Unlearning barriers to collaboration start with unlearning barriers within ourselves. One of the most effective ways to uncover attitudes and behavior patterns that might be getting in the way of our best work with ourselves or others, is through effectively facilitated experiential activities.
While most trainers and facilitators see the value in experiential activities, many wonder how to go about designing them to meet the unique needs of their groups. There are hundreds of experiential activities already designed for just about every purpose. However, we may not always be so fortunate as to have the right one arrive at just the right time. Many times, it will be necessary or desirable to design one of your own.
General Steps for Experiential Activity Design
• Clarify objective for the exercise. It’s easy for an exercise design to become convoluted when its objective is unclear. So be clear about what you want the activity to accomplish for your participants. Here’s an example of a clear activity objective: To give participants practice using the five elements of an effectively facilitated meeting.
• Describe the experience we want people to have. Imagining the experience you want your participants to have helps to put you in their shoes. Placing the focus on them rather than you increases the chances that the activity will meet your objective. Describing the intended experience evoked by the activity requires that you consider the possible thoughts, feelings, and challenges participants might encounter. For example: participants will experience how using a Parking Lot can help them avoid tangents and stay on task.
• Write down what you know on the subject. Simply do a mind dump of key information you know and experiences you’ve had on the subject of the activity objective. This information may serve as material you can use in the activity or as a catalyst for new ideas to emerge.
• Read about and reflect on the topic. Research the topic to learn what others know about it and to help you get fresh ideas and a view of it from alternate perspectives.
• Consult Exercise sources and gather supporting material. Investigate exercise sources both online and in print to see what activities already exist on the topic. These might give you new ideas or provide you with an activity that you can modify for your own purpose.
• Let ideas germinate. New activity designs, like most new creations usually take time to germinate. If after taking the steps above and your activity design is not coming together, let it go for a couple of days and see what kind of ideas arise in your mind as you go about your business. Often my best ideas for activities have come this way.
• Generalize material and inputs to your objectives. At this point, you should be able to generalize the information you have collected to create a unique activity aligned to your objective. It could be helpful to refer to the Activograph I offered in one of my past articles to help assure your activity contains several important dimensions.
• Be willing to let the activity morph. I find that many of my greatest breakthrough ideas often only come just when they are needed. That is, as the day of the workshop approaches, new ideas to improve upon activity design or delivery often emerge or become clearer. Even as the activity unfolds, useful adjustments may show up that make the activity more effective.
• Review and refine. After conducting a new activity, debrief it yourself or with a co-facilitator to explore how it might be improved. Then make adjustments for the next time around.
What tips would you add that have made this process easier for you?
Can you use any of these tips in your activity designs? Do you have any comments to make about the tips above or any to add based on your own experience? Please tell us about your experiences or if there’s something we’ve missed in the comments section below.