I recently ran across a short TED talk about a team-building exercise where teams of four are challenged to build a free-standing tower using only dry spaghetti, tape, and a marshmallow. The team with the tallest stable tower wins.
Tom Wujec, the speaker, has facilitated this exercise over 70 times with a wide variety of people. His talk focuses on which groups consistently perform poorly (recent business school graduates) and which groups perform well (children in kindergarten). He’s got some great explanations of why this is and how to apply this information to other design challenges. It’s a fun talk, and worth watching.
I ran a similar challenge with a group of 20 designer colleagues at Nokia. I used slightly different rules: no marshmallow, and instead of building a vertical tower, teams had to build a horizontal cantilever off their table.
The purpose of the exercise was to build cross-team relationships and foster a design community across multiple organizational silos. This group of designers would go on to meet monthly as a design community, and this initial exercise helped break the ice and begin relationships. Ironically, as the facilitator, all the participants knew me, but the challenge didn’t let me get to know many of them!
Over a year later, I ran into a designer who had participated in the challenge. He said it was the most memorable design meeting out of the lot and that his co-workers still brought it up.
Watching the TED talk has inspired me to run the challenge again, and I highly recommend it to any group searching for a fun team-building exercise.