Exercise: Land disputes


  • To practice non verbal negotiation skills.
  • To interrogate the relationship between words and body language
  • To elicit conversation about the principles of negotiation, collaboration and team work.
  • To brainstorm and practice solutions to group conflicts
  • To explore the underlying motivations of conflict


Two teams on opposite sides negotiate their claim on land using gibberish.

Time: 10-20 min

Group size: 6-30


The facilitator divides the participants arbitrarily into 2 groups. Each group lines up on opposite sides of an open space. The facilitator explains that the space represents a strip of land that lies between the occupied land of two communities. On the land grow beautiful big trees. One community wants the land so they can preserve the trees, the other wants it so they can cut them down and use them.

The groups decide which community they represent and why they either want to preserve or use the trees. They can preserve it for instance because the trees mark sacred graves, or are sacred themselves or because the community wants to conserve the environment for future generations etc. The other group may want to use the trees for shelter against fierce winds, or for fuel against cold winterss or to sell for a profit. The groups negotiate their reasons amongst themselves in gibberish as a practise round.

Next the facilitator asks them to pick a negotiator that will meet the negotiator of the other group in the middle of the open space. Selected negotiators are instructed to meet each other and begin the negotiations in gibberish. The rest of the community is asked to support their negotiators in gesture and sound where presumed fitting. Negotiations cease when either side gives up, or when the facilitator feels it has done what it can for now. Or, when it becomes too fiolent.

Once the first round has been debriefed, participants may go a second and third round until the game has achieved what it can for the moment.

Debriefing questions:

  • What was this like for the negotiators?
  • What was it like for the group members?
  • What was intersting? Perplexing? Hopeful?
  • Where did it go wrong? What might be the reasons?
  • What worked? Why do you think this happened?
  • What would you do differently? More of? Less of?
  • Would you like to try again?
  • Did you experience or observe any stereotypical genderist/agist/racist feelings or behaviour during any part of the game play? What do you think caused this? (Our experience is that the absence of language levels the playing field to a large degree and that stereotypical behaviour decrease the more participants genuinely seek agreement.)


  1. For an extra kick you may introduce an element of tension by inventing a reason why there is a time urgency to conclude negotiations: E.g. winter storms are brewing and the tree users must  build their shelters before it strikes, but the other group believes the crisis is exactly what is needed to find other solutions since no threat should interfere with the principles of conservation/ sacred tradition etc.
  2. Ask participants to pair up with some from the opposite team. LEt them discuss what in the game play made them feel closer to, or further from, agreement. After some moments of discussion, ;et the, return to their teams and discuss what they had learned. Play another round where they impliment their discoveries.

Online adaptation

In the absence of spatial orientation in the online room, we suggest that you change the scenario to fit the context. E.g. Participants are all part of a production company who has landed their first major TV series. The stakes are high. They need to make a reality show with a certain family. One part of the team believes they should work with the family as natural as possible and not interfere with how they appear on screen. The other side believes that some performance training is needed, and that hair and make-up alterations are essential to present the family in a certain way for entertainment purposes. The team must come to an agreement before they pitch their concept to the client. Introduce tension by suggesting that they client is waiting in the next room for their concept presentation.

This adaptation works because the gestures can center around the face and hair which is most visible in the screen. It is limiting because it does not really relate to the survival of a community or the environment to the same extent as does the land conversation, but it is still very effective.

The Alpha Name, Something nice

Possible outcomes:

Learning everyone’s names.
Creating relatedness between participants.
Creating a positive atmosphere.


Participants line up alphabetically in a circle.  Each person gets a turn to share something nice that happened to them in the last week.

Time: 5-10 minutes
Number of Participants: 4-12.  For larger groups devide the group in smaller circles.

Game flow:

Invite participants to line up in the circle alphabetically by first name and then say their name and something nice that happened to them recently. When facilitating this, describe and model the length of answer you’d like.


keep it short – a sentence or two. (E.g. – My name is Burgert and yesterday an old friend from high school called me out of the blue.)
If there are more than 10 people, have people say their names and then get them into pairs and share with each other something nice that’s happen. Hear a few in the big group.

Origin: I learned this from Belina Raffy who learned it from Paul Z Jackson, President of the Applied Improvisation Network.

How do I bring about shift that lasts?

Story-Strategy, Act 1, Episode 2: Possibility

If you are a speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach or OD (organisational Development) practitioner, you would have noticed that audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Like Claire in the previous blog post (How do I bring about shift that lasts?):

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are more and more weary of solutions that would either waste their money, or cause more uncertainty.


Old fashioned lecturing, like FUNDA Training and Conferencing was used to, does not work anymore. On one hand lectures are content driven and the content dictate the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content proposes to be a one size fits all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them stickable.


Motivation Inc and Team Adventures, from yesterday’s story, had each tried to solve some of these problems. Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning it into more of a show.  Through showmanship they artfully design their content using story, evolving emotion, clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high impact, but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once off payment is still cheaper, than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

However, traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What they lack is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. They provide a grand show, but still offers a one size fits all solution that cannot shift the individual. It is a known fact enough speakers that only 5% of the people in your audience will be deeply moved and impacted by your presentation. While many may enjoy it, only 5% will be at a place where your story and their stories intercept to create shift. There is still something missing.


Team building programmes step into this gap by offering game like solutions. A game is not content driven, it is structure driven. This means that within the confines of the game, people have a certain amount of control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A game is also good for connecting people and building relationship, something that often enhance emotional connection either by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around content that can bring about learning, people often leave a teambuilding experience warm and fuzzy, but without a lasting shift notable in the workplace.


If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – a solution we simply term SHIFT. The Playing Mantis SHIFT model is the subject of the next blog.


Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 6

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation workshops.
Click here to read the other parts


Idea sharing is essential in an innovative team. The more ideas are shared in the group the more creative and novel ideas are triggered. And if these ideas build on one another the team will come up with a much more creative and meaningful idea than one team member could have come up with by themselves. But why is it that in some teams it feels like your creativity is diminished? Or the creative ideas are not much better than one individual’s idea. It is because in such teams the members don’t feel safe to participate in idea sharing. How can an atmosphere be created in which team members feel safe to share their ideas? Actors in an Improvisation theater group creates this atmosphere by applying the “yes and” principle. The “yes and” principle means that when your team members shares an idea you accept it (yes the idea) and then build on it. When an idea is not accepted it is called a “block”. The way we often block one another is by saying “yes but”. Most people are more used to saying “yes but” than “yes and”. Every time someone shares an idea and it is blocked by another team member the likelihood that the person will share another idea is diminished. Therefore to create an atmosphere that promotes idea sharing start applying the “yes and” principle.

Right now you might think “yes, but I can’t say yes to all ideas all the time.” Yes and you might be saying this because you are already in a mindset of “blocking” rather than “accepting”. It is true there are appropriate times to block, but they are far less than appropriate times to accept. Try the “yes and” principle for a day and see what happens. The “yes and “principle is more a mindset than anything else. It is a mindset of accepting reality and doing something useful with it.

Quick exercise:

Let everyone pair up with a partner. Tell them that together they have to plan a company Christmas party. One must start by sharing an idea. The other replies with the words “Yes but”, a reason why it is not a good idea, and then share another idea. The first then replies with “yes but” and so they go back and forth blocking each other’s ideas. After a while stop them and ask them to plan the same party but this time instead of saying yes but they must start their sentences with “yes and”, accepting the other’s idea and building on it. Reflect on the exercise and ask the following questions.

How did accepting feel different from blocking?

How were their outcomes different?

How did they feel about the other person when being blocked or being accepted?

What are the benefits and the costs of accepting?

What are the benefits and costs of blocking?

Click here to read the other parts
Click here for more information about our Team Innovation workshops.

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 4

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


There must be a lot of give and take in a team in order for the team to be innovative. One person cannot have all the control while the rest just follow instructions. It is therefore a fine balancing act between taking control and giving up control. Taking control is about taking initiative, while giving up control is about letting go of your own idea when it is no longer serving the bigger picture. Some people are natural control freaks (or more commonly referred to as a natural leader) others are natural fence sitters (commonly referred to as natural followers). Both control freaks and fence sitters are often driven by fear and a lack of trust. I believe that the art of leadership is about knowing when to take control and knowing when to let go. If you are a control freak you need to learn to let go and trust others. If you are a fence sitter you need to take initiative and trust your own abilities.

Quick exercise:

Let everyone pair up with another person and stand facing each other. Each pair should decide who will be A and who will be B. Tell them that A is a person looking into a mirror and B is the mirror. B should therefore copy A’s exact movement. The idea is not that A should try and outwit B by making sudden movements. The idea is that they work together and move like they are one so that an observer wouldn’t be able to see who is leading and who is following. After a few minutes let them switch. A is therefore now the mirror and B the person looking into the mirror. After B had a chance to lead for a few minutes, tell them that they have to now both lead and follow at the same time. They are therefore both looking into the mirror and being the mirror simultaneously. Now it gets really interesting. For it to work both need to take the lead and give up the lead, give and taking control the whole time. When you get to that point you go into a state of flow in which you don’t even know anymore who is leading and who is following. It is in this state of flow that team innovation can truly thrive. You can try this exercise with your partner at home as well. In any healthy relationship there should be a constant give and take of control.

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Watch this space for parts 5, 6, 7 and 8

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 3

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


For a team to be innovative individuals in the team must take risks and help the others to feel safe to take risks. Most people are terrified of taking risks because they are afraid of failing and how others will react when they fail. So in order to protect ourselves from others we rather not take any risks. The irony is that some of the most revolutionary inventions started out as a failure. Just think of penicillin that was invented when a scientist noticed that his “failed” experiment was killing bacteria. Or post-it notes that was invented when a researcher of 3M who wanted to develop a very strong adhesive just created a somewhat sticky substance. His colleague accepted the “mistake” and used it to stick his bookmark in his hymn book. In improvisation we say “everything is an offer”, even a so called mistake. Your responsibility towards yourself to help create an innovative team climate is to take risks. Your responsibility toward your team members is to accept their failures and do something with it.

Quick exercise:

Before you start your next brainstorming session let everyone stand in a circle. Tell them that everyone will get the chance to step forward into the circle, then say anything in the line of “I made a mistake” or “I failed” and then give a big bow. The rest of the group must then give a round of applause. This exercise is called circus bow, because whenever a trapeze artist makes a mistake and falls down into the net, he will make a summersault out of the net and bow towards the audience as if that was exactly what was supposed to happen. Ask the following debrief questions:

How did that make you feel being applauded for stating that you made a mistake?

How did it feel to applaud the others?

What can we learn from this exercise?

How can we help each other to take risks?

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 2

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


In order for a team to be creative together there needs to be a lot of interaction and information sharing.  This can only happen if the communication in the team is very good.  Your responsibility towards yourself is to be fully present and your responsibility toward your team members is to fully listen and be aware of them.   Being fully present and aware of your team members is referred to in Improvisation as “being in the moment”.

Quick exercise:

Next time before you start a meeting first do the following exercise.  Split the group in small groups of 3.  Tell them that each person must tell the other 2 in the group what they need to say to be fully present.  They should start their sentence with “what I need to say to be fully present is….”  One of the other must then mirror that persons exact words by starting their sentence with “I hear that what you have to say to be fully present is…”  It is important that the person mirroring does not give an interpretation of what they heard, but try to use the exact same words as far as possible.  The other person in the group can then add if any detail was not mirrored back to the speaker.  Each person must get a chance to say what they need to say to be fully present.  The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgment.  When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present.  In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.  When last did someone listen to you completely and made you feel fully present? When last did you listen to someone with acceptance and without judgment, helping them to be completely present?

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

To read more about the other 6 elements of an innovative team climate watch this space.

Team innovation through improvisation – Part 1

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


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Changes in business environments have resulted in a need for the development of innovative teams, because it is through teams that the management of change through innovation is achieved. One of the factors that play a crucial role in the innovation shown by teams is the climate for innovation within the team. This climate is the same as the climate prevalent in an improvisation theatre group who respond to ideas from their audience, fellow actors and the scenario quickly and creatively and in collaboration with one another. Research has shown that the exercises used by improvisation actors can be used to enhance the innovative climate in a work team. Neuroscience also supports improvisation as an experiential learning tool. Applied improvisation is an emerging field and business schools all over the world are starting to include it as part of their leadership and innovation courses.

The 7 crucial elements of an innovative team climate:

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There are 7 elements that play an important role in an innovative team climate. These elements are Communication, Risk, Control, Ideas, Relationship, Vision and Excellence. In each of these elements each team member has a responsibility towards him/herself and a responsibility towards his/her team members. All of these elements are interrelated and need to work together to create an innovative team climate.

Watch this space for a discussion of each of these elements.

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – ControlIntroduction