#grumo_14: Activity-based work

Different spaces, different settings

Climbing, hiking, pottery, cooking, archery… different settings bring different experiences to light. In the right context, they can provide a good basis for reflection. Today our five experts talk about their experiences with activity-based work.

Our group soup

„Today I want to hear about the most extraordinary methods you have ever tried with a group.“ Beate straightens her camera. The group is meeting online again today. Since everyone has a lot of experience with online meetings by now, it already works quite smoothly. Paul is the first to speak. He tells us about an assignment where he was supposed to accompany a department that had fallen out and was newly thrown together for team building. In the preliminary meeting it became clear that the group is very good at „pretending that everything is fine“, the conflicts were rather bubbling under the surface. „I had the impression that I couldn’t get at it with conventional methods, so I rented a cooking studio and gave the group the task of cooking a three-course lunch in a completely self-organised way – from menu selection to shopping to preparation.“ Paul laughs and says that the team would have grumbled about what this had to do with their work, but then went ahead with it.

In the course of the morning, communication patterns became visible and lines of conflict broke open. Everyday situations such as „Who gets which hot plate? Will the pumpkin soup be pureed or not?“ were used for joint reflection in the afternoon. In addition, everyone had the feeling that they had achieved something together and were now connected to each other through a real sense of achievement. „And cooking metaphors like that are ideal for describing group processes,“ a grinning Paul directs into the camera in conclusion.

Climbing park and scavenger hunt

Beate follows immediately and tells of two different seminars she held on the topic of „leading groups“. In one she took the group to a climbing park, in the other she organised a scavenger hunt. In both settings, several people could try out leading the group through the parkour or aiming for the next stations. „Wasn’t that terribly time-consuming?“ interjects Yasemine. „Yes,“ says Beate, „I underestimated the preparation time for the scavenger hunt. You can’t be present at every single station. That means everything has to be reasonably self-explanatory.“ It was easier at the climbing park, where everyone was in one place the whole time. „The question is whether climbing is possible for everyone. People with a fear of heights or impairments don’t do so well. Besides, it’s good to have a professional with you. I did it with a colleague who is a qualified outdoor trainer. I wouldn’t have dared to do it on my own.“

Making a vase

„I also did my seminar back then with professional support,“ Yasemine hooks right in. „I booked a pottery course. The assignment for the individual participants was to make a vase with a potter’s wheel. We had clay everywhere! In our hair, on our clothes, but not on the vase…“. At the urgent request of the others, Yasemine holds the vase she potted at the time into the picture. Rudi asks, „What was the subject of the seminar?“. Yasemine puts the vase away again. „Dealing with stress, frustration and failure. That’s why I chose something that is easy to do, but needs a lot of practice until it works well. The team’s issue at the time was that they were implementing a lot of projects but were never completely satisfied with the results.

In the reflection we then worked a lot with expressed and unspoken goals and wishes, expectations and expectations of expectations. This worked well and the participants, through the experience of the pottery course, had concrete experiences that were easy to name but did not come from the work context. Naming insecurities in the work context is often a big risk for team members, especially towards the manager and colleagues. Talking about an imperfectly potted vase as a „failure“ is far less risky.“

The „magic wand“. A popular mini-method for a quick shared experience.

Martial arts and dealing with conflict

Maria says that during a seminar on conflict management she spent a session on martial arts techniques. Paul laughs, „What, you mean you’ll straight away learn how to punch the other person in the nose?“. Maria rolls her eyes, she’s been boxing for years and every time she tells us she does training for conflict management, this sentence comes up. She sighs, „No. Of course not. Martial arts is much more than punching people stupidly in the nose.“ You need good technique, composure, concentration and stamina, stress resistance and quick analysis of situations to be able to react quickly and correctly, she explains further. „If you run like a steamroller with anger towards your training partner, it’s a piece of cake for an experienced martial artist to give you a counterattack.

The same applies to negotiations, discussions or conflicts: unreflective, emotionally-charged rumbling has rarely brought about productive solutions. Once you’ve experienced that on a physical level in martial arts, it’s much easier to translate it into everyday work.“ Paul nods a little ashamedly, „Ok, if you explain it that way, then I see some connections there. I’m sorry I just poured my prejudices on you.“ Maria laughs, „No problem. If it gets too much for me, I can always punch you in the nose.“ Paul briefly looks as if he is very happy that the meeting is taking place online today, but then joins in Maria’s laughter.

Talking while Walking

„Rudi, you haven’t said anything yet,“ Beate says, looking at him expectantly. Rudi smiles a little sheepishly. „I don’t do such extraordinary things. The only thing I can think of is one-to-one coaching with a manager. We came to the conclusion in conversation that we both like hiking. She found it difficult to concentrate on the here and now during the sessions and her mind was often elsewhere.

So I suggested we do a double lesson while hiking. This worked out wonderfully! Walking is an activity that has allowed her to focus her thoughts on our conversation.“ Rudi shrugs and says that he now does this with this client on a regular basis. The others look at Rudi a little uncomprehendingly and almost in unison think that they find this extraordinary enough.


Now that so much has been said about joint activities, our five experts decide to try something unusual themselves. After a bit of back and forth, they agree on archery. It’s not too sporty, it’s out in the fresh air and they all have the same amount of experience. „But we have to reflect afterwards,“ says Yasemine. Everyone nods in agreement. „Sure,“ says Paul, „once I’ve tried it out with you, then maybe next time I won’t make group soup, but have another arrow in my quiver.“ Rudi laughs, „Yes, and right away lots of nice metaphors to describe a process…“

One by one, the five say goodbye, but not before agreeing on a topic for next time. They want to discuss the challenges for trainers when they enter an ongoing group process.

Authors: Gerda Kolb and Irene Zavarsky
Translation: Astrid Donaubauer

Want more? You can find all the articles in the series HERE!

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