A participant’s edit to a workshop activity leads to an innovative new twist

It’s one of those iffy training exercises.  Asking a North American audience to use their bodies to form a picture is risky.  Eyebrows tend to head north.  Question marks (or the equivalent, #$@#$!) dance above participant’s heads.

We North Americans, especially corporate North America tend to divide our brain from the rest of our body.  There’s a clear delineation and rarely the two shall mix.


On this particular day, gathered with some 70 folk, towards the end of a training I decided to do it.  After getting them into smaller groups of three I said …

  • Create a picture, as a group, using your bodies that reflects what your organizational culture looked like in the past.
  • Next create a picture, as a group, using your bodies that reflects what your organizational culture looks like now.
  • And finally do the same except form a picture of what you’d like it to look like in the future.

To reassure the group I joked that they didn’t have to touch if they didn’t want to.  We weren’t going to hug and kiss and sign Kumbaya.  I encouraged all members in their small groups to participate.  In advance, I told them they’d be showing one other group their pictures.

After a few minutes the raised eyebrows calmed down and the groups got to work creating their sculptures (notice I didn’t use that word, it likely would have been too intimidating).

At my signal each group quietly demoed their pictures to another group – one at a time, without speaking.

Past flowed into present which merged into future.

Then they switched.  The presenters then became audience and the partner groups reciprocated.

Then IT happened.

A participant came up to me and with a gleam in her eye said that her group wanted to see everyone‘s pictures and asked if they could all demo.

Ulp inducing gulp #1:

  • I hadn’t told the group they’d be demoing in front of the entire group.
  • It could be a clear case of being disrespectful by changing the rules mid-way.
  • It could have broken down the sense of team that we’d worked hard to build during the workshop.
  • Hey, some folk could rightly be yammering, you didn’t say we’d have to do that.  I wouldn’t have done my picture like we did if I knew Bob would be watching. OR  Oh God, please kill me now- I’d rather die than have Meredith see our pictures.

Ulp inducing gulp #2:

  • we were short on time.
  • while less of an access and inclusion issue than #1 but lunch was definitely calling.

What to do?

I made a snap decision and told the large group what the request was.  I asked them to form a large circle and following my lead as a I slowly pointed around the circle, to form their first picture.  I acknowledged that were were improvising and gave them an out – making it clear that they were free to pass if they didn’t want to participate in front of the large group.

After a moment of silence to let it all sink in I quietly started to my left and began swinging my arm around the circle.  Slowly sculptures formed and then unformed as my arm swept past.  Pictures of the past kept emerging, rippling out of each other.

When I got to the end of the circle I doubled back quietly reminding the group to form their ‘present’ pictures.  Again, sculptures unfolded quietly.

Finally a third round brought us sculptures of the future.

It was quiet when we finished.

I closed the workshop and encouraged them to continue dialogue about what they’d seen, to approach their colleagues and ask them about their pictures.

I encouraged them to look for differences that made a difference and similarities that were significant.

It worked.  The gulp inducing decision worked.

In fact it was pretty darn cool.  I loved the improv element that a participant brought to an old activity, one that I’d learned decades ago while working in the Philippines.  It’s called Moving Pictures.  Feel free to use it (crediting the source is always appreciated) and let me know how it goes.


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