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Too Many Balls in the Air?

Posted on June 27, 2019
Cartoon of a man with no face in a suit jacket and red tie juggling 6 colored balls.

As readers may be aware, Goodwin College and the Office of Global Engagement at Drexel University are hosting the Mandela Washington Fellows for six weeks. These 25 young African leaders are here to hone their skills in civic engagement leadership. Yesterday, we did an exercise where a group of 12 Fellows tried to keep 10 balls in the air. As the facilitator, I threw a ball to one Fellow who then threw it to another, who threw it to another. When I added another ball, I threw it to the same person, who in turn threw it to the same person to whom they originally threw it. I kept adding balls until the team could no longer keep them in the air.

When I asked at the beginning how many balls the group thought they could keep in the air, some said all ten, while some said six or so. We quickly learned that even if we focused really hard, it was difficult to keep more than five or six in the air.

Some of the lessons we learned when we debriefed:

  • There are times when we have too many balls in the air, and we can’t keep track of everything – and that’s when the balls start falling
  • We don’t always know what is coming at us, which impacts how we juggle everything else
  • When there are too many balls in the air – too many projects – it is more difficult to communicate
  • Women tend to have more balls in the air
  • Too many balls in the air creates anxiety and we need to take the time for self-care

Take some time to think about the number of balls you are juggling. Think about what the right number is for you and your team. Some teams can handle more than others, some people can handle more than others. There is not right or wrong number – only you can determine what is a good balance. But if you don’t understand your limits, you could end up with too many, all of which could end up on the floor.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Posted in leadership-management-skills