Magic can happen when groups meet and focus on a shared goal. But, way too often, we find ourselves in meetings where folks are all over the place. Not taking time early to create alignment and focus can sour group work long-term. So let’s do this differently! Counting to 10 – the February 2023 Method of the Month – is a powerful activity to bring everyone into synch through the simple act of counting.
I first encountered this method when working with a youth group for the International Union of Socialist Youth on active citizenship. The group was very disjointed, making conversations with the entire group challenging. Some participants very claiming too much space and often interrupted others. Others withdrew entirely from the conversation. As a result, comments did not build on each other, and the conversation lacked flow.
The team and I tried out different things. Most of that didn’t work mainly because the dominant folks did respond with ridicule to our energisers. However, when a co-facilitator proposed Counting to 10, it worked like a magic switch. The simplicity lowered the barrier to participation, and the rules triggered ambitions within the group.
Let’s look at how Counting to 10 works and then at some used cases in in-person, remote and hybrid settings!
A simple method that does magic for group work
The core idea of Counting to 10 is for the group to count up to either 10 or the total number of participants. I prefer to use the actual number of participants when groups are bigger than 10 to ensure that everyone has to say a number once and, therefore, has to engage in the activity. This task sounds very simple and straightforward. But you would be surprised how challenging it gets for groups out.
Step 1 – Call everyone into a circle
When running this activity in an in-person setting, I call the group to stand up and form a circle in the centre of the room. I also invite those who cannot stand for a couple of minutes to bring a chair or something similar. Next, I encourage the participants to stand as close to each other as they feel comfortable. This enables better connecting and sensing in the circle.
Step 2 – Set the goal
I like to introduce the goal number by letting the participants count upwards one by one – once around the circle. This primes them for the activity without already complicating it. Of course, you could also count them and communicate the target number. I usually do not step out of the circle for this activity as it allows me, as the facilitator, to be part of the alignment.
Step 3 – Introduce the rules
I always start with the following four rules:
- Only one person speaks at same time.
- If two or more folks speak simultaneously, the group has to start over from one.
- Each person can only count once.
- The group cannot communicate in any kind of way beyond counting together.
These rules demand focus from the group and are just challenging enough to trigger ambition and unmask disruptive factors. They also foster cooperation.
Step 4 – Debrief for better group work
You can run the activity until the group reaches the final number or for a set time. Finally, unlocking this goal gives the group a giant confidence boost and success feeling. I also like to rerun it when facilitating a multi-day event, and the group cannot get to the last number.
I would always follow Counting to 10 up with a brief debriefing, in which I invite the participants to reflect on the following
- What makes the group struggle?
- What strategies they tried to employ?
- What made them succeed?
- What were things they learned about themselves and the group?
- How can those things support the group to work together better moving forward?
Variations to supercharge the group work in all settings
I have used this method in many different settings and with different kinds of groups. So here are some ideas on how to adapt Counting to 10 to supercharge it for each group you work with.
1. Add more rules
Sometimes groups just get there right away. That does not necessarily mean that they are aligned or focused, but it can be due to the size or they d a way to ‘cheat’. I usually respond jokingly to the latter, praising their collaborative skills. I would increase the stake with such groups by adding rules to get the magic out of this activity. The following are some of my favourite options:
- Forbid hand gestures
- Neighbours cannot say the following number
- Raise target number
- Count with closed eyes
These additional rules don’t just make the activity more challenging but also allow for a deeper connection.
I used this hybrid adaptation of Counting to 10 for the first time when participating in the Leading Groups Course of Mischief Makers. It’s a great course to start building your hybrid facilitation muscle.
Check it out here, and if you decide to join it, let them know I sent you, and you get a great discount.
2. Take it remote or hybrid
Counting to 10 is also easily adapted to a remote or hybrid setting. There it can support the group in bridging the geographic divide and equalising the two spaces in the hybrid case. Some things to consider:
- Invite everyone to unmute their mics.
- Find an ally/co-facilitator in the space you are not in to support you in enforcing the rules. (hybrid)
- Keep it easy! Start with only the first two rules (only one person speaking & if two speak at the same time, starting over from one) to allow folks to get a feel for the technology and increase them according to need.
- Suppose you have an equal number of participants online and on-site. In that case, you could introduce the following rule: ‘The counting has to ping-pong between the two spaces. If two people in the same space count after each, the group has to start over.’ This shift could strengthen the awareness to balance participation between the spaces. (hybrid)
- Consider sending them into breakout rooms if you have a huge group online. Just make sure they really understand the process. The debrief then happens again in the large group to create accountability.
- If turning on the mic is unavailable, you could also run Counting to 10 in the chat with participants writing the numbers. Agree beforehand if they need to write them out or can use just numbers.
3. Switch out the number or change the language
Even though Counting to 10 is clearly meant for counting numbers, it could be possible to use other ‘lists’ of things. Some examples:
- Names – This could change the activity into a name game that helps participants learn each other’s names. They would have to pay extra attention to what names in the group were already called. I would also use the rule that you cannot say your own name or respond to your name being said.
- Months, weekdays, colours, feelings, etc. – For those word groups with unlimited words, the group should focus on not saying doubles.
- Switch languages – If you have a multi-lingual group, let them count in their language of choice. This twist also needs more focus from the group as they might not understand seven in Tagalog.
As you can see, Counting to 10 is an excellent and straightforward method that you can quickly adapt to fit your group’s circumstances. In addition, progressively introducing rules allows you to vary the stakes and keep your group engaged.
So, what do you think? Do you like the February 2023 Method of the Month, or do you have some questions? What are similar energisers you have used?
Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to download the ready-to-go Method Sheet on the right. If you do so, do me a favour, subscribe to my newsletter, or share this post with your facilitator and trainer friends. Putting these blog posts together each week is a labour of love, and it would really help me if you support it by spreading the voice!
Love and appreciation,
P.S. Check out the last Method of the Month here!