Stepping Stones | Training For Change

Stepping Stones


Organizing, Action, Strategy iconOrganizing, Action, StrategyTeam Building & Diversity iconTeam Building & DiversityTraining & Facilitation Fundamentals iconTraining & Facilitation Fundamentals


Training Tool


Adventure-Based Learning



To provide a group challenge and help build team work.

45-60 minutes

Special Materials:

Small scraps of carpet/fabric or, if not available, pieces of paper (preferable thick).
Have at least two facilitators, depending on size, to watch the group, enforce rules, and help with debrief
How to Lead:

Scenario: Two people’s movements in Mexico are growing rapidly in adjoining regions separated by a shallow river. The movements need to learn from each other how to deal with the repression from the armed forces. They agree to exchange teams of experienced people for a month so this mutual education can take place. Actually making the exchange, however, is highly dangerous because it means crossing the narrow river which has turned poisonous from polluting factories upstream. And the crossing must be made in the minutes between navy patrols which go down the river regularly. Can your entire team cross the river safely before the patrol comes?


The rules are designed to provide a challenge. Best to have summary on newsprint.

The goal is to get your entire team across the river safely and together.
The only resource you can use is the limited number of “stepping stones” which will float away if nobody is touching them. [That means no external props can be used.] The stepping stones/pieces of rug must AT ALL TIMES be in the physical touch of a team member. In other words, you can’t toss the stone into the river and then step on it; you must place your foot while still holding it lest it be swept away. [Facilitator will grab it and put it away.] As many team members can be on a stone at one time as you choose.
If anyone falls into the river, your team goes back to the shore you came from and then the team tries again.
If the naval patrol boat comes within sight, the team must hasten back to the shore and try again after it’s passed. [Facilitator: you may declare that it’s gotten too dark to try again and that the game is over. Failing to meet this challenge can be a big learning opportunity.] Faciliator Adjustments to Number of Participants

For a group 7-14, you can modify the scenario so that one movement is sending its team across the river to go visit the other movement, which means that you’re working with one team, not two.

For a group 12-28, you can use the scenario as is, dividing the total number of the group in half so there are two teams starting from opposite banks of the river.

For a group 28-48, use a large room and divide the total group into four teams, two on each bank of the river with plenty of room between them. Modify the scenario accordingly, including having the naval patrol boats come every 30 minutes rather than minutes.

Faciliator Adjustments of Width of River

The larger the team, the larger the width of the river. 7 people can usually cross a river that’s 25 feet wide, and be debriefed, within 45-60 minutes, assuming they will mess up at least twice and be forced to return to start over.

Teams that have 12-14 members need a river that’s 35-40 feet wide. However, note that the wider the river, the more chances of error with the team needing to return to start over, so the entire challenge can take substantially longer. Plan accordingly. If you have limited time, you can shorten the width of the river to make it easier.


(These are only suggestions. Be sure to debrief in terms of the growth goals of the group, and what its particular next steps are.)


The more people are involved, the more important that the first step in reflecting is in pairs to maximize participation in venting feelings and first thoughts. Ask: “How was that for you?” “Were there differences in how you reacted in the beginning and the middle and toward the end?” (If the group is open to sharing feelings: “What were some of the feelings you experienced during that challenge?”)

In the whole group: (One facilitator is writing on newsprint any reflections that in some way or other answers the question “What worked?”} “How did you arrive at a strategy? Did you all agree before you started? What process did you use? Where did the leadership come from? Did you experiment before you started? Did you change your strategy? Why/why not?

How did the initiative to change strategy emerge? How did you decide on a new strategy? Did you change the order in the line-up? Why/why not?” “As you were crossing the river, what worked to keep you on track? How did you communicate? Who had to pay attention to what? What was most stressful? What happened when you made a mistake? How did the group react? What did you do with your feelings? What was the role of support? Did the pattern of communication change? Where did your stamina come from? What was it like to have to touch each other so closely? How did you handle it to maintain appropriate personal boundaries?

(If there were two teams crossing the river): “Who thought of cooperating with the other team? How was the decision made to do so/not to do so? How did the cooperation work out?


(If it’s a large group, try the next question or two in pairs or small buzz groups): What are some things that worked for this group that you think works in other groups facing a challenge? Harvest learnings from that buzzing, but it’s OK not to be formal and to add spontaneously-arising generalizations.

Possible questions to ask: “Which of you have done one or more of these things in groups you’re part of?” (Hands.) “Would the group you work with at home benefit from any of these practices? Which ones? Our organization is facing a lot of challenge these days: which practices could strengthen the organization?

(In buddy pairs): “This group could sometimes feel like a stressful journey across a river. What are some practical lessons you can take from this exercise to apply PERSONALLY to your participation in this group? Think about your growth goals. Think about ways you do and don’t give leadership here in this group so far. Remember, leadership is any initiative you take that assists the group to move forward. Talk with your buddy about how this simulation challenges you personally to give more to the group.”

Where this tool comes from

This tool is out in the world in different forms, we learned it from Quicksilver: Adventure Games, Initiative Problems, Trust Activities and a Guide to Effective Leadership, by Karl Rohnke and Steve Butter (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, reprint 1996)