Description by Helen Titchen Beeth
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 video that shows you how it goes.
I include brief instructions for this game for those who are unfamiliar with it - it is really short and powerful in all sorts of situations: I've even played it in the corridors of a European Commission building!
* you will need sturdy rope cut into 1.5m lengths. This only works with an even number of people. Never a problem because a co-host can either join in or stay out. Or one or more participants can take up the role of observers.
* Lay the rope out in a star shape, all pieces crossing in the middle. Each person picks up one end of rope. You are, obviously, now all standing in a circle.
* The rules are: do not let go of the rope, or change hands. Do no speak.
* The assignment is: make a structure in the centre with the rope (which inevitably is a knot!!). At the end, there should be no more than a few inches of rope running out to each person's hand. Say no more than that, and let the team(s) get to work. Make sure to enforce the rules.
* It can be fun to play music while they're doing this - I find Irish music particularly suitable. The piece in the video is Horse with a Heart, by Altan.
* When people have their fine knot, and are feeling pleased with themselves, smile evilly and explain that that was the preparation for the real task. Which is... to untie the knot. (same rules apply!)
* Start the music again and leave them to it.
* At the end, it's usually worth having a debrief with people in their circles around a question which will elicit the principles that allowed them to complete the assignment successfully.
I did this with a team inside the European Commission that went on to work intensively together in challenging conditions for 18 months on a project that the institutions were trying to kill (at the same time as asking for it). The principles they came up with were:
"Our principles speak of the way we wish to work together.
- Our relationship is based on trust
- We sense, then we act, then we sense, then we act... When we don't know what to do, we stop and sense until the next step becomes clear (OK, we might have a little panic, first... )
- Awareness is important: we pay attention to each other and to the process
- We trust each other to act when needed
- We pay attention to what is in the centre
- We have fun together, doing challenging, meaningful work
- Our mandate is to succeed, and we do whatever it takes
- We have a clear goal that makes sense to us
- We interact: we work together, we take each other's advice, we are peers
- We are flexible and we support each other to become ever more flexible"