In workshops or classes, it is often desirable to mix people up into small groups apart from those in their immediate proximity. Too many times the presenter says: “find someone” or does the dreadful counting off by 1, 2, 3, etc. With just a bit of forethought, you can infuse much more creativity.

One of my favorite ways to mix groups is by handing participants a playing card as they enter. This opens up a host of mixing options: by color, by suit, matching number, odds/evens, opposite color, face card and number, etc. You can hand out cards in the beginning and use a variety of sorting strategies throughout the session.

It’s also easy to get people to pair by similarities: the (approximate) number of letters in their name, birthday season, number of “feet” in their family (allowing them to decide whether to count just humans or to include animal feet), number of siblings, astrological sign, etc.

You can also have people line up in order and then pair with the person who ends up next to them. Order could include: number of years with the organization, by height, by the last 4 digits of their phone number or by house number. Having people line up alphabetically also works: alpha by first or middle name, by their boss’ name, by hometown, favorite cartoon character or last television show they watched.

If you know the approximate number of participants in advance you can write names on strips of paper to distribute as people arrive – later having them find the other members of their set to form a group. Examples include: Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty (the Flintstones); George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry (Seinfeld); or Amy, Beto, Kamala and Bernie (presidential hopefuls). The same principle applies for categories instead of names: Pacers, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs (NBA teams) or Aquaman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Thor (superhero movies).

And, as a last resort, if you find yourself in a pinch to do a quick count-off, please at least do it in another language (uno, dos, tres…) or with some aspect of creativity (Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh My…). You’ll achieve the same end result, but your participants will pair off with a smile.

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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