Prepare by taping a sheet of flipchart paper down on a small table. Make sure there's plenty of standing space around the table for your participants. Draw three parallel lines along the length of the paper: solid, dotted, solid. Make any necessary allowances for participants with disabilities. Set up the Rope Puller with a No. One Neuland marker velcroed to the central peg and nylon cords looped through the disc's ten holes. Select a word for the group to write that's clearly relevant to them. For example, "Baltimore" for the Baltimore City Council, or "Chemistry" for the American Chemical Society. The word should be about ten letters long.
Here's a script to introduce the Rope Puller:
"We're going to take a minute and do a quick energizer, to shed light on the dynamics that you might experience as you take part in the group process going forward. Has anyone ever been done one of those creative, think-outside-the-box puzzles? This isn't one of those. No grabbing the marker in the middle of the disc! You can only touch the Rope Puller by hooking your index finger through the loop at the end of the string. Go ahead and find a free loop and hook it with your finger now. Everyone got one?"
"OK, now on to the task. Remember back in grade school, when you were learning to write, and you had those big sheets of paper with the solid and dotted lines? The paper on the table is one of those sheets. Your task, as a group, is to write the word '_____.' Go!"
Give no other instruction. Get out of their way. Make as many observations as you can that parallel a group process. What do they do first? Did they orient to where the top of the page is? Did they choose capitals or lower case? Did a natural leader emerge? Did they celebrate? At what point? What was communication like at beginning? The middle? The end? Was everyone actively engaged? Did anyone resist the process? Take notes for yourself, observing as much as a possible.
When the group finishes, ask them open-ended questions about the process, for example:
- How was that?
- What did you notice about the process?
- What did you notice other people were doing?
- What was going on at the very beginning? What happened? What emotions were you feeling?
- What happened in the middle? How did it feel?
- How about the end? How did that feel?
Add your own observations where appropriate, but always follow up with a question after your own observation: Who else noticed that? What does that mean for a group? How do you see that show up in your day-to-day work? How could it show up today?
Close the energizer by drawing an analogy to the group process that participants are about to go through. Here's a script you could use:
"Just like the Rope Puller, at the beginning, there's uncertainty, lack of clarity of direction, doubt, and anxiety. You get through the beginning by being open to the process. At the middle, speed picks up. Intuition takes over. Less instruction is necessary. You get through by going with the flow and being sensitive to the push and pull of the people around you. At the end, the process closes. There's celebration. There's a sense of accomplishment. Doubt and anxiety are replaced with pride and relief. You get through it by honoring each other's efforts."
"At certain points in the group process we're about to go through, you'll experience the same emotions. At those times, it's important to remember that this is an intuitive process, and that further you get into it, the more comfortable it'll be."
Throughout the course of the day, point back to the resulting word chart as a check in: "What letter would you say you're on right now? What does it feel like?"
As a model for group dynamics, the Rope Puller works well as a complement to the Principle of the Roller Coaster.
Variation: +10 participants
Lately, I've experimented with using the Rope Puller with groups larger than the standard 10. So far, the largest group has been 32. To accommodate larger groups, make additional lengths of nylon cord with tied loops at both ends. Hand these additional lengths of cord out, one to each participant. Their first task is to make a "human network" by passing their cords through other loops, until everyone has a single loop. Not every length of of cord will be necessary. Ask the group to try to ensure that their are no runaway offshoots, where a branch splits significantly more times than any of the others. This is to ensure that the distribution is even, and everyone is relatively the same distance from the marker. Once the network is complete, proceed with the instructions as above.
The Rope Puller is available at Neuland.com.