Materials: Paper, pencils
Check that everyone has a paper and pencil and then slowly and clearly read the background story at least twice. Story: “A new planet has been discovered with excellent conditions to sustain life. It needs to be populated. You are members of the commission tasked with populating the planet. Your task is to identify three characteristics and three skills that the people who will populate the new planet should have. You have five minutes to think about it and write down the characteristics and skills.”
Step 1 – Everyone works individually identifying three skills and three characteristics: five minutes
Step 2 – The participants work in pairs and groups of three where they discuss and agree on the three skills and three characteristics for people who will populate the planet: 7 minutes
Step 3 – By combining the pairs and groups of three people, form groups of four or five people. The task is to determine a list of three characteristics and three skills: 12 minutes
Step 4 – By combining the groups, form two large groups (of nine or ten people): 15 minutes
Step 5 – Reconvene in plenary. The task is to determine a list of three characteristics and three skills: 20 minutes
Suggested questions to evaluate the exercise:
Did you reach an outcome? What is it? What was it like? What happened? How satisfied are you with the outcome? How satisfied are you with the process? Was the decision reached by consensus? Was it easier to reach a decision in pairs or in one of the subsequent steps or in the plenary? How and why? What was difficult?
This exercise most often elicits strong emotions due to conflicts in the decision making, so even during evaluation participants will feel the need to continue the discussion about who was right and which decision and/or skills are better. Different scenarios are possible with this exercise: the group may manage to reach agreement on only a few points; they may not be able to reach agreement at all; they may have a vote to expedite the task; a few people may take over the process and agree on the outcome while others watch – some are relieved to do so because they feel they’ve been let off the hook, while others will be frustrated at not being able to join in; the process may turn out to be so chaotic that some participants will be convinced they had all agreed on one thing, while others are convinced the agreement was something else. That is why it is recommended that you ask the participants as soon as they are done whether they have reached an agreement and what the outcome is.
At the start of evaluation, it is important to make room for people to express their feelings and articulate their frustrations if they wish. Skilful moderation may be needed to avoid people going over every step in detail, describing who said what.
This is an excellent exercise for analysing teamwork, communication and decision making in a team.