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Exploring Group Formation Through Work and Play at Camp
While working and playing together at camp, your camp staff often works through most, if not all, of the stages of group formation, commonly referred to as forming, storming, norming, performing, and finally, transforming. While entire graduate dissertations, college and management classes, seminars, and numerous journal articles have been written on this subject, you can experience these stages of group formation through the following easy-to-use games and activities that are suitable for camp staff training. Consider the five stages of group formation and how typical summer camp staff might progress through these Stages.
The Forming Stage
This is the polite, opening, get-acquainted, ice-breaking stage of group formation. This process begins as the first staff members arrive at camp and begin moving in. The opening dinner, the general welcome comments from the director, the camp-orientation session, and even the first evening discussions and conversations prior to turning out the lights are all part of the forming stage. At this point, members of the group are just trying to identify who’s who and possibly where they fit into that plan. This stage includes forming an atmosphere of safety and acceptance that is void of controversy and filled with guidance and direction from the director or camp leader. During this stage, offer more training activities than in other stages, because it is important to build a strong foundation, if the rest of the stages are to be successfully encountered.
Believe It or Knot
After a person has revealed the true nature of their comments (true or false), they say “Left!” or “Right!” and then “Right there!” Now, a new person has the opportunity to disclose something to the group. The level of disclosure to the group is often a measure of the closeness, unity, and respect within the group. For example, a disclosure such as, “I have traveled to another country,” is a lower level of disclosure than “I have a family member that is in trouble with the law.” Depending on the group setting, and the purpose of this activity for your group, different levels of information or disclosure are appropriate. As the group becomes more unified, this activity can bring out greater disclosure between members of the group, family members, members of a team, etc.
After identifying three attributes that they have in common, these two partners raise their hands and find another group of two ready to form a group of four. Now the challenge is to identify two items that they have in common. Again, look deep, and no fair using any of the attributes already identified.
Finally, after this group of four finds out what they have in common, they raise their hands and join another group of four, for a total of eight, now standing inside one of the Raccoon Circles spread around on the floor. The goal for these eight is to find one event, interest, or activity that they have in common. Have each of these groups of eight tell the other groups what they have in common – the more unique and unusual, the better (or at least the more interesting!).
Begin by forming groups of three participants, seated within a Raccoon Circle. Also provide a copy of the First Impressions Activity Sheet on page 34, and a pencil or pen for each participant. The instructions for this activity are printed on the same page. Just pass out copies of this page and go!
The Storming Stage
This second stage of group formation introduces conflict and competition into the formerly pleasant camp environment. At camp, this stage is typically encountered around week three. Why week three? Because that is when most staff members have reached their peak in “loss of sleep.” Suddenly those things that didn’t seem to matter, begin to matter, and conflicts arise. Staff behavior ranges from silence to domination in this environment, and a director or camp leader needs to demonstrate coaching to move past this stage.
While some staff members would rather avoid the conflict of this stage, it is important to build skills and show them how to cope with the storming stage. The activities in this section, therefore, contain just a bit of stress (so that the door may be “opened” to discuss what is really going on). The following activities are very challenging. You should provide a suitable amount of time after each one for discussion within the group.
Cross the Line
Begin this activity by instructing one side to say, “There ain’t no flies on me. There ain’t no flies on me. There might be flies on you (point to folks on the other side). But there ain’t no flies on me!” Tell those participants to take a step towards the line (with just the right amount of attitude). Now, instruct the other side to reply, “There ain’t no flies on me. There ain’t no flies on me. There might be flies on you. But there ain’t no flies on me!” Tell those participants to take a step towards the line. The first side now repeats the phrases and moves to the line — followed by the second side repeating their lines and stepping up until they are face to face with the other side.
At this point, tell the participants, “You have ten seconds to get the person across the line from you onto your side of the line!”
Typically, this develops into a rather quick tug-of-war between partners, and usually a physical solution (for one person at least) to the challenge. The activity presents an opportunity to discuss conflict, challenge, attitude, negotiation, and how to resolve differences between people.
The Norming Stage
This third stage of group formation is typically a welcome breath of fresh air after the storming stage. Although the group is not yet at the high performing stage, some of the bugs are beginning to be worked out within the group, and good things are beginning to happen. This stage of group formation includes cohesion, sharing and trust building, creativity, and skill acquisition. The director or camp leader demonstrates support during this stage.
What is important in this activity, is to stress the group problem-solving process. In order for other members of the group to assist in the completion of the task, they need to know the plan, and what their part is in the solution. To this end, encourage the group to “plan their work” and then “work their plan.” This means that prior to ANY action, the group will need to plan their approach to solving this problem and making sure that everyone in the group knows their part of the plan.
After completing the task, debriefing questions include asking the group if they had a plan and did they change the plan during the completion of the activity, and if so, why? As a second part to this activity, you can also ask the group to go Outside In, again without using their hands, arms, or shoulders and see if they “plan their work” before “working their plan.” Thanks to Tom Heck for sharing this activity.
The object here is to provide the group with some tools to use when they cannot easily form a consensus. Typically, upon analysis, about half of the group thinks the doodle will form a knot, and the other half a straight line. If this is the case, ask participants to partner with another person that has a different viewpoint (i.e., one partner from the “Knot” side and one partner from the “Not a Knot” side). By learning how to listen to a person with a different viewpoint, group members learn how to cooperate. After this discussion, ask participants to choose sides, with the “Knot” decision folks on one side of the knot doodle, and the “Not a Knot” folks on the other side.
At this point, it is likely that there will still not be a complete consensus within the group. Prior to slowly pulling the ends of the knot doodle, let the members of the group know that you will pull the knot doodle slowly, and that they can change sides at any time during the unraveling of the knot doodle (this illustrates the ability to make an initial decision, but still be flexible as more information becomes available).
The Performing Stage
The fourth stage of group formation includes a feeling of unity, group identity, interdependence, and independence. It is a highly productive stage. Leadership from the camp director or leader comes in the form of delegation. This stage provides challenging activities that can be successfully accomplished by the group and builds enthusiasm. Large group projects, such as tower building (using Tinkertoys®, uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows, or newspaper and masking tape), and challenge courses (low and high ropes activities) are useful.
Grand Prix Racing
Begin by spreading several Raccoon Circles around the available space, in close proximity to each other. Ask participants to join one of the “racing teams,” picking their favorite color team in the process. There should be approximately five to ten participants per Raccoon Circle. Have participants hold the Raccoon Circle with both hands in front of them, and state:
“Ladies and Gentlemen! It is summertime, and that means one thing in this part of the world — Grand Prix Racing! Now I know that you are such die-hard race fans that just the thought of a race makes your heart beat faster. So this race comes in three parts. First, when I say, ‘We’re going to have a race,’ your response is a loud, ‘Yahoo!!!!!’ Next I’ll say, ‘Start your engines!’ And, I want to hear your best race car sounds (audience practices making race car revving engine, shifting gears, and braking sounds).
“Finally, with so many cars on the track today, it will be difficult to see just which group finishes their race first, so we’ll need a sign indicating when your group is finished. That sign is to raise your hands (and the Raccoon Circle) above your heads and yell, ‘Yessssssssss!’”
Logistically, Grand Prix involves having the group transfer the knot around the group as quickly as possible, using only their hands. This activity can even be performed for a seated audience. To begin, you’ll need a “start/finish” line, which can be the person that was born the farthest distance away from the present location. The race begins at this location and ends when the knot is passed around the circle and returns to this same location.
Typically in Raccoon Circle Grand Prix racing, there are three qualifying rounds or races. The first race is a single lap race to the right (counterclockwise), with the knot traveling once around the inside of the circle. The second race is a multi-lap race (two or three laps) to the left (clockwise) around the circle. And the final race of the series is a “winner take all” championship race, with one lap to the right followed by one lap to the left.
Incidentally, after this activity, the group will not only be energized, but perhaps in a slightly competitive mood. From a sequencing standpoint, you can either continue this atmosphere (with more competitive challenges — such as into a summer camp competition) or introduce a bit of counterpoint, by following this activity with one that requires the group working together in a collaborative manner.
The Transforming Stage
The final stage of group formation is the other bookend to the initial forming stage. The transforming stage allows the group to regroup, thank the participants, and move on at the completion of the summer. This stage is marked by recognition from the leader, conclusion, and disengagement of the participants.
A Circle of Kindness
Jim Cain, Ph.D. is the author of Teamwork & Teamplay, which received the Karl Rohnke Creativity Award presented by the Association for Experiential Education, and co-author with Tom Smith of The Book on Raccoon Circles. He is a former executive director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology, senior consultant to the Cornell University Corporate Teambuilding Program, and the director of the adventure-based training company, Teamwork & Teamplay. You can download a collection of adventure-based, team-building activities using simple props at: www.teamworkandteamplay.com/raccooncircles.html. Contact Dr. Cain at 585-637-0328, email@example.com.
The Book on Raccoon Circles and Teamwork and TeamPlay are available from the ACA Bookstore.
References and Resources
Originally published in the 2003 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.