Teambuilding Exercise: Helium Pole

By VOBS Staff from Voyageur Outward Bound Schools

A group initiative that focuses on teamwork and communication. Ideally have a group size of 6 people or more, and you will need a light pole 8-15 feet in length (example, tent pole). The goal of Helium Pole is for the group to lower the pole to the ground, together.

Description: Have the group form two lines facing each other. People in each line should be shoulder to shoulder. Have each participant raise their arms and extend their index fingers. Place the pole on top of everyone’s index fingers.
After the pole is in place, the group’s goal is to lower the pole to the ground without ANYONES finger leaving contact with the pole. They may not touch the pole with any other fingers or thumbs. Each time someone’s finger leaves the pole, have the group start over and try again.
Typically the pole will start to rise or people’s fingers will leave contact with the pole. The group will need to try this a few times to succeed. After a few failed attempts, encourage the group to make a plan. They may need to make several plans before they complete the challenge.

Novice: As a novice facilitator, pay attention to the group’s frustration level. You may need to institute a “pause” button to help them focus on the goal, barriers and solutions that will lead to success.

The fact that this activity requires the participants to be in a line, communication is typically challenging. You may need to have the group step away from the pole and circle up to brainstorm and plan. This then becomes something you can debrief at the end of the activity.

Experienced: If the novice version will be too easy for the group, you can set extra ground rules including, blindfolding part of group, & not allowing certain people to use words to communicate.

For the experienced facilitator, determine if it is important for your group to be highly challenged and possibly not succeed to get at what their barrier might be in other situations. If you determine this, make sure you come back to the activity at another time when the group is at a higher level of functioning so they can see their growth.

*Assessing Impact: * Debriefing suggestion: Think/Pair/Share activity. Ask the group to get into pairs, give the pairs 3 key questions they should respond to and then bring the group back together to share their responses and learning.

This initiative requires groups to work together and communicate. In your assessment, always reflect on the goals you initially set for the activity and have the team assess and reflect about their growth as related to those goals.

Because communication can be challenging for this activity, as they are making different plans watch to see if everyone’s voice is being heard. This is a good follow up question if there are some overpowering voices. (“Were everyone’s ideas heard?”)

Another dynamic of this activity is that participants often blame others for the pole raising. If this happens talk with the group about how blame affects the team, and if there are other ways to give constructive feedback to complete the challenge. (“Can the person(s) using blame provide a new plan instead of placing blame on others.”)

Further Reading

For Your Program

Organizing and Advocacy Guidebook

From Youth On Board Staff, Youth on Board

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