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The River Exercise

This team building exercise can be used with teams of 16 to 60. Participants are divided into two groups and are placed behind pieces of masking tape that are taped to the floor 50 feet apart. Participants are told that these pieces of tape represent the banks of a fast flowing river. A two foot by two foot square is created in the middle of the river using masking tape. Participants are told that this square represents an island in the middle of the river. Participants are issued two foot long pieces of two by four wood boards. Each team is given 6 boards. Participants are told that these boards represent boats to get them across the river.

Participants are told: that the object of the exercise is for each team to get to the other side of the river. That once a boat leaves the shore that it must go all the way to the other side before it can return. That no more than four people can stand on the island at one time. That participants must stay in physical contact with the boats at all times while they are in the river or the boats will float away. That there are monsters in the river and that they are attracted by noise and that the facilitator will let them know when monsters are present and that when they are present everyone must be absolutely silent or that person will lose the use of one of their arms. The facilitator will let the participants know when the monsters are gone. If anyone steps into the river the entire team must return to the starting shore. Participants are given 30 minutes to get across the river-20 minutes for smaller teams.

The facilitator monitors the efforts of the team. If a boat is left untouched, it is kicked out of play by the facilitator. At the end of the allotted time, or upon earlier completion of the exercise, the facilitator calls a halt, gathers both teams in a circle and processes the exercise:

  • What happened?
  • How did the team organized itself?
  • How did the team handle different ideas?
  • Did the team learn from its failures? From its successes?
  • Did the two teams cooperated? If so, how did that come about? If not, why not?
  • How can this learning be applied in the way the team works?
  • Who are the monsters in real life?
  • What was communication like on the team?
  • How did leadership evolve?
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