When I was 17, I got into rock climbing. I joined our local chapter of the German Alpine Club ( “Deutscher Alpen Verein”). Soon after I became a leader for our Youth group, i.e., children 8-12 years old. The Club offered youth leadership exercises and training in the South of Germany near the Allgau mountains. We could hike, climb, AND get trained as a leader. What could be better? Of course, I went.
“Design a Child-Friendly Mountain Hut”
One of the leadership exercises was quite memorable to me. The trainers divided the group into two. They gave separate instructions to each group.
- They told Group A their task was to design a mountain hut that is child friendly. Group B would watch us to see how well we did with designing the hut.
- The trainers told Group B to observe Group A. But there was a twist. It was not at all about evaluating the design of the hut. Their real job was to observe how group A was tackling the task. What were the leadership dynamics?
After each group got their instructions, everyone reassembled into the same room. The members of Group A sat around a table. There were a few items on the table to help our design process: One (!) piece of paper, one pen, one pair of scissors, and one glue stick. Group B stood nearby, watching.
Then they said, “Go.” Group A stepped into action. Quickly, someone took the piece of paper and the pen. That person just had elected themselves to be the leader of the project. Whichever idea got captured there was under consideration. Whichever idea did not get written down was not. Some people spoke up a lot. Others barely said a word.
The Debriefing: It Was Never About the Apparant Task
When the time for “hut designing” was up, we did a debriefing. The trainers told Group A what was really going on in this exercise. What?! We had been busting our minds about how to make the mountain hut as child-friendly as we could. We had hot debates about different designs. Different people had taken action. There had been some struggles about whose ideas got heard and moved forward. There were some people who more or less just watched.
That is what Group B had observed. When they told us it was a big “aha” moment.
- How do we show up as leaders?
- How much charge do we take and how?
- How well do we listen to others?
- How dominant are we?
- Do we give others access to the paper and pen or the scissors?
- Are we leaning out of the conversation because our idea didn’t get heard right away?
- Or are we leaving the debate to others from the beginning?
I was reminded of this experience because I’m currently part of another leadership course. As part of the course, we are planning and executing a class project. As this project is unfolding, I see many of the same dynamics. It is so interesting!
The project outcome will be very cool and make an impact in the community. And I wonder whether (and when) we will talk about these dynamics and debrief them? Because those insights about one’s leadership style are worth having. This is – or at least could be – the main reason for including a project in a leadership course.
Where in your life would an exercise like this be useful?
P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this with others. Thank you!