Opening the door to communication through group juggling

Group juggling increases communication, challenges out-of-the-box thinking and works on problem-solving skills. This great activity opens the conversation around communication and conflict.

Do you need an activity that increases communication, challenges out-of-the-box thinking and works on problem-solving skills? Group juggling, or communication balls, is a great activity to use to open the conversation around communication and conflict or within a training about the topic.

The facilitator will need a variety of objects such as balls, stuffed animals, toys, etc., to get started. The group first forms a circle and the facilitator will start by tossing one ball to a participant. The participant tosses the ball to another and so on until every participant gets the ball only once and the last participant throws it back to the facilitator.

The facilitator tells the group to remember who they are tossing the ball to and who tossed it to them. If it is a large group, it is sometimes helpful to have people place their hands behind their back once they have received the ball. This should only be done for the first time around.

After the group has established a pattern, the facilitator should toss the ball again telling the participants to follow the pattern they have created as quickly and safely as possible. Once the group has gotten through the rotation a second time, the leader should continue throwing the ball, sending it around again immediately, and now start adding in balls or items each round until the group gets up to as many as the leader thinks the group can handle.

The items thrown should be a mix of medium weight balls, light and soft balls or items that are hard to throw, and even a hard item such as a golf ball. Items should very in sizes and texture, adding to the difficulty of the task. It is fun to put some fun, odd items in such as squeaky toys or a rubber chicken.

Once the facilitator has gotten a fair amount of items out (five or six), they should put them one by one back into the container as they come to them and stop to debrief.

Facilitator questions can range in difficultly. Below are a few examples.

  • How hard was it to do this?
  • How did you communicate with each other? You should listen during the activity so you can call out items you heard or saw in case nothing is said, such as “I heard someone calling the person’s name before they tossed the ball.” “I saw another person make sure they had eye contact before tossing the ball” and so on.
  • Was it more difficult when you received a soft message or a soft ball that was hard to get to the person you intended it for? Did this get intercepted by others because it fell short?
  • When the hard message or hard ball was sent, did you take extra caution? Isn’t this how we should communicate? Sometime hard messages have to be sent, but we need to send them with caution and understanding.

The facilitator should now suggest to them to do it again to see if they can do better. This time adding more items if possible, maybe up to 10. While this is happening, the facilitator should send an item around the group to be passed from one person to another—not thrown. This adds in outside interference. One variation can be an open marker so they have to really pay attention to it. This adds another level of difficulty.

Once completed, this time the facilitator should ask if it was better, easier or harder. Then they ask about the outside interference and how that made it more difficult.

The debriefing on this activity can be as full or minimal as the facilitator desires. It can be a door opening activity to discussing communication and conflict resolution, or it can be placed in the middle of a training to help participants put the items they have been discussing into perspective. It is a fun, energetic activity and can really add a lot of fun and enthusiasm to any training.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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