Cooperative Stories

Usually we think of pretending as an escape from reality; a denial of what's serious about life. But sometimes pretending enables us to reach for the stars while keeping our feet on solid ground. One type of pretending, half belief, can help us balance reality and fantasy In addition to our personal lives, half belief can also be important in our work and social relationships.

One way to help members of your team to grasp the notion of half belief is with this activity of cooperative storytelling which has its roots in improvisational theater.

Cooperative Stories

Goal: to practice acceptance of multiple viewpoints
Materials: None
Time: 15 - 20 minutes
Participants: Any number working in pairs or triads

Procedure: Match people into pairs or triads and have them sit so they can see and hear each other. Explain that to do this activity successfully, people will have to pay attention and react positively to what their partner says without judgement.

The object is to tell a story collaboratively by having each person of the pair or triad taking turns saying just one word at a time. The stories people tell can be fantastical but encourage people to make them coherent and to keep inventing the stories until you tell them to stop.

Indicate that the person with the snazziest shoes can begin by saying the first word. Then partners should respond with the next word to build the story. Announce the start of storytelling.

After about three minutes, stop the action and have a brief discussion choosing from among the following questions.


  • How would you rate your story?
  • What made this activity easy; what made it challenging?
  • What did you do or how did you react when your partner said a word that completely surprised you?
  • To what extent did you try to influence the direction of the story or the next word your partner might add?
  • Some people may think they were stuck saying the little connecting words like and, a, the, of, etc. How could we change the activity to address this concern?
  • If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?

Now repeat the activity with any modifications the group suggested. This time, however, challenge people to keep their story as realistic as possible. Invite a different person to begin the story and start the clock for another three minutes.

Gather everyone's attention and wrap up with a few more discussion questions.


  • Was this round more or less challenging; more or less fun?
  • What effect did a focus on keeping it real have on your story?
  • What are some times in the world of work when someone says something outrageous or off the wall that you didn't expect? What insight about those situations does this activity give you?
  • To tell a story cooperatively, you have to keep your vision or direction for the story in mind while also listening and trying to figure out the vision of your partner. How is this like working with others on your team or in your department?
  • What other analogies can you make between this activity and what you experience at work?

Conclude the activity by reinforcing the idea that the best teamwork happens when we share our own truth while remaining open the opposing reality of our colleagues. And that's how we achieve collaboration.

My half belief is that this activity will inspire big changes in your organization! When it does, please share the story of what happened.