Barriers and Beliefs

This team activity allows your group to surface project and operational barriers to success and deal with them as either Facts or Beliefs.

There are always barriers stopping you achieving your outcomes. The natural reaction can be to categorise every barrier as something factual that is difficult to change.

Very often ‘Facts’ are actually ‘Beliefs’.

Is it a Fact or Belief?

Factual Barriers and Beliefs should be dealt with in different ways. Once you categorise them as one or the other using this activity it’s much easier for your group to create an implementation or remediation plan.

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    The objective of this activity is to acknowledge potential barriers and process them in a way that leads to confidence in our ability to overcome them.

What Is It?

  • Allows your group to identify things that might be barriers to achieving their goals.
  • Classifies barriers as either factual or beliefs.
  • Factual barriers lead them to be able to create strategies and actions.
  • The nice thing about Beliefs is we choose them. So you can choose a different belief that is more positive to replace the old one. Still something “believable”, but just more positive.

When Would You Use It?

  • You should use this at the end of a workshop where all the discussion has been about what we want to do or create next.
  • If the first part of your workshop hasn’t dealt with “pain points” or flaws in the current state, this is an opportunity to acknowledge possible problems.

Resources Required

  • 30 – 45 minutes.
  • 10 – 50 participants.
  • Capture their responses in an Excel spreadsheet, or flip-chart or on an overhead projector.


  • 1
    The Facilitator has the group brainstorm things they think could be a barrier to whatever it is they are doing (e.g. system implementation, process re-design, manifesting a vision, etc.).
  • 2
    Condense each barrier to 4 or 5 words (e.g. “we still have to do our day jobs”, or “we don’t have enough budget”, or “management won’t support us.”).
  • 3
    Capture these in an Excel spreadsheet displayed on the overhead, but you could do it on paper or a flip-chart too.
  • 4
    The Facilitator reveals a second column asking the Participants to classify each barrier as a Fact or a Belief.
  • 5
    Once all the Barriers are classified, the Facilitator explains that Facts are great, because they tell us what our implementation strategy is.
  • 6
    For each Fact the Participants have to come up with one or two strategies (again, 4 or 5 words) to deal with it. So, e.g., for “we still have our day jobs” a strategy might be “backfill with temp workers”.
  • 7
    The Facilitator then explains that for Beliefs, they need to come up with a new, more positive belief. Still something they could possibly believe in, but more positive. So, e.g., for “management won’t support us” it could be “management is fully on-board with this”.
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    You can also divide up the Barriers after the Fact / Belief part and give them to breakout groups. Or do the Beliefs as a big group, and just break out the Facts. In that case, they could come up with more detailed strategies.

Secret Sauce

  • It can get tedious if there are more than about 20 items. They can either finish it later, or it can be processed in breakout groups (see process).
  • Have to help them see what is meant by a “belief”. Some groups get it right away; some are resistant.
  • Approach this as a brainstorm where normal brainstorming rules apply (e.g. there are no bad ideas, give people the time and space to articulate themselves).
  • Freely model alternate empowering beliefs, keeping them simple and direct (e.g. Old belief: “Management won’t support this change.” New belief: “Management is on board!”
  • Participants will often think beliefs are facts to begin with. E.g. it can take a little bit of coaxing to see that, e.g., “management won’t support us” is a Belief, and not an actual Fact, even though it may be based on prior experience. Help them do that by acknowledging that their belief is probably based on prior experience, but that, in fact, this has not happened yet.
  • You need to establish whether each point is an accurate situation happening in the present or a perceived one that might or might not happen in the future.

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About the Author

Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through

  • Ma. Teresa Habitan says:

    Very useful for planning workshops.

  • Lily Ann Lando says:

    I plan to use it at a strategic planning workshop that I will facilitate next week. Thank you for sharing this and other tools. I’m very grateful that these are readily available for use by all.

  • Miguel CAMACHO says:

    Very interesting. I will incorporate it into one of my frequent exercises, the speed boat. I think it helps clarify the action points and how to go about getting them enacted.

    • Great stuff Miguel. What’s the speed boat? Is it something you’d like to share with others on here?

  • Leanne Perryman says:

    I like the activity but what explanation would you use to help people recognise a fact vs a belief? Is it that a fact has evidence to support it, it’s happened before, already, or there is evidence to suggest it would happen in the future, it’s more than just an accepted belief? First hand confirmation that something is so might be a fact? e.g. there is policy or procedure around the belief that makes it a fact… speculation that something might happen based on someones discussions or opinions is a belief

    • That’s right Leanne. Facts are all about evidence. Is there hard evidence that everyone in the group agrees the barrier is a fact or is there any doubt or counter-evidence to support it being a belief. You’ll probably find lots of barriers start off being stone-cold facts until someone raises a hand to offer a countering view. At which point the group may lean towards it being more of a belief. Make sense?

      • Mala Bali says:

        It does, So doing this would help move the group on a fact belief continuum.

  • Thanks for sharing this exercise.

  • Dr.Agna Fernandez says:

    Dear Nick,
    These resources are absolutely enriching and encouraging for a lead trainer like me. Although I have used some of these assessments earlier, you have brought in a fresh perspective and that’s the winning point. A majority of the activities are new and very meaningful.

  • bernardo ganotice says:


  • Mala Bali says:

    Great resource. Thank you Nick.

  • Jose Santiago says:

    I shall use this in my workshop next week. I had used something similar but this is easier, thank you.

  • Julian says:

    These are absolutely amazingly fantastic tools. !!!
    Thank you very much.

    Julian : South Africa

  • Julian says:

    These are absolutely amazingly fantastic tools!!!
    Thank you very much!!!

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