An experiential activity is just an excuse for conducting a debriefing discussion. The real learning comes from the debriefing—not from the activity.
I am fond of making this statement. I don’t have any empirical data to back it up, but it sounds profound. In my training sessions, I behave as if this is truly a profound and valid statement.
I am also fond of conducting brief experiential activities. Reinforced by a suitable debriefing session, these activities result in generating powerful insights.
Pair Up is a short and simple activity. Accompanied by a debriefing discussion, it can become an effective exploration of two-person relationships.
To explore factors related to two-person relationships.
Maximum: Any number
Best: 10 to 30
6 minutes for the activity. 10- 20 minutes for the debriefing
If you have an odd number of participants, select one person at random to be an observer. Ask this person to wander around the room and watch what happens among the participants.
Find a partner. Ask the participants to pair up with a partner. Do not provide additional information. Pause while the participants organize themselves into pairs.
Regroup. After everyone has paired up, tell the participants to leave their current partner and find a new partner. As before, do not provide additional explanations.
Introduce the debriefing session. Tell the participants that you are going to ask them to reflect on their experience, come up with some insights, and share them with the others.
Describe the format. Explain that you will ask several questions. After each question, you will pause briefly to permit each person to come up with one or more responses. When you blow the whistle after a pause, the participants will share their thoughts with the partner. Later, you will ask for volunteers to share any interesting, unexpected, and useful insights with the entire group.
Ask why? Ask the participants to think back on their earlier behavior and figure out why they chose the partner they chose. Also ask them to think about how other people chose their partners.
Share the responses. Pause for about 20 seconds and blow the whistle. Ask the participants to share their responses with their partner.
Ask for volunteers. After a suitable pause, blow the whistle again. Ask for volunteers to share any interesting, unexpected, and useful insights from their responses with the entire group. Wait until the volunteers have presented their insights.
Introduce responses from earlier participants. Tell the participants that you have a collection of responses from earlier groups about the choice of partners. Explain that you are going to present these responses, one at a time. You want each pair of participants to discuss how valid these responses are.
Present the list of responses. Give these responses, one at a time. As before, ask the participants to spend some time thinking about the validity of the response and then discuss the response. Finally do a quick poll of how many people agree with the response and how many disagree.:
- Most participants pair up with people seated near them.
- Most participants pair up with people they already know.
- Most participants don’t spend too much time in deciding who they should pair up with.
- No participant refuses an invitation from someone else to pair up.
- Most participants pair up with attractive people.
- Most participants pair up with friendly people.
Ask what-if questions. Explain that you are now going to describe some situations that are different from what they experienced earlier. Ask the participants, “If you are asked to pair up with another participant in each of the following situations, what would you? What do you think the other people would do?” Present these situations:
Strangers. The participants in the group are strangers to each other. They have not met the other people before.
Intact group. The participants in the group have been working with each other for a long time.
Playing cards. Each participant is given a playing card from a shuffled deck. They are asked to use the card to find a partner.
Systematic pairing. The facilitator assigns a partner to each participant. The facilitator does not explain the basis for pairing up people.
Unexplained pairing. The facilitator assigns a partner to each participant. The facilitator clearly explains the basis for pairing up people.
Ask for presentations. At the end of pausing for the discussion of each situation, welcome the participants to share any interesting insight with the rest of the group.
Ask what-if questions. Tell the participants that you are going to share some instructions given by an imaginary facilitator. Ask each participant, “What would you do if your facilitator gives each of the following instructions? What do you think the other participants would do?”
Competition. You will play a competitive game with another partner. Find someone to compete with.
Cooperation. You will work with a partner to solve a problem. Find somebody to be your partner in this activity.
Competency. You will work with a partner to solve a mathematical problem. Find somebody to be your partner in this task.
Date of birth. Pair up with someone who has the same birthday (month and date, not the year) as you.
Difference. Pair up with someone who is as different from you as possible.
Similarity. Pair up with someone who is as similar to youas possible.
Limited time. You have a 15-second time limit. Quick, pair up with another participant.
Same gender. Pair up with someone of the same gender as you.
Opposite gender. Pair up with someone of the opposite gender.
Ask for presentations. At the end of pausing for the discussion of each imaginary instruction, invite the participants to share any interesting insights with the rest of the group.
Conclude the session. Point out to the participants that the debriefing discussions took more time than the activity. Explain that you learned a lot about two-person relationship by listening to their discussions and insights. Thank the participants for their contributions.