Portable Trolleys

Type of Activity:  Problem Solving, Communication


Trolleys are a great team activity.  Getting an entire group to walk in a synchronized manner is not an easy task.

The Challenge

For the group to create a method for successfully moving the trolleys through a planned space.  This can be a short   distance to retrieve an object, or simply to coordinate the synchronized movement of the group through a winding path.

Typical Presentation, Storyline, or Metaphor

While visiting the boardwalk at the beach on one of the hottest days of the year, your group has encountered an          incredibly hot patch of sand on the way back to the ocean.  Your entire team ends up cooling their heels on some rather unusual looking webbing shoes, that just might be able to transport you to the cool water, just 20 yards (or meters) away.  But you'll have to maneuver these trolleys around the various sunbathers, sandcastles and other b each debris that you encounter along the way.

A series of new high speed team sleds are being designed for the next winter athletic games.  Your team has been   chosen to test drive the new concept.


One of the most unique variations for this activity is to begin by placing each participant ‘out in the river’ on plastic squares or wooden islands.  With participants scattered in this manner, place half of the trolley set near one of the group members, and the other half of the trolley set near another group member.  The challenge of the group is not to find a way to pull the trolley set together, and then to collect all of the various participants scattered about on the different wooden platforms.

A reverse version of this variation would be to begin the activity with all participants on the trolleys, then to drop off ‘passengers’ at various places, like a school bus returning students to their homes.

The path that the group takes can add many elements of challenge to this activity.  Generally going around some objects is better than going over them, although you can take these trolleys down stairs for a bigger challenge.  Just make sure you keep people safe!  Having the group turn a corner, or even backing up, provides some additional challenges.

Participants often try to cal lout “left-right” or “one-two” to indicate which one of the trolleys they wish to move.  As a   facilitator, you can limit their choices, or perhaps more appropriately, encourage their creativity by asking them to use phrases other than “one-two” or “left-right.”

If a member of the group happens to accidentally touch the ground during the movement of the trolleys, have that person turn around so that they are now facing backwards.  If the group has been keeping a cadence or using words to indicate which trolley they are about to move, the position of this inverted participant will now be the opposite of the rest of the group.  A point for debriefing at a later time.

If any of the trolley rope handles happen to touch the ground during the activity, you can request that these ropes not be used for the remainder of the activity.  This will typically encourage a greater level of contact between group members in this region of the trolleys.

Still another activity involves using two trolleys sets with a rope between them to travel and   retrieve a bucket filled with water, or some other easily hooked object.

Important points

Trolleys is an excellent activity for discussing the occurrence of “breakdown.”  Breakdown is the process by which a working technique suddenly falls apart.  Establishing a method for successfully keeping in step is one thing.  Keeping this technique going is quite another.  Typically breakdown occurs because the technique or method does not allow for any small variations from the plan.  A slight overstep or an error in timing can make the difference between moving the group forward, and going nowhere.

Discussing and Debriefing Topics

  • How did your group decide on the technique they were going to use?
  • Was this technique useful for keeping the group in step with each other?
  • Did your group experience breakdown?  What happened then?
  • Which was easier, going straight, turning, or backing up?
  • Did your group find it harder to turn to the left or the right?
  • Did your group’s technique require a change when you recovered the object?  Did your group begin and end with the same technique?
  • Was there a leader in your group?  What qualities did this person present to the group for him/her to be the leader?

Adapted from:

Teamwork & Teamplay, pg 77, Jim Cain and Barry Joliff

Purchase from the Training Wheels store: Portable Trolleys, Teamwork & Teamplay

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