The One Word Story is an experiential activity that can be debriefed to illustrate the importance of ground rules or basic teamwork skills. This activity can easily be done virtually as well as face to face. Also note that the activity contains guildlines for each stage of the Kolb Learning Cycle.
Activity: One Word Story—Ground rules/teamwork application
Purpose/Outcome: To have the group experience the importance of ground rules or basic teamwork skills to facilitate their work together. This is a great exercise to use as a benchmark for a workshop, training series, or establishment of a new working group.
Activity Description: Explain that the group will be creating a short, original story, and that they are to continue the story until the leader stops them. Assure them that they do not have to re-tell or remember the story.
- An order of participation will be established by seating arrangement in a face to face setting or by assigning numbers or following a roster in a virtual setting.
- The facilitator will start by contributing the first word of the story, the next player will add the next word, and the players will continue to create the story by adding only one word at a time.
- Ask for any technical questions before giving the title for the story.
- Ask for the suggestion of an object (piece of furniture, a tool, a kitchen utensil, etc.} and create the title for the story, e.g., The Magic ‘dustpan.’ Then begin the story.
- One word at a time.
- Keep the story going until the facilitator calls the ending.
- What was your experience? What did you notice?
- What skills, behaviors or attitudes were being used when story was flowing; when it was really easy?
- What skills, behaviors or attitudes were being used when it slowed, stalled or blocked; when it felt hard?
- What can this activity teach us about working effectively together?
Learning Points. Here are some parallels between what worked in this activity that we can use as guidelines for how we work together in this group.
- Agree and focus on a common goal. By having a collective focus, i.e. a title for our story, we all have the same goal in mind.
- Attend to the details. Small words are important (and, the, a) to creating grammatically correct and coherent sentences, so we need to pay attention to the details of our work.
- Be present and listen actively. We need to be present and pay attention to each other, out of mutual respect and to assure that our contributions build on what’s been said (yes, and).
- Attend to non-verbal’s. Picking up on subtle signals and being attentive to the non-verbal communication in the room can tell you when someone was trying to finish a sentence or steer something in a new direction.
- Embrace diverse ideas. Any story you build together is slightly more interesting and usually more fun than one you create alone.
- Keep your comments concise. When only contributing a word you can make a big difference in the direction of the story, yet you offer equal room for everyone to contribute.
- Only one person speaks at a time. Only one person speaks at a time so we are all heard.
Application: Journal about what the exercise revealed to you. Share what you discovered with a partner. Ask participants to analyze what didn’t work for them, and what they want to do about it. Have them commit to specific actions that support desired behavior changes.
About the Author: Noelle Celeste works with a wide range of non-profit organizations and innovative small businesses. Her work has taken her from political organizing in Brooklyn to youth development in Boston and Columbus, and from multimedia in “Silicon Alley” and arts marketing and public broadcasting in Cleveland to girls’ education nationwide. In 2006 Noelle launched Branching Out, LLC, a company dedicated to working with partners to cultivate new initiatives. She has worked with more than a dozen clients in areas of marketing, development, strategy, board engagement, campaign management, training and coaching, research and writing.
Try this activity out in one or your workshops or trainings. Please share your comments on this activity or its interpretation in this context.