Time: 15-20 minutes


This icebreaker is useful for helping a group of 8-20 people feel part of a group/team.

It is good for helping participants to address and resolve group conflict (recover from figuratively getting all tangled up), disunity, and frustration. Participants will learn that supporting, coaching, and encouraging are positive behaviors that are all part of good team work.


Participant will be able to

  • Distinguish cooperative problem solving from other forms of problem solving.
  • Gain an appreciation of the value of cooperation and teamwork for solving problems and accomplishing tasks.
  • Develop an awareness of how one's own behavior affects and is affected by family dynamics for discussing and making decisions about food.


  1. Have the group stand in a tight circle with shoulders touching.
  2. Everyone puts one hand in the center and uses that hand to take the hand from someone across the circle.
  3. Everyone puts their second hand in the center and takes someone else's hand across the circle. No one should be holding the hands of anyone next to them, or both hands of anyone else.
  4. Explain task: "Untie the knots as far as you can." Emphasize the following rule: "The hands may not break contact, though you may rotate your grip."
  5. Record observations on a flip chart.
  6. Discuss the value of cooperation (versus competition) when trying to solve a group problem like this.


Occasionally two circles are formed. Sometimes the circle will break out separately and sometimes they will be interlocked. If you wish to avoid this, pass a Squeezie through the group at the very beginning, i.e., one person starts by squeezing the hand in their right hand. The receiver passes the squeeze to the next person, and so on. If the squeeze returns to the original person without touching everyone, there is more than one circle.

Occasionally you will have an overhand knot, which cannot be undone without breaking a pair of hands. It's often fruitful for a team to struggle with trying to undo an overhand knot.

When there are only 7 or 8 participants remaining, the leader might join the knot to provide adequate challenge. If the group is too small it won't work. You need at least 8 people for this activity to be effective.

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging