Recruiting: Initiation

Your initiation should be split into two parts: the big reveal and the trust ladder. The big reveal event is the first time you inform your applicants that they’ve been accepted as members. Below are two examples of two different types of initiation that I implemented  with my organizations.
CS1 (Speech & Debate): I informed those who were admitted that they would have to show up for a second round of tryouts. I, along with my board, would send out a cryptic email asking the newcomers to assemble at a pre-determined location in tournament attire (essentially formal dinner wear). You want to be cognizant of how people generally act. If you put newcomers in a room under suspicious circumstances, they will talk amongst themselves. Plan for this. I would tell my board to assemble 15 minutes after the designated time the newcomers were supposed to assemble. This served two purposes.
  1. It would build up the suspense.
  2. It would give them an opportunity to introduce themselves and discuss what fate they thought would await them.
Then, we marched in to the tune of “The Imperial March” before yelling out CONGRATULATIONS!!! After this point, we would take all the new members to a nice dinner where the follow-up initiation events were explained and schedules were handed out.
I generally held the first dinner on a Thursday. On Friday, I had the new initiates join regular practice. This session was used to introduce the members to the team and inform them of the rules and responsibilities of being a member. I held the trust ladder events over the weekend.
The trust ladder events were conducted on an open field near one of the college houses. Notice that the activities become more difficult as they progress:
  1. Start off with a name game. This serves two purposes. First, it allows people to learn each other’s names which is a vital step to building trust. I promise you, having someone say your name is much more initimate than “hey you…” The game should be as active as possible to ensure speady recall of names.
    1. Option 1: Have everyone circle up and quickly go through names. Then you have one person stand in the middle and say a name. The people next to the person whose name is said needs to say the other person’s name. For instance, if you have persons 1, 2, and 3, if person 2’s name is spoken by the middle member, then 1 and 3 will race to see who can say the other person’s name first. The person who loses the race then exchanges with the person in the middle. You can repeat this as many times as you’d like to ensure that most people knows each other’s name.
    2. Option 2: The second option is called ultimate rock paper scissors. The concept is rather simple. Everyone goes around playing rock paper scissors. Make the games best 2 out of 3 for added suspense. The loser of each challenge now becomes the cheerleader of the person they lost to and so on and so forth. If you do this correctly, you should end up with two people who each have a massive group of cheerleaders facing off in a grand final match. This is a great game for building energy especially at the beginning of your initiation.
    3. Option 3: The third option is a game called Action Jackson. A person starts by saying a verb that begins with the same letter followed by their name. For instance, I might say “Jumping JiLon”. I then perform the verb (i.e. I would be jumping). The entire group would then mimic my action while saying my verb + name. The next person would then say his/her verb + name. The group would mimic his/her action while saying his/her verb + name and then they would do to same for my verb + name. This process continues until everyone has gone.
  2. Next, I like to go with a low pressure participation activity like categories. You’ll want people to reveal their similarities in a non-cheesy way. For this game, you’ll name a category and people will group up based on their commonalities. For instance, you might ask what each person’s favorite color is and people will group up with others with the same color. You can then ask each group why they chose the answer they did. Be creative with the categories that you choose. You can only gain so much insight from learning why someone likes the color magenta.
  3. Now that you have everyone participating, this is the ideal time to ramp up the involvement. At this point, I like to introduce an activity that I call flip the rug. Flip the rug is an escalation of challenge. The goal is to put everyone on some sort of mat, and to have them flip it without stepping the ground. This is more challenging in two ways. First, your participants will be in rather tight quarters. Second they will need to problem solve as a team and communicate effectively. Note that this can be a rather frustrating activity so you’ll need to be supportive but firm. A little creative cheating is okay as long as it doesn’t disrupt the purpose of the activity. This is a make or break point and you need your new members to get through it tougher.
NOTE: It’s possible that your members aren’t ready for the flip the rug activity. Or, it’s possible that you’ve gone through the activites too quickly and people haven’t build up enough trust. If you sense that your members are getting unduly frustrated, it’s okay to break up the current game and try an exercise that’s a little simpler. Alternatively, you can ask members to take a break for a bit and then re-engage the challenge. Let your members be challenged, but try to limit needless frustration.
  1. Once you’ve passed flip the rug, it’s always good to scale your next activity back a bit. Your participants will feel proud and accomplished, but pursuing another high intensity activity will require too much investment. If you haven’t used ultimate rock paper scissors, this might be a good place to put it. An alternative is a game called vampire. This game is similar to a lite version of mafia. A couple people are pre-selected to be vampires. Then the entire group walks around and shakes hands. Vampires can choose to scratch the hand of the other person. If a person who is not a vampire feels the scratch, they need to shake three more hands before they die a dramatic death. During any point in the game, participants can accuse others of being a vampire. If they are right, the vampire dies. If they are wrong, both the accuser and the accused die. The game ends when either all the vampires are routed out or the vampires equal or outnumber the participants.
  2. Now that you’ve scaled back a bit, it’s time again to ramp back up. This next activity is a game called blind direction and requires some tools. You’ll need some blindfolds and some swimming noodles. Find appropriate substitutes if you don’t have these materials. Your participants should be split up into no less than groups of 3. Each team will have one blindfolded person, one person who is sitting away from the field, and one person who is standing and facing the field. You should have as many noodles in the middle of the field as you have blindfolded people. The person sitting away from the field is allowed to talk. The person standing and looking into the field cannot speak. Each team needs to direct the blind folded person to grab a noodle and tag the other blindfolded people out with that noodle. How this works is the person standing will gesture and the person sitting will yell instructions. The blindfolded person will follow the instructions as best he or she can. This is a hilarious activity that promotes teamwork and should definitely be employed.
  3. This next activity is a classic team building activity which should be reserved for the middle or end of the session. It’s the human knot. Have all your participants circle up and reach their right hand in and grab another hand. Then, have them insert their left hand and grab the second hand. Now there will be instances where the knot is unsolvable. There’s a simple solution to that. Have one person send a pulse. How this works is they will squeeze their right hand and the person whose hand is squeezed will squeeze his or her other hand. This continues until every person has felt a squeeze. You can continue without doing this, but you may end with two concentric circles instead of a single one. Regardless, once you’re ready, your participants will have to untangle themselves. You can introduce blindfolds and timers to this exercise to make it more difficult.
Once you’ve had your final activity, you’re done for the day! Your team of newcomers should be all warm and fuzzy inside and should be ready to pursue your future activities as a team. You can insert other social activities into the schedule as well like a scavenger hunt, ice skating, etc. I had all the newcomers camp out at a dorm for a night as they roasted marshmallows on a stove. The important thing is that you need to have your newcomers spend time together. If they’re having fun and/or doing something the builds team unity and trust, all the better.
NOTE: I like to end initiation with a rather heartwarming exercise. This can also be used at the end of the year as a great send off to seniors. It’s a game called strength bombardment. You have your group of participants circle around one person. Then each person in the circle talks about how the person in the middle is generally awesome. Maybe they have an anecdote about how the middle person helped them through a difficult time, or maybe they talk about how much they admire some trait of the middle person. Optimally, you go through the entire group doing this. This is an excellent activity at the end of initiation, because it allows all your newcomers know that they are valued in the eyes of their teammates. It’s also a good opportunity to reminisce over the events of tryouts, initiation, and talk about how excited they are to join the team. It’s a great way to end your activities on a very high note.
CS2 (Consult for America): The approach I took with CFA was rather different than the one I took for Speech & Debate. Relatively speaking, it was definitely more focused on training although we did keep some of the same elements of the camp counselor strategy. The first half of our training focused on similar team building exercises like name games, the human knot, etc. But the atmosphere was rather different. During information sessions for the Speech & Debate Team, there was a huge stress on camaraderie and team cohesion. While those traits were valued in CFA, our recruiting efforts were focused more on the work and the benefits of building the skills needed in a consulting organization. There was a direct correlation between the work we did and the work that consulting firms do. Therefore, we tended to attract more professionally minded students. The second half of the training was more educational. Because we sought to help the local West Philadelphia community, we would take people on a scavenger hunt through the relevant neighborhoods. Following this, we had a discussion about what we saw when we went through the hunt. The purpose of this expedition was twofold.
  1. It allowed our newcomers to get at least a preliminary sense of the environment that their clients would be coming from.
  2. It started the process of building intrinsic motivation.
A variation on this exercise that we did in the winter was to play a game called Spent. The game, which you can find online, simulates the life of a low-income family. During a month’s time span, the participant chooses how to allocate sparse resources and deal with the relevant challenges. The goal was to get through a month without running out of money. The purpose of this activity was the give all the team members a better idea of some of the daily challenges that their potential clients might face. Some instances of challenges included such moral dilemmas as whether to report a car accident where you were the perpetrator or hope no one notices. Other practical dilemmas included what you should buy for groceries when the cheaper options tend to be less healthy. Once each team concluded the game, we would then transfer into discussion. Below are some of the best pratices, I employed to lead discussions about the game.
For instance, if someone said, “I thought it was interesting that despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save any money by the end of the game (referring to Spent)”, I might say, “That’s interesting. What do you think that says about the challenges that are faced by low-income families?” or, “Just a quick show of hands, which other groups felt the same way? Very cool. So what what considerations should we be aware of when we’re talking with clients about their projects?”
During periods of relative silence, I would insert one of my own observations. At times, I might even answer my own question, “I found it interesting that the moral dilemmas posed by the game were a matter of doing the right thing and having enough money to eat. What did you everyone choose to do and why?” The point is to extend the conversation and allow it to progress. Don’t be too worried if it’s a bit quiet at the beginning. Often times, people are concerned about expressing their opinions to the general crowd. Once some folk have contributed, you’ll find that there’s a period where discussion begins to take place. Your goal is to seize upon that momentum and keep it going until ideally you’ve reached the lessons you’ve wanted to teach or you’ve run out of time.
As I’ve stated before, you’re going to need to find a balance. Don’t make the conversation awkward, and don’t monopolize the conversation. Remember, that you are a facilitator. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to let there be an awkward silence. Eventually, someone may be compelled to raise his or her hand. You’re going to need to feel out the balance of when to contribute yourself and when to wait for someone else. At the beginning and end of the discussion it’s a good idea to summarize the main points you want to get across as well as any new learning that may have happened along the way.
NOTE: Being an effective discussion leader is no easy task. You need to select someone who’s both comfortable speaking in front of a group while also being comfortable with silence. If the discussion leader feels awkward, the group will feel awkward. This leads to more silence which continues the spiral. Optimally you’d like to avoid a leader who feels the need to say, “Wow this is a really quiet group!” or some other equivalent phrase. By emphasizing or criticizing the group for a lack of response, you’re just going to create a feeling of antagonism. Preferably, you’ll have a leader who is willing to give his or her own thoughts on the subject if there’s not a lot of chatter and to build off the responses he or she does receive in order to create a meaningful conversation.
That’s it! Now you’ve seen some ways that initiation can run. Be creative and thoughtful, and make initiation work for you. This is an optimal time to build team spirit and convey important information. Use, your opportunity well, and you’ll be one step closer to making the year an unforgettable one.

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