There is something very awkward when you meet a big group of new people, and this applies especially to the training setting – this awkward thing is small talks! The group of 20-30 people who does not know each other get together and within few days we expect them to open up, establish relationships (both professional and personal) and feel comfortable to share sometimes very personal stories. The role of facilitators is to support the process of the creation of the group and help them to open up.
Yes, but how? There are tons of activities already developed:
- Name games – so we can learn names of the group – usually they are boing, but very important for the process;
- Getting to know each other activities – where we facilitate that people learn what they do and who they are; sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they are very superficial – since how much it helps to learn what is a favorite color or sport of one person.
- Trust building activities – as the name explains where we push others to learn to trust, usually involving touching and being touched, doing something with closed eyes and being guided etc.
- Group building activities – where the group needs to do something together and they are learning who can take different roles in the group.
And still after all of this quite often I see participants during the coffee breaks discussing about the weather, since it is really to early to get to the question that people are really interested in. But how long you can talk about the weather?
In the last seminar I was facilitating we came up with the idea how to support the group even more to open up, and help them to use their free time to discuss the issues that really matters for them. This is a background activity that I call ¨NO FOR SMALL TALKS¨. This is a background activity where you explain a bit to the group the aim of it, motivate to skip the small talks and offer the space to think what kind of issues they would like to ask the group. Then you ask each one of participants individually to create the card with questions that they can always have with them in their pockets. They need to come up with min. 5 questions that they would like to ask to others and they do it. Then you close the session motivating the group to use those cards as much as possible during breaks, meals or whatever social gathering and try to ask all the people from the group the questions they put down on their cards.
In the last seminar we did it, and since it is a background activity I am still not able to say how much it actually helped the group and how much they use them. There is always a risk if you introduce the activity during the first day that it will be quickly forgotten. So it might make sense to ask the reminding question one of the mornings, how the activity is going on. Anyway I have a feeling that it make sense and I plan to experiment more with this activity.
Some of the questions developed by participants:
- When did you cry last time?
- What would you change from your past?
- What situation with people makes you uncomfortable?
- What do you think about gender differences?
- From 1 to 10 how do you evaluate your life at the moment and why?
- Can you share with us a great experience you had in your life?
- What inspires you?
What is background activity?
Background game or background activity is the activity you normally introduces in the beginning of the project and is happening in the background of all the other activities, during all the time. The standard example of the background activity is a game ¨secret friend¨ where each group member randomly gets a name of other person from the group and needs to make the life of this person special, for the duration of the whole activity.