Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rescue the Eggs - GLADE Leadership Activity #4

As mentioned in the description of the GLADE Leaderful Model, it is necessary to present challenges which focus the group’s behavior on a common interest, in this case, a conservation issue, and propel the group’s work forward toward their collective vision of global conservation. We have chosen to name this challenging leadership activity “Rescue the Eggs” because of the scenario that we create when introducing the activity.

Materials needed include:

• One 50 foot length of rope

• 16 Ten foot sections of rope

• One 6 foot section of rope

• One coffee can

• Enough ping pong balls or reuse packing peanuts to fill the coffee can

Setting Up the Activity:

• Use the 50 foot length of rope to make a circle on the ground to represent a small pond.

• Arrange the ten foot sections of rope at equal distance around the outside of the circle.

• Fill the coffee can full of ping pong balls (or packing peanuts) and place it in the center of the circle.

• Place a small section of rope to represent a small island around the coffee can.

The Scenario:

Your group has been called to a Cypress Swamp in the White River Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas because of your combined expertise in the field of conservation. The Department of Interior has been monitoring the last remaining nesting pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the world.

The pair has just established a nest in a large tree.
Unfortunately, only a few hours ago, a tornado ripped through the area, killing the adult Ivory-bills and bringing down their nesting tree. The nest full of eggs miraculously fell on a small piece of land within the swamp. They remain undamaged, but are trapped on an island within the wetland. It is your job to rescue the remaining eggs. However, you cannot enter the water. You must use only the ropes to collectively secure the nest with all the its eggs and move them over the water to safety.


It is very important when facilitating this leadership development activity that the group starts over whenever their actions cause the balls or packing peanuts (“eggs”) to fall out of the coffee can (“nest”), or if the can touches the area between the inner rope circle and the outer rope circle (“water”). In this way, individuals are gradually made more aware that their lack of input or over-input within the group is intricately linked to the success of the group effort. As a result, quieter individuals are forced to participate, often out of frustration with the powers that be within the group.  They also are forced to focus their efforts to accomplish the task.

In the summer of 2010, I used an alternative scenario of rescuing Piping Plover eggs from an island surrounded by an extremely toxic mix created by the BP Oil Spill. It provided a more convincing reason why the participants could not directly enter the water.

In all group problem solving activities, use your creativity to make up your own scenarios whenever they fit your unique ecological situation. Regardless of any unexplainable details (like toxic swamps where people can’t enter!) relating to scenarios used in leadership activities, it’s ultimately the facilitator’s job to set the parameters and even to manipulate them in order to bring about the most desirable closure to the leadership activity. The most desirable closure to any leadership exercise is a solution that develops within the group, collectively emerges from the group, and cooperatively meets the challenge of the day.

During the processing and debriefing after the completion of the activity, be sure to discuss the importance of careful planning prior to any group action. This stage of careful planning can do much to reduce the errors associated with impulsive and non-research based conservation policy. As is the case with the alleged Ivory-billed Woodpecker or the Piping Plover, there is little room for error when collective action is taken to restore a habitat or to save a species from extinction. It is imperative that these future conservation leaders learn to use the latest scientific findings to foolproof their best intentions, as the disastrous effects of the introduction of invasive species in habitat management plans of the past is well documented.
Even more important than the cognitive knowledge that is transferred during these leadership activities is the attention that must be paid to the dynamic human interactions that play out while the group is meeting the challenge. A skilled facilitator moves the group forward not by ignoring social and emotional barriers to effective communication within the group, but by addressing them individually, validating individual feelings and experiences, and finally, reinforcing the value of each and every individual so that the best solution to the challenge is uncovered.

It is when every individual senses the necessity and the power of his/her own contribution to the cause that the synergy of a successful coalition emerges.