The unlikely combination of spaghetti, marshmallows and masking tape reminded us about the power of connection recently.
We all need human connection. The kindness, compassion, and generosity that allows us to be seen and to see others. The power that comes from being linked to others in common understanding, meaning or purpose. The energy and momentum that gets created when we are part of a group when we are understood, the sheer of joy of when things “work”.
In our work with individuals, communities, and organizations we know there is a magic to creating the space for connection to emerge.
It comes in the design of balancing comfort with discomfort.
It is evoked when we create the space for people to talk with honesty and courage about the “real” stuff. When they bring forward their true selves.
The magic gets sprinkled in when there is a lightness, a sense of play when people feel safe enough to throw off their inhibitions.
We also know that you can be certain that it will NOT emerge if:
We spend all our time on presenting, telling, and/or informing people and overwhelming them with facts. All the info gets in the way of connection.
If we “manage” the agenda so there is little time for play, vulnerability, or conversation about compassion, care or the “soft” stuff.
If we don’t go beyond the topic or the issues to create space for people to really see each other.
It’s pretty basic stuff. Facilitation 101. Total beginner learnings.
But again and again, we hear from people about their worries about focusing on the “soft stuff” in a session. They have the goal or intention of improving communication, creating connection and team work, of resolving conflict and creating positive momentum. But they worry. They say things like: “Those kinds of people won’t do the soft stuff. They are too serious, too important, too educated, too technical, too high up in the hierarchy, too busy….” Just pick one. They say things like: “We need to deal with the REAL issues. We need to talk about the items on the agenda. We don’t have time to talk about the soft stuff.” Or things like: “They won’t take the session seriously. They will leave if we play games.”
The worries are real. The fear of not being taken seriously. Of being seen to be frivolous, or squandering people’s time, efforts or expertise. The worry that the objectives won’t be achieved. That the risk is too great.
We need to help people be present, be there in the moment, take a risk, have the courage to take a chance. Because if they do, if we can support them to take the chance, then they can be part of something awesome!
Here is one of our “recipes for connection” to get a group working together.
Divide the large group into small groups of 4 or 5 — people who don’t know each other or work together is best.
Give each group 1 box of spaghetti, 1 bag of marshmallows, 1 roll of masking tape.
Tell them their task is to build the tallest free standing tower they can. They have 14 minutes to accomplish the task. Measure the results when they are done.
The activity might start with rolling eyes, discomfort or uncertainty. But people get over it fast. They start to play, to lose their inhibitions. They start to see each other’s strengths and contributions, and they become connected in a common purpose.
The magic of the activity is not in the task (or the spaghetti or marshmallows because you can use anything challenging and a little different, with a touch of discomfort). The magic of the activity is in 2 things:
Give people the courage and the freedom to play and lose their inhibitions. Acknowledge their discomfort. Ask their permission to give it a try. Step away from them so that you give them a moment with their anxiety. Let the challenge be whatever they make of it. Don’t give instructions, fill the silence, or try to create comfort.
Debrief the activity with rich, deep, reflective questions. Ask people to acknowledge, to make evident, to highlight the lessons they learned. Support them to talk about the power of connection, collaboration, of the freedom of play. What happened when they started to work together? What roles did they play? When did things change in the group? What happened to their differences? What can they apply to work together, to their organizations, to the issue?
Participants will be stronger and more capable as a result of the activity. Their connections will be tighter. They will know things about each other they didn’t know before. They will see each other differently. They will remember the moment the spaghetti and marshmallows were handed out — and what they learned from working together.