Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teambuilding with Marshmallows

There are LOTS of uses for marshmallows...smores, Moon Pies, Fluff, hot chocolate. I could keep going on and on. Some of my best and worst memories include marshmallows. I remember my marshmallow falling off the stick into the campfire at girl scout camp, and being told to just eat the graham cracker and chocolate. I remember sitting in the kitchen eating peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches when I was younger, and then doing the same for comfort after I had grown up. 

My fondest memory involving a marshmallow had nothing to do with eating the marshmallow. It actually involved watching students of mine impale a marshmallow with a piece of uncooked spaghetti. Why would anyone do that, you ask? It's actually part of a great teambuilding activity developed by Tom Wujec called the Marshmallow Challenge. If you follow the link to his page, you can see the TED talk on the whole thing. I've tried it with students of all ages, and with the teachers I work with. 

According to Wujec: "The task is 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." 

Sure its simple...until you have to put the marshmallow on top. 

Why is this such a great teambuilding activity? It encourages planning, collaboration, critical thinking, and reacting to the unexpected. The unexpected is that marshmallow. Sure, we consider them to be light, fluffy, innocent even; but not when one stands atop a tower of uncooked pasta held together by tape and string. An observer can also see which team members surface as leaders. 

To make it more meaningful for your group, consider posing these follow-up questions:

  • What have you learned about your teammates during this activity?
  • How did roles and responsibilities get divided during the process?
  • How was conflict addressed?
  • How would you approach this activity differently now that you know what to expect? 

The next time you need a team building activity, try it! I think your audience will find it to be engaging and educational. More importantly, I think they will learn a lot from one another as well! 


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