- Every person in the group must toss AND catch the object at least once.
- Tosses can be made to anyone other than to yourself, and the player to your left and to your right.
- After tossing the object you must occupy the spot of the person you tossed it to.
- No two or more people can occupy the same spot.
If all you need is the activity you've got it - give it a try. It's a 'tricky' one. If you're up for growing some dendrites, grab a beverage and join me for the dive.
I use Fast Ball with groups of 12 to 18 participants (adults) who are interested in exploring creativity and innovation. Mental Models, assumptions and Phantom Rules become a part of the conversations as well. Groups will form a particular way to 'do' the activity based on how they define one of the Rules, then must redefine (a method of innovation) the rule in order to be successful.
Fast Ball has turned out to be an interesting discovery. At first the solution seems to be quite straightforward. However, its simplicity “is an outward semblance that misrepresents” (disguises) the true nature of the activity.
Let's look at more specifics about setting up the activity.
Activity Objective: Move a safe tossable object (e.g., tennis ball) to each person in the group as quickly as possible.
Facilitated Objectives (Concepts you can practice and talk about): Innovation, Creativity, Mental Models, Phantom Rules (false beliefs), Cooperation, Communication, Brainstorming, Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Goal Setting, Failing Forward (trial & error).
Needs & Numbers: One timing device and one safe tossable object is needed for a group of 12 to 18 participants. If game spots are available, have one for each player. (This one can be done without spots.)
Time: 15 to 30+ minutes (depending on the level of commitment)
Circle up your group of players for directions. (Note: A circle formation is not required for the activity, but don’t reveal this fact - let your group discover this.)
Explain that everyone is standing on their 'spot.' If physical game spots are not being used, simply tell everyone, “where you are standing when you catch the tossable object is your spot”—and say no more. (Note: This “spot” concept is an important factor for this activity.)
Once participants are standing on their spots, hand the object to someone in the group. Inform the group that this will be a timed activity. The time starts when the first toss is made and stops when everyone is standing in the spot of the player each participant tossed the object to (e.g., if you toss to Peter, you need to end up standing on the spot Peter was standing on when he caught the object).
Safety: I have not observed any physical safety issues during this activity as the solution does not require fast movements. However, I have seen some groups get really frustrated. Be sure to monitor the communication so that you can step in (to facilitate) if emotional safety is being compromised.
Facilitation: Some groups may have a few questions before they get started. Most can be answered by referring back to the rules. When asked, “Do we have to stay in a circle formation?” I will respond with a question, "Will you be breaking one of the rules if you're not in a circle?" Sometimes I'll make a small card with the rules on it and hand it to my group after explaining them. Then I can refer them to the card, "Check your rules." (The visual resource is also a nice way to connect with the 'visual' learners.)
Sometimes when I hand the tossable to someone in the group, it's a random choice; other times, I choose a person who might benefit from a leadership experience. However, this does not guarantee this person will assume a leadership role.
Spoiler Alert! (If you want to try this one first, do not read on.) You might be asking, “What’s the big deal? Seems like a pretty easy task.” Here’s the rub—if players choose to move to the spot (Rule 3) of the players to which they have tossed immediately after their toss, the activity will not end; it becomes a perpetual loop.
Think about it. No spot can be occupied by more than one player (Rule 4), so movement would have to be continuous. Now, look at Rule 3. It says, “After tossing…” but it does not specify precisely when after tossing. So, the solution, following the rules (as far as I have determined to this point), all tosses should be made first AND THEN everyone moves to their designated spot - time stops! Hmmmm. Tricky? Or simply a 'problem' to solve? (If you think about it even more, all problems are tricky - that's why they're problems.)
- What was your initial reaction to the activity after it was presented? Did this reaction change over time? Why?
- How were you limited during this activity? Who gave you those limits? (Note: Limits other than the rules for the activity could be considered “phantom rules.” Who set these rules?)
- Think back to any of the planning sessions you had, what did they sound like? Look like? How were ideas shared during the planning session(s)? How could the planning session(s) have been more effective?
- What were some of the challenges you encountered during the activity? What were some of the surprises you encountered? Describe what happened within the group when the challenges and surprises were encountered.
- Did anyone foresee the solution to this challenge? If so, why was this foresight not shared (or heard)? And if it was heard, why was it not considered?
- Did anyone feel “tricked” at any time during the activity? Explain how you believe you were tricked? Where do you think this feeling comes from? How might this feeling help you? How might this feeling hinder you?
- Are we able to foresee the outcomes of all that we plan? (Of course not.) What are some behaviors you would like to consider keeping when unforeseeable instances occur? And, what behaviors would you like to avoid during such instances?
- Hand everyone a spot. After the directions are given, have the group decide what configuration they want to make. A circle is still a possibility but not a requirement. I have seen two lines facing each other, which avoids possible complications of rule two as tosses are made across to the other line. A scattered formation is also interesting—no one is directly to the right or left if set up with this in mind.
- Fastball can also be a good group goal-setting activity. There have been instances where I impose a goal of a very low time to (hopefully) get the participants to make a shift in thinking.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.