Leadership Sherpa

Leadership Sherpa

Approximate Time: 1/2 hour to 2 hours

Minimum Group Size: 3

Maximum Group Size: 50 (per group)


Age/ Level of Difficulty:

The group must be mature enough to wear blindfolds, follow instructions, and listen to each other while collaborating to accomplish tasks. Recommended for grade 4 and up.


Space Required:

One open space, indoors or outdoors, with minimal physical barriers or furniture. (approximately 2 square meters per person)



1 blindfold per participant, assorted materials for participants to retrieve and move in the room. Ex:

– 10 balls

– 2 baskets or buckets large enough to store balls

– 2 long ropes, long enough to have every participant hold the rope and make a


– 10 hoopla hoops

– 10 cones/ pylons



Have the above materials ready to place throughout the space once participants have their blindfolds on.



The objective of this activity is for the group to work together to achieve a specific list of challenges. The facilitator will determine the challenges and level of difficulty according to the number of participants, the materials available, and the space and time available.


Facilitator Guidelines:

Ask the participants to sit in the middle of an area without dangerous obstructions, on the floor or ground while you provide instructions. Show the group the list of challenges, inform them that they will need to complete the challenges blindfolded, and give them a few minutes to discuss their strategy. Once they have determined a strategy, ask the participants to put on their blindfolds and wait while you set up the materials in the room/ area. They may begin the challenge when you declare that the space is set up.


 Facilitation Variations

1. Before you provide any instructions, ask the participants to select several group members to act as the Sherpas to guide and communicate with the rest of the group. The group will blindfold themselves while the Sherpas go outside the room with the facilitator. The facilitator will invite the Sherpas to look at a list of challenges, posted outside the room. They will re-enter the room, and engage the rest of the participants without using words or touching the participants, with the goal of having the blindfolded participants complete the challenges on the list. See the reference section for a sample list of challenges.

2. Split the group up into teams, and provide a list of objectives for each If you are going to facilitate this activity with several Sherpas without blindfolds, have each team send their Sherpas out to the hallway. When you provide instructions to the participants, do not mention any sort of      competition or race, simply state that the objective is for the participants to accomplish a set of goals. Participants may immediately assume that this is a competition, or perhaps the two (or more) teams will work together. Debrief accordingly.



Participants may all be blindfolded, or they can be divided into those who are blind, and those who are Sherpas (guides without blindfolds)



Sample list of challenges (to be determined by material available, amount of time, number of participants, space available, etc)

If there will not be any Sherpas the challenge list should be shorter, because it must be memorized. If there will be Sherpas involved, the list can be longer with challenges increasing in difficulty, as the Sherpas can determine which challenges they would like to have their participants complete.

  1. Retrieve 10 balls from around the room/ space and place them in the two baskets provided.
  2. Find the two ropes in the room, tie them together, and then make a circle with the entire group holding onto the rope.
  3. Sing a song with the entire group.
  4. Find the hoola hoops, and have every group member do a “hoola” with a hoop.
  5. Gather all of the cones/ pilons together, and put the hoops over the stack of cones/ pilons.



This activity is not appropriate for groups who demonstrate challenging behavior, or poor safety judgment. They must be able to listen to each other and follow instructions from the facilitator, so that they do not get hurt.

This activity requires adequate open space for the participants, so that no one runs into walls or other dangerous objects.

There should not be any stairs, cliffs, steep hills or other challenging terrain in the activity space.


Other Variations:

Waldo’s Leadership Sherpa
Thanks and Kudos to Karl Rohnke and the UVM Soccer Team for inspiring this theme with variations.

This is an initiative designed to bring out the issues of leadership roles and behaviors.  I have used it with groups as small as 7 and as large as 150, indoors and out, using almost any range of props.  I have played it with high school and older groups, especially when leadership is a focus.  It also has many management/supervision, as well as, workforce possibilities. It can be used for both examining performance and relationships.  The activity and debrief has been consistently rich.

Warning:  This activity can be very frustrating for people – use it with care and conscience!


  1. Find out the individual and group intentions to be “leaders”
  2. From the group select a group of “closed-eye” people (aka workers) and a group of “open-eye” people (aka leaders).
  3. When separated from the two groups, give the “open-eye” people the initial list of tasks to be done, time frame, and rules.
  4. Give the “closed-eye” people the general goal, time limit, safety instructions, and rules. (“open-eye” people may listen in)
  5. Let them play, and adjust the tasks as you see fit.
  6. Call the end by time or task.
  7. Debrief


  1. Leadership intention

Ask the whole group to form a circle, slightly larger than shoulder to shoulder and close their eyes.  Ask them if to consider if they want to play a leadership role for the next activity.  Pause.  Ask them to indicate their willing intent to lead by raising one hand in the air and keeping it their eyes still closed.  After this time you will not refer to anyone a leader’s for the rest of the activity.  Note the total number of arms raised and who.


  1. ‘Closed-eye’ people/’Open-eye’ people selection

Ask the group to keep their eyes closed, and the willing to lead people to continue to indicate their intent by holding their hands up, as you tell them you are going to select some of the people for a separate role by squeezing their shoulder.  Tell them that if their shoulder is squeezed they can clasp their hands behind their back.    

Squeeze the shoulder of 10-33 % of the people, making sure that some of the people who had their hands up are chosen (“open-eye” people”) and some are left as “closed-eye” people.  When selecting the two groups also put people in the “open-eye” group if:

  • you have a safety concern about their being unsighted and /or not touching/being touched by others; or
  • you think they might “check out” with their eyes closed

Keeping in mind to engage individuals in the activity and have a sense of ownership; you want them to experience the role of listening and supporting and responding.  Put people in “closed-eye” people group that will take initiative and ask questions, if you want to wire it for success, and put people in this group to experience frustration with the amount of direction and communication and clarity of tasks.


  1. Give “open-eye” people the initial task and rules

Ask the people who did not have their shoulder squeezed to stay where they are with their eyes closed.  Tell them they may talk to each other and stay within a few steps of where they are while you take the rest of the group off to give them the next instructions.  Tell them you will be back in about 5 minutes.  Ask the people who had their shoulders squeezed to open their eyes and silently leave the space to a designated area away from the “closed-eye” people.

Once there, let them know that the goal is to get a bunch of what may seem like ridiculous tasks completed, and that only the people with their eyes closed will be able to perform the actual physical tasks for the group.  Tell them you will only give them the list of tasks once and the rules once. If people have questions about information you have already given them, tell them to ask the group to see if someone remembers the answer.  If anyone says yes, continue without answering.

Give them the list of tasks.  Depending on the group, they can be tasks that everyone must do together as one (sing a song), or everyone must do at some point (sit down), or end up doing collectively (hold a soft toy), or individually (transfer water from one container to another), or both (uncoil a rope and have everyone hold onto it at some point, usually at the end to “tie them together”).  You can also have “sub-group” work like having half of them holding onto a hula hoop, one each.   The more tasks and the more conflicts between individual and group tasks, the tougher it will be.  Remember, you can change the list of tasks while the activity is in progress to make it easier or more difficult, AND to get them to adapt to change.

Three Big Rules:

  1. You cannot touch the people with their eyes closed;
  2. You cannot talk to them;
  3. You cannot touch any of the material or equipment that the people performing the tasks are working with. Note facial expressions at this time and ask them about it later in the debrief.

Tell the people with their eyes open that they can whisper among themselves, but not so as to let the “closed-eye” people gain any information.  Tell them also that unless they have any questions that you haven’t already answered, they are allowed to listen to the instructions you are about to give to the “closed-eye” people.  Watch to see if they take you up on this invitation or not.


  1. Instructions to the “closed-eye” people

Walk back to the group with their eyes closed and announce your presence.  Tell them that the goal is to get as many tasks as possible done within a timeframe (if you have one).  Tell them that they must continue to keep their eyes closed throughout the activity and while they perform the tasks, however, they can talk to and, if needed, touch the people in their group as they are performing the tasks.

Tell them that the people who were pulled aside have their eyes open and know the list of tasks to be performed.  Tell them those “open-eye” people cannot touch them, cannot talk to them, and cannot touch any of the materials that are involved in performing the tasks.

Any questions?  Answer only if no one knows!


  1. Let them play, and adjust

Take notes, there’s a lot to observe and remember for the debrief.  Note individual leadership behaviors for later, even as they differ in nature.  Watch to see who initiates communication systems, most commonly it will be the “closed-eye” people asking yes or no questions with a response from the “open-eye” group.  Often one clap means yes, two claps no.

If you want to adjust the activity or make it easier, tell one or more of the “open-eye” people that you no longer care about certain tasks, or that what they’ve done on certain tasks is enough.  Note: This can occasionally backfire as the change in direction can throw them off!  It’s simpler to have a time limit and call time and declare a partial victory on what they did accomplish.

To make it harder, add tasks and tell only one of the “open-eye” people any given addition.  Also charge the “open-eye” people with telling you when they’ve accomplished the goal.

Your affect as a facilitator can strongly affect the “open-eye” people so choose with intention whether you wish to be neutral, flat, encouraging or confrontational, etc.


  1. Stop the game.

Stop the game at the time limit or when the “open-eye” people tell you to call it.  Ask everyone to stop what they are doing keeping eyes still closed.  Tell them the list of tasks and ask them to open their eyes and check it out.  Be prepared for a lot of chattering before they’re ready to talk about it in the full group.


  1. Debrief.

There are usually many directions you can take this.  On the simple first level, I’ve found it useful to hear from the “open-eye” people, and then “closed-eye” people, or vice versa on “what was it like for you” basis.  Continue to refer to these groups as ‘eyes open’ or ‘eyes closed’ groups because leadership has to happen in both for the activity to go forward… but I usually wait to see if someone in the group will make that point!

A lot of communication issues will often come up; including that usually the suggested communication system of ‘yes/no’ is suggested (or at least articulated) by the ‘eyes closed’ folks.

At some point, I ask “what was leadership behavior and who provided it?”, to try to draw out the point that leadership looks different, depending on your role, i.e., if you have your eyes open you may listen or respond or just pay attention with clearer communication.

People usually ask about the fact that I chose some people with their hands up to be “leaders” and left others behind.  The belief is to make sure that both groups have the element/willingness for leadership in them.


Possible Tasks:

You must get as many of the tasks done as possible.  Be aware of opportunities for tasks in the environment.  Some may be completely provided; some can be partially implemented by the surroundings.

  • Get them to sing a song or do a cheer of their choice; if it has meaning for the organization bonus points
  • Empty the water from three bottles into a bucket
  • By the end of the time limit, everyone is holding onto a rope
  • Because it is a journey, make moving everyone from one place to another part of the process
  • Some hold hula hoops; some hold rubber stars; some hold balloons that they have blown up
  • Stand in a hula hoops
  • One person holding a rubber chicken
  • Standing on a mat


Instructions to the “Open Eye” Participants

Your goal is to get a bunch of what may seem like ridiculous tasks completed, and only the people with their eyes closed will be able to perform the actual physical tasks for the group.  I will only give you the list of tasks once, and the rules once.  If you have questions about information that I have already given you, I will not answer them, and ask you check it with each other to see if the answer is on the team.

The tasks are:

  • Empty the water from three bottles into a bucket
  • Some people hold hula hoops; some hold rubber stars; some hold balloons that they have blown up and tied; one person will hold a rubber chicken
  • By the end, everyone must be holding on to the large white rope

Three Big Rules:

  1. You cannot touch the people with their eyes closed;
  2. You cannot talk to them;
  3. You cannot touch any of the stuff that the people performing the tasks are working with.

You can whisper among yourselves, but not so the people with their eyes closed can hear you and gain information about anything.  If you have any questions that I haven’t already answered, you are allowed to listen to the instructions I am about to give to the “Closed-eye” People.


Instructions to the ‘Closed Eye’ Participants

Your goal is to get a bunch of tasks done in (insert time limit).  You must continue to keep your eyes closed throughout this activity and while you perform the tasks.  You can talk to and touch each other while you are performing tasks.

The people who were pulled aside have their eyes open and know the list of tasks to be performed. Those with their eyes open cannot touch you; they cannot talk to you and cannot touch any of the stuff that is involved in performing the tasks……

Any questions? (Answer only if no one knows)  GO!