Home > Design tasks > Exercises: Designing, choosing and planning exercises

Exercises: Designing, choosing and planning exercises

An exercise is part of a series of activities that are designed to create a specific set of desired outcomes. Each exercise has to play part in building these outcomes and should be organized so there is a progression over time.

Progression over time

Since this progression is the main purpose of the series of exercises, there are many connections between the exercises in a workshop.

A normal progression is to start with identifying the tasks that has to be done in the workshop, doing the tasks in smaller groups, sharing the results across the groups, judging the results and debriefing. The process should make it possible for everyone to offer their experience and knowledge, so everyone is invited to participate in a way that makes it possible for them to contribute and learn as much as possible.

So it is a good idea to start by making a sketch of the exercises you need and finding the most important connections. Then you can start with the last exercise and work your way back to the first exercise.

The process of contributing and learning is often more important than the visible outcomes of an exercise.

To give you an idea about what you need to do here are three different ways of conducting an interview and how this will influence the possibility for contributing and learning for the participants in the workshop.


Contributions to the invisible outcomes

Learning possibilities

In pairs

Two different points of view

Exploring two points of view

In groups

Several different points of view

Exploring several points of view

In plenary

Sharing all points of views

Exploring all points of view

This is the main explanation for the part called organizing in each exercise. It is the diversity in the participants in the process that make it possible to share different points of views and what is known as tacit knowledge (things we know but usually do not tell) and become curious about the different points of view.

With the outcomes and the organizing in mind you can begin to identify the steps in the exercise.

Choosing, designing and planning exercises

Exercises are the smallest unit of a process. The core of an exercise is three interdependent parts. First you have the outcomes you want from the exercise. There are visible outcomes, which often is a written or drawn statements and there are invisible outcomes, like personal learning, self images and personal relationships which are mostly located in the minds of the participants.

The exercise has a series of steps following each other. The steps are usually a combination of instructions, questions and assignments that the participants go through. The organizing is often very important because it secures the quality of the outcome. Here is an example of an analysis of a series of steps in an exercise and the shifts in organizing. The focus is on the activity in the step and the different roles used in the steps.








First instruction


Listening and asking questions

Practicing saying good morning


Self-organized participation

Debriefing on practices of saying good morning

Interviewing and writing on a whiteboard and expanding the reflections with own stories from practice

Reflecting one by one inspired by different points of view

Second instruction

Writing questions on the whiteboard and instructing

Listening and asking questions

Talking in pairs


Talking and taking notes

Debriefing on questions

Interviewing and writing on a whiteboard and expanding the reflections with own stories from practice

Reflecting one by one inspired by different points of view


Looking back and forward

Listening and commenting

This is a very small example that takes about 20 minutes. There are 8 steps and each step has its own organization of the group and the interactions in the group. Normally the participants will not even notice how many changes that take place in the exercise.

Before you start designing your own exercises from scratch, you can take a look at the hundreds of exercise that exist in the world. You can find lots of them on the internet. One place to start is the catalogue from Grove Consultants International: www.grove.com

They have both the individual exercises and sets of exercises for a specific topic. The exercises can be used for change processes for individuals, teams and organizations.

You should choose the kind of exercise based on the outcomes you want to create. Usually you will have to find the best ways to organize the participants and find a sequence in the steps. It is not very often you can apply an exercise without modifying it.

You will end up with an instruction for each exercise but you also need a script for yourself with all the details you have to be in control of.

You can use this generic instruction as a checklist to create both the instruction and the script for an exercise.

Title of the exercise

Purpose of the exercise

Looking back and forward

Desired outcomes of the exercise

Presentation of central ideas that has to be used in the exercise

Roles in the exercise

Step by step description of the process



Desired outcomes

How the outcomes are going to be used later on

Rules for the activity

Where to do the exercise

Use of the facilities and materials in the room

Expected time

Total expected time for the steps


Looking back and forward

Materials, facilities, handouts, presentations, responsibilities

 While you are designing and redesigning the exercises you can build a detailed script in a stream analysis like this.


In plenary

In groups

In pairs







































Along the way you will discover many connections that requires small adjustments in the exercises, in the workshop and maybe even in the whole process.

Potentials of success and failure are hiding in the details of the connections between the exercises and the overall design of workshops and the whole process. Your job as the designer is to handle these potentials and adjust your choices in the whole process so the desired outcomes will be found but also building unexpected desired outcomes.

Categories: Design tasks
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