I wrote in a past blog post about using Appreciative Inquiry to “makeover” the lessons from a great team game called Thumbwrestling. The post was called: Activity Makeover Using Appreciative Inquiry: From STUPID to SMART.

In that blog post I go through in some detail the debriefing, after the action happens (see that post for this info). But I didn’t describe the main set up, briefing and steps of play. I had a request recently to describe the game administration, so I post them here for information.

First of all, I was delighted to find that Thumb Wrestling (aka ThumbWar) is really well described here in Wikipedia. I was interested to read that in some of the chants that are used (by children I guess, I have never heard them in my workshops) the phrase “You are stupid and I am great” is used. It is interesting that we often used (in the past) STUPID as a mnemonic to help understand what structure creates the behaviour of competition (Small goals, Time pressure, Untrusting partners, etc.). In the blog post mentioned above, we used an Appreciative Inquiry approach to make that over into then new mnemonic of SMART or SMARTS.

Thumbwrestling Game

To set the game up, the Game Operator announces that “We will engage in a simple competition called Thumb Wrestling. Everyone needs to find a partner to play”. At that point the Game Operator also finds a partner to do a quick demonstration; someone who has been briefed to demonstrate a rather aggressive style of play. In the demo, you lock hands with your demo partner and tell people that their goal is to “Get as many points as you can.” You inform people that they will have 15 seconds to do this, and then you demo how to make a point by elaborately struggling to pin the thumb of your opponent, warning people not to hurt each other. Ask everyone to keep track of their own points. You then shout “Go!” and time out the 15 seconds, shout out a 2 second warning.

In the debriefing, you can survey how many points people got, and then have the pair with the highest points demonstrate their style, which is bound to be collaborative, based on trust and their ability to ignore norms, models, language, time pressure, and small goals which normally influence people to play this game in a highly competitive way. Now the blog post on debriefing kicks in – so see that for more!

The description above should be enough to help anyone run the game as a team building exercise (again see the previous post for debriefing). If you want a better description with the systems thinking frame, with more precise timing and briefing/debriefing questions, Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows have written them up in the Systems Thinking Playbook, which also includes a DVD of someone running all the games so you can see exactly how to administer them.

Happy wrestling!

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