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Object of Play

A common element of brainstorming or group work is the “let’s go around and hear from everyone” routine. The rule governing this is a valuable one—that everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice.

There are two problems with this, however. First, moving from one person to the next in a round-robin fashion can be an energy drain, even with a small number of people. It’s predictable, and the participants at the end of the line are often short-changed. Second, and potentially more damaging to the activity, is that often a participant’s attention wanes when she is “on deck” and preparing her own thoughts as opposed to listening to others.

The Button is a simple technique that keeps true to the original rule while avoiding the traps of a round robin.

How to Play

When the group is asked to report on a question, a small token—it may be a poker chip or something similar—is given to the first volunteer to respond. After his response, he chooses a person who has yet to speak to take the button. This continues until everyone has spoken once.

  • This can be done easily with index cards instead of a button. Participants think about their answers to a question first and write a word on the card along with their name. The cards are passed to the left in a quick manner for a few moments so that in the process of passing the order becomes scrambled. The participants then call on each other by way of reading the words aloud and asking the writers to explain.


Randomization keeps the participants’ attention.  When you don’t know if you will be called on next, you will be more present and focused. The Button game also passes control onto the participants, by giving them the power to nominate the next speaker.

The Button is inspired by the Native American “Talking Stick” tradition, where a ceremonial object such as a stick or feather, representing the right to speak, was passed from one person to another to respect speakers and avoid interruptions.