Build a tower, build a team.


-By Gabrielle Piraino

Recently the team at Sphere participated in The Marshmallow Challenge. Unfortunately no, it was not a competition to see who could eat the most marshmallows… it was a team building challenge. And who doesn’t love a team building exercise?

The idea of the Marshmallow challenge came from a Ted talk by Tom Wujec. During his presentation he describes the Marshmallow challenge as a design exercise that encourages teams to experience simple but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity. It can be a used as a powerful technique for teams to improve their capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport, and master the skill of prototyping – all of which lie at the heart of team innovation. The challenge has been conducted by tens of thousands of people in every continent, from the CFOs of Fortune 50 companies to students at all levels.

So what is the Marshmallow Challenge?

The task is actually fairly simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.

The rules of the challenge:

1. Build the tallest freestanding structure: The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured from the tabletop surface to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling or chandelier.

2. The entire marshmallow must be on top: The entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team.

3. Use as much or as little of the kit: The team can use as many or as few of the 20 spaghetti sticks, as much or as little of the string or tape as they like.

4. Break up the spaghetti, string or tape: Teams are free to break the spaghetti, cut up the tape and string to create new structures.

5. The challenge lasts 18 minutes: Teams cannot hold on to the structure when the time runs out. Those touching or supporting the structure at the end of the exercise will be disqualified.

So how did we go?

Well, not too bad actually. Of the three teams participating in the challenge, two of the teams built a structure that was free standing (with the marshmallow on top) at the end of the 18 minutes. The competitive spirit was high during the challenge, as was some good collaboration between people from different areas of the agency. Interestingly, people’s roles and positions within the agency didn’t influence the workings of the group dynamics with people from all levels collaborating together.

After the challenge the teams watched the below Ted talk which discusses some interesting lessons found from conducting the challenge, including what group of people consistently perform well… and that answer may surprise you.

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