This activity is a great tool to demonstrate the value of planning and teamwork. It works best with groups of four to ten people and requires 30 minutes.
You will need a space large enough for the team to separate into smaller groups and the following materials:
- Prepared easel paper or whiteboard with the criteria for success
- One sheet of easel chart paper for each group
- For each group, one large zipper plastic bag with all of the below materials:
- One pair of scissors
- Three paper cups
- Three paper plates
- One marking pens
- One roll of masking tape
- Four index cards (5″x7″)
- Four index cards (3″x5″)
- Four plastic coffee stirrers
Introduce the purpose of the exercise: to experience the importance of paying attention to work processes and team relationships, as well as results.
Explain the desired results of the exercise: to build a free-standing tower using only the materials provided.
The ground rules are as follows: You will have 15 minutes to plan and seven minutes to build the tower. You cannot touch the materials during the fifteen minutes of planning.
The criteria for success are: (1) the tower is free-standing (not attached to the floor, walls, etc.); (2) the tower must be at least five feet tall; and (3) the tower must be able to survive a moderate wind.
For an added bit of fun, ask for the “measurers” – someone who knows what “free-standing” is; someone who is at least five feet tall, and someone who can blow a moderate wind! You will then use these folks to verify the success of each tower.
Ask if there are any questions and if they all understand the process – then let ’em go!
After fifteen minutes, tell the teams they have seven minutes to build.
After seven minutes, gather all around the center of the room, bringing the towers!
Have each measurer check each tower (Note: On average, only half the towers succeed. For those groups who get depressed over not “winning,” you can have a great conversation about competition and the impact of time).
Debrief and Summarize
After all the towers have been judged, debrief the activity:
- What did you like most about this activity?
- What made the team successful?
- What process, if any, did you use to “design” the tower?
- Who emerged as the group leader(s)? What characteristics did the leader(s) display?
- Did everyone participate? If not, why not?
- Describe the group dynamic.
- How did individual team members help each other?
- How did you make decisions?
- What would you have done differently?
- What did you learn from this activity?
- How might you apply these lessons to our team’s work?
Halfway through the planning phase (about seven minutes), quietly remove one team member from each team and replace him or her with someone from one of the other teams. This will give the teams a chance to work the relationship issue, trying to deal with the loss of a valued member as well as decide how to quickly bring the new person on board. Some will do well here, others may choose to ignore the new person.
Inspired by Jeff Anthony
If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities!
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.