Type of Initiative: Opening activity


Purpose: We like to use Arrows at the beginning of a program to introduce how easy it can be to make mistakes.  The more complex the situation, the easier it is to make mistakes.


Props Needed: A piece of paper with a well-defined arrow on it.

Group Size: 4–100

Directions: The facilitator stands facing the group—be sure that everyone in the group can see the facilitator and that each person has an arm’s length of room to either side of them. In this activity the facilitator will be moving the arrow to point in one of four directions—Up, Down, Left, or Right. The group will have a different task in each round.

This is written as if spoken by the facilitator:

Round 1: “I will be showing you an arrow. It will be pointing in one of four directions—Up, Down, Left, or Right. In this round the challenge will be to thrust your arms in the same direction the arrow is pointing and, at the same time, say out loud the direction it is pointing. Are there any questions? Let’s give this a try.” Give a few seconds for each direction. Show about six or seven different directions in the first round. Don’t forget to celebrate the effort.

Round 2: “Okay, in this second round the challenge will be to thrust your arms in the direction the arrow is pointing and say out loud the opposite direction it is pointing. So, if the arrow is pointing left, you thrust your arms left and, at the same time, say ‘right.’ Are there any questions? Let’s try.” Again, show six or seven directions. Celebrate.

Round 3: “This time the challenge is to thrust your arms in the opposite direction and say the correct direction of the arrow. Any questions? Let’s try it.”

You will need to decide how fast you change the direction of the arrow— the faster you get the more challenging it becomes. Also, please remind the group that this activity is about the effort and not the success—trying is key. Celebrate.

Debriefing Topics:  Remind everyone that we all make mistakes and that some mistakes are easier to make than others.  Usually, mistakes are unintentional.  One point to reinforce when addressing conflict with a group is to suggest that not all conflict starts with an intentional wrongdoing.  Stepping back and looking at solutions to the conflict may seem simple in nature.  Following through with the solutions is much harder.  We can still make mistakes in the process.

  • How did it feel to do the activity correctly?  How did it feel to do it wrong?  Why do we put so much emphasis on the errors we make and not the successes we have as an individual, team, or group?
  • How is this activity like a conflict situation?
  • Describe a time where simple mistakes created a conflict with a colleague or friend.
  • What are some other insights you formed from this activity?

Where to find it/How to make it: Print an arrow from a clip art program onto an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper or card stock.  Laminate it for longevity.  Or simply draw a large arrow on a piece of paper.

Purchase from the Training Wheels store: Setting the Conflict Compass

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