This 90-minute module was developed for AFS by Steve McCurly in January 2005. The centerpiece of the session is a simulation entitled "What's for Lunch?" The session has been used successfully at several staff trainings and volunteer conferences. It requires a minimum of 16 people to be effective, and is especially well-suited for larger groups. A powerpoint presentation accompanies the session outline.
Time: 90 minutes
- Large Group Discussion
- Small Group Discussion
- “Working Together at a Distance” Powerpoint
- “What’s for Lunch?” menus
- Means for indicating different groups – easiest method is name badges of various colors or designs. Assume each group will have 8-12 people.
- Collection of small stickers in various patterns (star, smiley face, heart) – one sticker of each variety per group.
- “The Boss” stickers – one for each group
- Scrap paper for participants to write messages on.
- A fairly large training room with movable chairs.
- Signs labeled “Physical”, “Hierarchical”, “Temporal”, and “Psychological”
- Blank note cards
- Masking Tape
Behavioral Learning Objectives
By the end of this session participants will be able to:
- List the four categories of "distance" that typically affect organizations.
- Discuss the complex feelings, attitudes, and behaviors that emerge as a result of distance.
- Apply what you have learned about distance to your work with specific AFS volunteers and teams.
Activity 1: Distance Exercise
Purpose of Activity: Simulate a situation in which participants personally experience the impact of distance.
Time: 30 minutes
- Inform participants that they will be engaging in a group decision-making exercise. Hand out and ask participants to complete the “What’s for Lunch?” menu. Utilize slide #2 to stress each participant will be working to get their menu choices enacted in the exercise which follows.
- Distribute color-coded name badges, in sufficient numbers that groups are formed with from 8-12 participants per group. Ask participants to place the name badge in a visible location on their body.
- Direct participants to take their menus and gather in groups according to their name badges. Tell them to stand when they reach the vicinity of their group. You can assist in this by assigning different parts of the room to the various badge colors.
- Go quickly to each group and distribute a set of the 3 patterned stickers. Do this by handing one to a particular member of the group. If you are familiar with the group members, distribute stickers to those who are in leadership positions or who have strong personalities. Each group will now have a member with a Star, a member with a Smiley Face and a member with a Heart. Ask these individuals to put the stickers on their name badge.
- Now give a further set of directional instructions, telling participants that these apply only to those to whom you just distributed the stickers:
- If you have a Heart on your badge, I would like you to congregate [point to a location in the center of the room.]
- If you have a Smiley Face, I would like you to congregate [point to a location on one edge of the room.]
- If you have a Star, I would like you to congregate [point to a location next to a door exiting the room.]
- Direct all the participants to find chairs and get comfortable in their groups. Allow a few moments for the group to get situated, but don’t give them time to start getting acquainted with one another.
- Indicate that we are now configured in what we will refer to as the Headquarters groups (the main set for each color name-tag) and what we will refer to as Field groups (the individuals with stickers split off from each Headquarters group).
- Tell participants that the next task is only for those in the Headquarters group. Those in the Field groups should simply relax and watch. Each group will need to select a leader, called “The Boss,” for the exercise. Tell them you will impose the method of selecting The Boss, so that it is done quickly. The following system works very well, as bizarre as it seems:
- I’d like each of you to look around at the fellow members of your group. In particular, I’d like you to look into the eyes of each person. In those eyes I want you to look for signs of intelligence, strength, charm, inner beauty, alertness. I want to you identify the eyes which just shout out to you, “Put me in charge and I’ll lead this group to greatness.”
- Now, I’m going to say “One, Two, Three, Point!,” and when I reach “Point” I want each of you to aim a finger directly between the eyes of the person you think ought to be leading your group. Ready?
- One, two, three, Point!
- Indicate that the “The Boss” is the one with the most fingers in their direction. Give the appointed leader of each group a sticker that says “The Boss”. Indicate that these leaders should pay close attention to the instructions you’re about to give since they will be held personally responsible for getting their group through it successfully.
- Utilizing slides #3-5, cover the instructions for the exercise.
- Stress the need to negotiate vigorously for each person’s menu choices – this will both add to the learning experience and make the exercise more fun.
- Ask if there are any questions, then note that there is one final task before the exercise begin. Point to the “Star” group and ask them to go just outside the door to the room. If there are no seating spaces outside, direct them to take chairs with them. Tell them you’ll be with them in a moment.
- Direct participants to begin.
- At this point, the facilitator(s) should circulate, operate as fax machines to deliver written messages between groups (do not make this too easy – demand a written message and only deliver it to one address at a time). Go to the “Heart,” “Smiley Face,” and “Star” groups and tell them they can either be passive (i.e., wait to be communicated with) or “active” (try to communicate with their group).
Continue the exercise for approximately 15 minutes. About 5 minutes from when you plan to end the exercise, utilize Slides #6-8 to announce the remaining time. After the 1-minute slide, loudly announce a 30-second warning and then do a 10-second countdown until conclusion.
Activity 2: Debriefing of “What’s for Lunch?”
Purpose of Activity: To have the participants identify the feelings that emerged for them during this simulation of working together at a distance
Time: 20 minutes
- Invite the “Star” group back into the room and ask the members of the all of the field groups to relocate to their HQ groups. Tell everybody that they will now be debriefing the exercise.
- Begin the debriefing by inviting the members of the “Star” group for their viewpoint, using the questions on slide #9. As they give their experiences, ask for examples of concrete actions that led to their feelings – timing and content of messages, lack of response, inability to see what was going on. This can be done more effectively if you have scouted during the exercise to identify examples of those who were most ignored or who engaged in a spirited fax exchange with their main group. If you read the fax messages as you are delivering them you can also find some excellent examples of very poor attempts at communication. Do not let the HQ groups respond during this part of the debriefing; let them know they have an opportunity to talk in a few moments.
- Invite members of the “Heart” and “Smiley Face” groups to offer input. You should get more “positive” responses from these groups, especially from those members who happened to be physically located close their HQ unit and were thus able to actually talk with and observe the group. Point out that communication in the room was directly proportional to distance: 90% of the communication occurred in the small HQ groups; 5% with the field unit nearest to HQ and the rest with the more remote field units.
- Now allow members of the HQ units to give their perspective regarding what made it difficult to engage the field units in the decision-making process. Continue to push for concrete examples and raise some of your own – one reliable example of lack of true involvement can be raised by asking the members of the field unit if any of them knew by what process their HQ group was going to make a decision – voting, unilateral decision by the Boss, tossing dice? Point out that field groups can’t have much faith in a decision-making process when they don’t even know what it is.
- Finally, ask the people who were “The Boss” in each group about their experience as the central person in the communication and decision-making process. You might expect that they felt overwhelmed by or bogged down in the process of achieving group consensus. They will probably believe that they communicated more with their field groups than the field groups reported.
- Conduct this debriefing briskly, and do not allow people to get bogged down in a debate. Note that what happened in the exercise was a perfect replication of a “distance” situation, even if the distance was no more than 20 feet across a room.
- Utilize slide #10 to summarize some of the effects of distance and ask if anyone has ever encountered any of these :
- Tensions start to arise between the headquarters office and the field units. They arise over exactly the same kind of things you saw in this exercise - bad communication, greater and lesser degrees of participation and power, feelings of disenfranchisement.
- As people start to become irritated with one another, they tend to become less friendly, withdraw and start to exhibit depersonalized leadership styles.
- This lack of a relationship leads to people not communicating freely, which then creates fragmented understanding because different units aren’t sharing what they know or expressing their true opinions, or even being asked for their opinion.
- This creates increasing inefficiency, as people operate with lessened degrees of both information and trust. We begin to look at everyone with suspicion.
- This leads to a growing subservience to paperwork among some individuals. They will do what is necessary to make it look like they are doing the job, especially maintaining a paper trail.
- But among the more dedicated individuals, something else happens. These individuals are motivated to accomplish things. Their response to their situation is to simply create their own individual agenda and start following it, ignoring the dictates of HQs. Some of them will effectively secede the form their own dissident organization. The less motivated will simply quit or disappear.
Activity 3: Categories of Distance
Purpose of Activity: To provide a systematic approach for understanding the different ways in which distance impacts people
Time: 10 minutes
- Utilizing slide #11, introduce the concept of “distance.” Ask participants how each of these categories played out in the simulation exercise and discuss the different ways in which it might be created in a “real world” setting:
- Physical – separated offices or workspaces
- Hierarchical – leaders versus followers; bosses versus workers
- Temporal – those who work days Monday-Friday versus those who work on evenings or weekends; those in different time zones
- Psychological – paid staff versus “just a volunteer”
- Pass out one note card to each participant and ask them to think about a current situation with a volunteer or volunteer team in which “distance” is a complicating factor.
- Post signs for each of the categories on the wall while participants are writing on their note cards.
- Instruct participants to tape their cards under the appropriate category sign after thinking about the following question – “which type of distance is the primary or most important factor in the situation?”
Briefly debrief the results. Which category has the most issues? Which type of issues fall into which category? Is “distance” even the most important factor in each situation?
Activity 4: Application and Planning
Purpose of Activity: To apply concepts about distance to real situations that participants are currently dealing with
Time: 30 minutes
- Break people into small groups of 4-6 people.
- Utilizing slide #12, ask participants to work in their groups to select one of the situations/issues that was just posted on the wall by the members of the group. Explain that this situation will be the basis of a more thorough discussion. Ask them to select someone in the group to record ideas.
- Utilizing slide #13, instruct the group to use the situation to discuss the two questions. Give about 15 minutes for the discussion. Emphasize that they should spend as much time on resolutions as on analyzing the situation.
- Conduct a debriefing of the small group discussions, first asking for any comments regarding the exercise and its impact and then focusing on what actions might be taken in a distance situation to improve the interaction with separated members.
Evaluation of Workshop