Basic Components to Team Building – Framing

Framing an activity is to give a team building game a fictional plot. The frame has different functions including adding excitement and helping to keep participants within the given rules. We will learn more about that soon, but first let’s take this game example without a frame, then give it a frame to see the difference. 

“You have laid down a starting line with a drawn rope. Across from that you place another parallel rope, 10 meters apart, which is the end point. You ask students to get from one side to the other by using two hula-hoops that can only be moved when no one is standing in the hoops. Hula-hoops cannot be picked up, rather they can only slide along the ground as far as you can reach. Two people are allowed in each hula-hoop at a time. Touching the floor in between the two ropes is not allowed, unless you are standing in the hula-hoop. Should you touch the floor, it would result in the person being automatically out of the game. Three minutes are allotted to complete the activity. The goal is to get all teammates across in the given time.”

That was an uninspiring way to present a team building activity, even a little confusing. The group’s motivation to complete the activity will be very low. Now let’s look at the same activity, but using a frame to give rules and details about the activity. 

“Students, you are on an island resort playing volleyball and swimming when suddenly the volcano on the island begins to erupt! An employee of the resort tells your group that the lava flow will reach you in three minutes. In order to escape the lava flow, you need to cross this water to get to the next island where you will be safe (refer to the ropes as edges of two neighboring islands). The only way to get off the island will be with these two boats (refer to the hula-hoops). The boats will not move unless they are empty, then you can slide the boats along the water as far as you can reach. Only two people can fit in the boat at one time. When occupied, the boats can’t move. No swimming is allowed, as ANYONE who touches the water will be eaten by sharks immediately. (Your goal is to get everyone to safety.) Ok, I think I can see the lava coming now.  You have three minutes… Go!”

While the rules remain the same, the frame truly changes the game into a new experience. The frame provides a clear level of excitement that the same game without a frame cannot.  Done well, groups can lose themselves in their own imagination with lots of excitement. This group has forgotten that they are learning, team building, or perhaps even in school. Groups getting lost in the activity will allow the instructor to take the game further than they may have imagined. 

The frame will also help manage students in a few ways during the activity. Perhaps most important is rule keeping. If a student steps outside the boat (hula-hoop) on his or her own journey across the water (floor), all will react with loud cries or screams as it is strictly forbidden in the rules, as there are “sharks in the water.” The group will be into the story and will want to keep true to it, meaning they will be more likely to hold to the rules. Furthermore, you may see less deliberate cheating for the same reasons. These likely cheaters have an imagination running about the sharks, lava and the boat along with everyone else. Their imagination can act as a voice telling them to stay within the rules as they, too, wish to keep the story going.

In my experience it has, surprisingly, been teacher groups who keep each other within the rules better than any other group, adult or child. Should a fellow teacher step outside of the hula-hoop on their way across, all members of the teacher groups will scream and shout, demanding an exit of that player from the game immediately. “You’re dead!” the teachers will scream. Only the smallest part of the unfortunate teacher’s foot need be out of the hoop in order to elicit such a response from his or her peers. Teachers or not, all usually enjoy playing along with a story or a frame.

The third and final value to a frame comes with “adjusting the parameters.” It is a central part to proper facilitation. More will come about this during chapter three.

Types of frames

Building a frame requires a little imagination and an idea in mind about what is to be accomplished. As mentioned before, knowing your audience is important. The same fictional plot may work well with one group, flop with another, and insult yet another. There is no need to be completely original either. The group’s pop culture, popular books, locations, etc. can be easily used to create a frame with the atmosphere you are looking for and a frame that students will enjoy.  

Some common and easily understood themes include: Volcanically active island/resort, deserted island, space, the moon, moon men, space monsters, pioneers crossing a river, pirates, jungles, hidden treasure, toxic waste. There are an unlimited variety of frames that can be created, but what is most important is to pick something that fits your group and the game you have chosen.

Two main types of frame stories exist, which are reward and fear. Reward frames are the hidden treasure type where the goal is to get/achieve something that they would want in real life. For example; money, food, and treasure work well. The other, fear, seems to work incredibly well, and far better than reward, in my experience. Examples include; space monster, sharks, and toxic waste. Go with what works for you and your group, but don’t be afraid to try something new; the unexpected could be amazing.

Frames With a Content Connection

Another way to create a frame is to build it out of academic content that you are currently working on in your class. Be sure you are culturally sensitive! My favorite example came while teaching 6th grade science…

The Grand Canyon Cross

Set Up: Several 2’x6′ wood boards are set up in a zigzag pattern across the floor with red bricks, supporting the boards, on each end. The boards are touching end to end and are slightly off the ground, as seen in the diagram. Place small rock samples in small boxes or covered cups for the group to find along their journey across.

One half of the students start with blindfolds on and all participants must go from the beginning to the end by walking across the planks. Those who can see lead the blind across the planks. The students are arranged in pairs of one blindfolded and one not. The one not blindfolded must also use the test kit to determine if it is safe to cross a section or not. The blindfolded partner can also help by instructing or help with interpreting the results. (All paths are safe in real life, however, you the instructor will tell the partners if they have crossed into a ‘bad path’ section.) 

To organize, you can send a few groups across at a time depending on how big your course is or you can even do the game without the boards lifted up on red bricks to make it a little less physically challenging. 

Figure 2.1 Drawing of game layout with board and brick paths.

Frame: You are at the Grand Canyon with your group. A sudden dust storm blows in and causes many of you to lose the use of your eyes. Before the heavy rains come, you need to make it across the plank bridges back to safety in the Bright Angel Lodge by using your hardness scale test kit. Along the way, check to see if the path you have chosen is made of a strong stone that could lead to safety or weak stone that could lead do disaster. Remember to stay away from a sandstone bridge, or any bridge made from stone with hardness less then five according to the hardness scale. They are much weaker!

This game can be played without the content connection of the introduction to geology just as successfully. If you use this lesson, you would want to build in some “bad paths” where the sandstone bridge would serve as a trap. The students I’ve seen participate in this game truly get into the adventure and end up talking about the finer points of navigating rock walls made up of the different types of rock, and what they might do in real life.


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