Thirty-Five for Debriefing

You are probably familiar with Thirty-Five  as a structured-sharing activity. Thirty-Five can also be used as an effective debriefing game.

In this version, participants reflect on an earlier experience and identify important lessons they learned. They write one of these lessons as a brief item. The winner in this activity is not the best player, but the best lesson learned.

The sample activity described below involves sales guidelines. It is used as a debriefing follow-up to an improv game called The World's Worst that explores sales techniques.


Any number. The best activity involves 10-100.


15-30 minutes


  • Index cards
  • Whistle


Brief participants. Recall an earlier experience. Ask each participant to write an item on an index card that captures an important lesson learned from this experience. Instruct participants to keep the item short, specific, clear, and legible. Ask for an example to illustrate the item. Announce a suitable time limit.

After playing The World's Worst Salesperson, I asked participants to think back on the humorous blunders portrayed by the actors. I asked them to write a short practical guideline for being an effective salesperson based on what they experienced in the game. I asked for someone to give me an example and one of the participants suggested, “Never imply a kickback or any such unethical tactic.”.

Let go. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle and give instructions for getting ready for the next steps. Ask each participant to review his or her idea and silently gloat about its elegance and power. Then, ask participants to emotionally detach themselves from their guideline and get ready to launch it into the world.

Switch items. Ask participants to their turn cards down to hide the item. When you blow the whistle, participants are to stand up, walk around, and exchange the cards with each other. Participants should not read the items on the cards they receive but should immediately exchange it with someone else. They should continue doing this until you blow the whistle again.

Find a partner. Blow the whistle to begin the exchange process. After about 20 seconds, blow the whistle again to stop the process. Ask participants to stop moving and to pair up with any other nearby participant.

Compare and score. Ask each pair of participants to review the two items on the two cards they have. They should distribute seven points between these two items (no fractions or negative numbers) to reflect their relative merit. Participants should write these numbers on the back of the cards.

Conduct the second round. After a suitable pause for scoring, blow the whistle again and ask participants to repeat the process of moving around and exchanging cards. When you blow the whistle again after 20 seconds or so, participants stop moving, find a partner, compare the two items on their cards, and distribute seven points. The new score points should be written below the previous ones.

Conduct three more rounds. Tell participants that you will be conducting three more rounds of the activity. Suggest to participants that they should maintain high levels of objectivity by disregarding earlier numbers and by keeping a poker face when they have to comparatively evaluate the item they themselves wrote.

Count down to the winning items. At the end of the fifth round, ask participants to return to their seats with the card they currently have. Ask them to add the five score points and write the total. After a suitable pause, count down from 35. When a participant hears the total on the card, he or she should stand up and read the item on the card. Continue this process until you have identified the top 5-10 items.

Discuss the items. Briefly comment on the top items and invite participants to make their comments.

Follow up. Thank participants for generating the items and evaluating them. Tell them that you will type up a complete set of items and distribute them either through regular mail or e-mail. (Be sure to follow up on this promise!)