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Unlocking the potential of large groups through faSILLYtation

Picture this: You’re part of a group of stone-faced, shifty people, waiting for something to start. Maybe this is your team, the people you spend every day with, and you’re about to brainstorm ideas for the next fiscal quarter. Perhaps you’ve never seen these people before, and you’re about to take the same course, training or workshop. Quite possibly this group contains some future close friends. You definitely think one of them is extremely attractive. You’re worried they’ll think you’re attention-seeking or weird if you say the wrong thing. You’re feeling shy and hesitant, unsure what your next move should be.

This is a picture of ice waiting to be broken

Sound familiar? No matter the context, being able to break the ice or energise a group is extremely useful. A good energiser makes people feel comfortable, gets them laughing and enjoy a shared experience. The effects are long-lasting and extremely beneficial. Once groups have played or done something silly together the members feel psychologically safer. It’s easier to be yourself with somebody you’ve shared a fun moment with. This leads to increased productivity, better relationships and less social anxiety.

That’s why we at Mischief Makers are masters of ‘faSILLYtation’. We’re not afraid of facilitating group activities that are playful, lively and fun. The power of play cannot be understated. It unlocks the potential of groups. As soon as we break through the carapace of professionalism we choose to surround ourselves with, productive work and a sense of belonging soon follow.

We recently set up a day of energisers for the brand new first year students of AMFI, the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. These 450 youngsters had just met the previous day for the first time. They were shy, excited, nervous and far better dressed than I was at that age (or still am, for that matter). After an hour with us they were laughing, joking and visibly far more relaxed. How, you ask? Through the power of play! Read on to find out how we designed this session and get some tips for when you find yourself in front of 450 people gazing up expectantly at you.

From this…
to this! (in one hour)

1. Find some co-facilitators

450 is a lot of people. It’s unreasonable to be expected to engage and keep such a large group’s attention all by yourself. That’s why you need to have some partners in crime you can rely on and that will support you. We ended up having four Mischief Makers on-site: a general coordinator and three facilitators for the three different activities we had prepared. Each of those three, in turn, had three supporters. These were AMFI second-years that had volunteered to help out. This encouraged the first-year students to take an active part in the exercises, as they could see that integrated members of the group they wanted to belong to were actively involved. This works really well when doing team building exercises in companies too. Results always improve when the boss, manager or ‘higher-ups’ get silly and active.

2. Achieve crowd-control through a shared language

This is super important if you don’t want constant chaos. Very early on in any session we facilitate we make sure to all agree on a symbol that indicates it’s time to be quiet and listen to the coordinator. Often this takes the form of a raised hand — if you see someone with their hand raised, you stop talking and also raise yours. Very quickly the message spreads throughout the group and it becomes quiet. This symbol can be anything; standing on one leg, cocking your head sideways, flossing…. the sky’s the limit! Always involve the group in the choice. Provide an example (like the raised hand) and see if they come up with something more personal.

3. Kick off with a hot-start

Before you dive into the content in your session, choose a warm-up exercise connected to the activity ahead. One that activates the mindset you’d like the group to use, sparks curiosity or offers insight or introduction to the session task. Use the hot-start to bridge the gap from intro to content. As one of our tasks here was to help a new group connect, we kicked-off the hot-start ‘Rapid connect’; the full group of 450 have 4-minutes to greet every single person. Next, we had them find someone at random to talk to, and answer some questions we had prepared. ‘What did you want to be when you were growing up?’ ‘What excites you about fashion currently?’ This takes those initial conversations past small talk, and into more open convo’s which help people connect and bond.

4. Do a fun, relevant activity

Finally, the main event. Games and activities for 450 participants do exist. But it becomes much easier and engaging if the groups are smaller, and more intimate group sizes improve the potential for connection. With this in mind we broke the massive cohort into smaller groups of approx 50 people — and assigned each to an Energiser Activity. Each activity had a designated facilitator and space. When one round of the activities finished, the group cycle on to the next one. We decided to take some classic games and put a fashionable spin on them for the AMFI students. Here are two of our favourites:

🎬Lights, Camera, Action

We adapted this game from an old rehearsal room classic, ‘Knights, Castles and Dragons’. The group walks around the space until the facilitator shouts out either “lights”, “camera” or “action” and counts to three. Each of these commands represents a certain pose or scene they must form before the time is up — or they’re out.

Lights: 2 people. One person represents the stand and the other the lightbulb on top. This move requires someone carrying their team mate on their back!

Camera: 3 people. Two people face each other and form a circle with their arms (the reflector) and the third goes on his/her knees acting like a photographer.

Action: 4 people. One person stands in the middle and poses (the model), one person stand in front of the model waving their arms (the wind), one person stands behind the model waving their arms (the flapping dress in the wind), one person stands next to the model acting like a make-up artist.

Anyone without the right number of people is out. Anyone who doesn’t hold the pose is also out. Continue playing until down to 2 people. The 2 finalists then do a ‘shoot out’ to see who’s the winner. During this they stand back to back. If the coordinator says the name of a fashion designer they take a step forward. If they say a fake name, the two finalists turn and shoot with their hands. Quickest to shoot wins. You can change this to any relevant category for the group.

Lights, Camera, Action (in action)

📸Paparazzi

This is a spin on a classic game you might have played in primary school. The facilitator (or paparazzo) stands alone, about 100m away from the group (who are fashionistas). With their back turned to the group he or she shouts out ‘PA-PA-RAZZIIII!!!’.

During this time, the group tries to get as close to the paparazzo as possible. When the paparazzo turns around all the participants have to freeze in a cool pose so the paparazzi can take some glamour shots. People who are still moving or can’t hold the pose properly they have to go back to the start. Continue until 10 fashionistas reach the end line. We implemented extra rules that the participants had to follow in subsequent rounds: running sideways, using a flower with all their poses and crawling on their hands and feet. You do you and add your own mischievous spin!

Fashionista’s in action

And there you have it! 3 activities, 450 students and one proverbial broken ice. If you want to learn how to design, create, play and inspire just like us, join our facilitation course in Amsterdam or online.

Found this article without watching the video? Never fear — check it out here:

Shot and edited by Hugo Duyvestyn

Words by Mr. Chief Roeland Doherty

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Your monthly dose of Mischief around play, collaboration and facilitation.

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Mischief Makers

Mischief Makers

A facilitation agency focused on collaborative working and the power of creativity. We design workshops and programs that shake things up to unlock potential. ✨

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