The Art of Hosting

Picked up from the emaillist, started with a request by Jerry Nagel; which generated an awesome list of ideas, resources and stories - worth reading!


I do again have a request. Here is the situation. Students in a nearby university will be organized into team of four to work together on a project for the next 3 months. This ‘studio’ experience is part of their class work requirement and happens every year. While they know each other, they have never worked together as a team and most have never worked in any team situation. They will be under a great deal of pressure during their time as a team to complete a project in a highly competitive atmosphere. The idea is to replicate what they will experience in the work world once they graduate, i.e. the intensity of working in teams, meeting deadlines and being highly creative. As you might imagine, in the past it was not uncommon for these student teams to self-destruct.

I have been asked to spend a day with the students hosting team building activities/exercises to help them develop some skills to work better as teams and to avoid potential destructive elements that can emerge. I have ideas for activities from the Gamestorming book and the Systems Thinking Playbook. I am wondering if any of you have suggestions for activities you have used with success either form these books or other sources or your own creativity. Any ideas/suggestions you might offer will be most appreciated.

Best wishes to all of us for a peaceful, joyful and safe 2012.



I've used an appreciative inquiry process very successfully to build teams in this setting.  Having individuals tap into their best experience and the underlying values creates a very strong foundation.  Five Easy Pieces from the Playbook works very well to introduce the principles of systems.

Diana Smith


Dear Jerry,
you might think of a fun teambuilding game I just know in theory at the moment, but I will work with it next Friday with business master students in Berlin ... and could keep you posted :-)
it's called the marshmallow challenge - more info and a ted video about it here:

all love & a happy new year from Berlin,

Hi Jerry,

We just worked with a group in a similar situation… and decided the way in was to establish shared intention/vision and values that could guide action, reflection, and feedback.

We first worked individually and in pairs—with the aim of developing an ‘art installation’ that conveyed personal vision. Individuals started by selecting from various artifacts and images from CCL Visual Explorer. They shared their intuitive connection to these with a partner, and then spent time individually creating their ‘work of art vision’. They shared their personal vision with the entire group during a Gallery Walk. This flowed into a whole group dialogue about the emerging shared vision and the creative tension that they’d hold on a d2d basis.

Next we used the ICA consensus-building method to articulate shared values. I imagine you’re familiar with this process, and its ability to create rich dialogue and quickly derive a framework (in this case a set of shared values) that can be embedded in a feedback process.   

Overall, the process supported vulnerability and openness, being seen, acting with courage, meaning making, interdependence, commitment.... and of course it connected people with their creativity and lightness in a ‘pressure’ environment.

If you’re interested in detail about any of the above, let me know!



A colleague and I worked with a group who wanted to do some team building along with strategic planning. My colleague introduced Patrick Lencioni's "five dysfunctions of a team", and then followed this, all in circle, by asking each person to respond to questions such as place of birth, position in family and one of the main issues they had to deal with in childhood, as a trust building exercise and absence of trust is the foundation plank of the model. There were more questions which I could give you if you were interested. This worked very well,
Best wishes,

Wow, Jerry, this is a great opportunity you have!
A number of things creep into my mind right now... the first one is subversive. What if these students (silently) changed the rules? If there has to be competition amongst the groups, what would happen if they collaborated instead? If the deeper intention of the exercise is to provide them with experiences to prepare them for life and work in the 'real' world, what would happen if they were to learn, not how to fit in with the dysfunctional throat-cutting competitive system of today, but the generative and co-creative future that we need to learn how to build, from the inside out and the ground up? That's certainly a seed I would plant.
In my view , the foundation for any close teamwork in difficult conditions is circle. So be sure to give them the tools for that - best place for instructions (as if you didn't know... ;-)) is 'the circle way' by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linea. Whenever the going gets tough, circle up, with talking piece and bell.
Secondly - if you're not restricted to exercises you can only play in groups of four (although even with 4 it would work), the rope game is an excellent exercise that can serve as a basis for distilling the principles of cooperation - it introduces the idea of the rim and the centre, and the best way of untying the knot is to all focus your attention on the centre, then each individual sees when they should move and when they should stay still or facilitate the movement of the others. Here is a short video that gives an idea of the 'dénouement':
I 'm really curious to hear what you finally come up with, Jerry. There are already some great suggestions in this thread.
Dear Jerry,
I too want to bow to all of you for the co-learning that is shared within this brilliant community.  What a inspiration and blessing!
In addition to all of the excellent suggestions, I want to suggest that you might consider having the students do a bit of sharing around personal perspectives.  A good tool that I use is The People Process (www.the  that has been designed by Pamela Hollister  ( Pam has taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and translated the substance of that material into a very dynamic method for understanding self and relating to others around Energy, Information, Decisions and Actions.  It is a quick way to helping people better understand and successfully relate to others.  
Best wishes.  Judy
Dear Jerry,
I am appreciating the various great suggestions you have received so far re specific activities for building "team skills"...  including using appreciative inquiry, working with the circle, developing shared intention and values and principles, and more...
And, I am particularly inspired by Helen's suggested invitation to the students, re transforming the "larger context"...  with regard to the "larger context", I wanted to share a story of my own experience in a learning environment that was in some ways similar, in some ways different...
I studied organization development in a wonderfully experiential program, where we also were asked to work in teams.... the environment in our program was not competitive (the teams were not "competing" against each other, and the professors were great about having "relaxed high standards") yet the clear intention for our working in teams, was for us to develop greater empathy for the kinds of difficulties that can take place, among co-workers in the workplace... in addtion to, learning to work together with others.
So, while the program clearly included support for how to work well together as a team (in the prior semester, we had all participated in student-led workshops on various tools, including active listening, appreciative inquiry, developing shared intentions and working agreements, etc.) there was also, in addition,
an understanding on the part of the program designers, that developing the kind of deep practice that allows us to apply these skills "in the heat of the moment" is something that takes time... AND, that any temporary "failures", are ALSO rich learning opportunities...
and so, the overall design of the program, included an extensive opportunity for teams to "sign up" for in-depth consulting time, from our professors, to support us at any point in which we found ourselves "stuck".... and, we were strongly encouraged to sign up for time, BEFORE things got "too difficult"...
this was SUCH a helpful part of the program... for one thing, there is nothing like learning about "conflict resolution", from the "inside" of being in a 'mess', and having kind, loving, and highly skilled facilitative support available, as we worked to 'untangle' it...
we learned so much from how our professors handled those situations... the way they kept their own poise, made room for all voices to be heard, asked gentle questions that reminded us of our shared intentions, etc. etc. etc....
and, it certainly increased our empathy factor, for the kinds of situations we would be likely to encounter in the workplace...
as well as, clarifying the huge distance, between "knowing" a tool in our heads, and from having had a few highly structured experiences of it in the past, to having it "in our bones", in a way that would allow us to draw upon it, in practice...
there was so many different kinds of learning involved... including, observing our own resistance to "asking for help", as despite the genuine availability of such, it was often really hard for a team to bring themselves to actually signing up for an appointment!
Anyway, I realize that your role in this situation may not be such that you can offer any suggestions to your client, on the overall design of the program...
and also, the program you will be working for, may already include as part of it, this kind of rich, "just-in-time" support and learning for students....
Still, I wanted to share this story here, as that master's program has been one of the best educational experiences I have ever had, and I cherish it to this day...
with all best wishes,
Hi Jerry,
There are some very helpful suggestions already. 
I wonder if it might also be worth doing the compassionate listening?
It seems to me that the teams will self-destruct due to the different world views colliding and insufficient respect and understanding of diversity of those world views. You are one of the best placed people I know who could help them increase their understanding and mutual respect.
Enjoy it and I look forward to hearing about it soon.
Much love

I am intrigued by the notions raised in this discussion and I love stories, so I would like to share one too.


Teaching in a school of environmental planning, I have always introduced group work exercises as crucial to understanding how to work together –as will be required in the real world – rather than focus on the individually earned grade.

Without fail, students arrive in class and hate the idea. Their previous experiences with group work has almost always been negative. My practice however, has been to build in the kind of supports that Rosa describes and the work produced by the groups is so vastly superior to anything individuals alone could produce that the students – with the learning supports for group success in place – actually “get” what it means to cooperate and share rather than compete.  The students leave the class with improved social and support connections with each other (we are a small school and the students do bump up against each other in different classes.) AND more importantly – a shift in their thinking about how the world can operate. Uniformly, students find the experiences they gather in these classes are the ones that stick.

Of course, I have had 17 kinds of blue fits when they finally present their results. I have had photos of students dangling over an abyss taking photographs of the environmental damage being done by the sale of water licenses to private enterprise, urban guerilla gardening exploits done under the cover of darkness (and the results of which still show up every spring) and a myriad of other things that I am sure the Dean would expel me for if he knew. What they were choosing to learn about, when given the freedom of choice, is far too radical and political for my institution.

My most notable memory of group success though is the class that worked en masse with a small, three-valley wide community (3 small communities and outlying ranches, farms and small holdings.) The valley group was struggling with coming to terms with each other in the process of forming a cooperative and the class, now in supported and functioning groups self selected by interest, under a variety of “rural planning “ exercise including took consultations, research, design and other tasks and within the semester had helped the group complete : the non-profit application, (including the required things such constitution, board and bylaws, etc.), a logo, a name and a slew of beautifully designed marketing and promotion materials, a design for a greenhouse and daycare facility (so kids could play while parents worked in food production activities connected to the greenhouse)  and other neat products. The communities hosted the students twice, including billeted sleepover, visits to straw bale buildings and underground pantries,  amazing community feasts and dances, and door prizes of things like strings of garlic, and boxes of potatoes – (with the prize draws “fixed” so the students won).  It was a most amazing thing of beauty and two of the toughest students I have ever had – who thought I was a complete flake and I was sure were going to turn me in, each separately told me after that it was the best class of their entire student life.

That cooperative is still working today and has expanded to include hosting learning workshops of interest,  engaging students in other classes as partners, improved local income sources (e.g. attending a farmers market weekly in a tourist town 100 kms away) and a regional initiative to connect farmers and food producers across the north. I think the community members, in their effort to ensure the students had a good experience, found a way to put aside their differences and find a higher task with each other and the students felt supported, valued and appreciated and the learning by doing was invaluable..

So, it can be done. Education truly is “not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.”  (W.B. Yeats)

Thank you to all on this list for the beacons of hope….



Hi Jerry,
Lots of good stuff here.
It occurs to me that a bit of understanding about the 'groan zone' could be helpful.  I hear from lots of folks - knowing it is coming, and some awareness that the discomfort is part of the creative process saves them from giving up, imploding and attacking each other.  Even our kids have found it so helpful to have as a reference.  And then some of these other approaches of how to support themselves when they are it it - could serve well (compassionate listening, circle...).  This is a place I would also do some fear work - notice what my own fears are and our collective fearful thoughts are and work with those.  Can chat more about that if you want.
Have fun.  What a great idea to bring this support and learning in for them ahead of time.  It actually sounds like the most useful part of the exercise.  When you get out into the work world and hit places where you are stuck, afraid, disconnecting, shut down... what are some ways you can support learning and moving forward in a creative and healthy way.

I’d also warn them to look out for the ‘arena of delights’, in which they may notice fragments of resources, things going well, evidence of collaboration, small signs of success, the glimpse of useful possibilities.

And perhaps add some resilience work – notice in challenging times when we are feeling we can cope a bit, where there are glimmers of hope or light, and work with those.


Paul Z Jackson

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