1/2 inch pvc pipe, or broomstick handle, tent-pole, or even a hula hoop.
We use the Helium Stick to teach a powerful lesson about organizational mission statements and group work in general.
Organizations create mission statements to be a guiding force. A good mission statement focuses everyone’s attention on the core essence of a business or organization, and enables them to make decisions and take action that are directly aligned with their core values.
For our next challenge, your group will have a simple mission: To lower this stick to the ground better than ANYONE in the world.
Have the group repeat the mission a couple of times…
- Have the group of 8-12 divide into two lines and face each other.
- Explain the technical rules to the group (very important): everyone’s index fingers MUST remain in contact with the stick at all times, and the stick must rest on top of their fingers at all times (no grabbing, finger curling, etc.)
- Have the group extend their index fingers at waist level.
- Lay the stick across the group’s fingers.
- At that time, the group must work together to lower the stick to the ground.
- Inevitably, the stick rises almost instantly – causing laughter, frustration, or confusion. The rise is caused by the small ripples of upward pressure as individuals each try to remain in contact with the stick.
- After refocusing, the group will be able to lower the stick.
- Ask the group if everyone understood the mission and technical lowering rules.
- Ask if anyone was intentionally trying to sabotage the group’s mission by lifting the stick.
- Ask if everyone sincerely wanted to accomplish the mission or thought that it could be done.
- If everyone understood the mission, and was committed to succeeding, why did the group get so far off track right away? Try to elicit answers that are related to the group process, not the technical explanation of the challenge. For example, “we didn’t plan well” more so than “we weren’t holding our fingers correctly.
- Ask the group to share example of groups that they have participated in “the real world” that seemed to be comprised of committed folks, but were not productive.
- Discuss what types of actions are important to keep a group focused on the mission.
- Many times during this activity, people become frustrated with others who aren’t lowering the stick, and often choose one person as the culprit. Also, some people give up and let the stick come off their fingers. If either happens, be prepared to discuss how blame or giving up affects groups.
Tip for success: When you place the stick on the group’s fingers, apply slight downward pressure before letting them begin. This helps create the initial upward pressure that creates the “helium stick.”