratise participants’ inputs.
Materials: A large enough space for participants to be able to form a line between two points.
Time: 15-20 minutes
Step 1: Explain to participants that we are going to engage in an exercise where they will physically stand in a spot on an imaginary spectrum between two fixed points. Identify the two fixed points (at different ends of the room/space), often a pole or even people serve best as the fixed points. Make sure everyone can see the points (if using a person, it can be helpful if they stand on a chair).
Step 2: Explain that you will be asking a series of questions or making a series of statements, and that the more that more that you would answer in the affirmative or the more that you agree with the statement, the closer you should stand to point X. The more that you would answer in the negative, or the more you disagree with a statement, the closer you should stand to point Y. You can attribute numbers to points X and Y if it helps (0-10 e.g.).
Step 3: Ask the series of questions, one at a time. Questions should be crafted depending on the group and what you want to know, what you feel the group might need to address. Some sample questions might be:
- How well are we communicating as a group? as a team?
0 is not communicating at all. 10 is perfectly open and clear communication.
- I feel seen and heard by the group? the rest of my team?
0 is very negative. 10 is very positive.
- Are we working effectively together?
0 is not at all. 10 is yes absolutely.
- I feel ownership of the prototype/process.
0 is not at all. 10 is yes absolutely.
- I am getting something out of this process.
0 is nothing at all. 10 is it’s a fruitful, rich experience.