Problem Solving Activities Requiring Leadership/Teamwork

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Problem Solving Activities Requiring Leadership/Teamwork:
Change Up
April 14, 2011 by Mark Collard
Filed under: Problem-Solving
A simple line-up initiative using a deck of cards.
At A Glance
A group attempts to form a line as quickly as possible according to the numerical sequence of the playing card each
person is holding.
What You Need
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Regular deck of cards
Stop-watch
15 – 30 minutes
What To Do
This initiative has become one of my latest favourites because it’s so simple, and always provides plenty of
opportunity for discussion at the end.
Start by randomly distributing one card (face-down) from a regular deck of cards to
each person in the group. Ask people not to look at their card, or show it to another person.
Explain that you will issue two loud commands for each of several rounds – GO, and STOP.
On “GO,” you invite everyone to turn their card over (for the first time) and then as quickly as possible, form one
straight line according to the numerical order of the cards, aces high. That is, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen,
King, Ace – regardless of suits, so if three people were holding 7′s, it would not matter in what order they stood
provided they all lined up between the 6′s and 8′s. Using a stop-watch, your job is to time how long this process
takes.
Between each round, the group is entitled to pool their creative resources and try to think of ways to improve their
time. When the group is prepared to be timed again, explain that you want all cards turned face down again, and
then with a simple one-for-one swap, invite everyone to mingle and make as many trades as posible… until you say
“STOP.” At this point, without turning the cards over, invite the group to do whatever it needs to do to be ready for
the next command… “GO” which means the clock starts ticking again.
Hint, be sure to focus the group’s efforts on solving the “timing” problem, and not the method in which the cards are
“randomly” distributed between each round.
Good solutions not only feature good problem-solving and decision-making skills, but also an emphasis on systems
and creativity.
Variations
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Same as above, yet explain the criterion of success is the alphabetical order of the cards (not numerical).
You will literally hear the cogs grinding in people’s heads as they grapple with this change. So, now, suits
do matter (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades – in that order) when two or more of the same card value
occur. For example, the 3′s will now necessarly sit between the 6′s and the 2′s (… six, three, two …)
Use a bunch of coins, and distribute as above, with the goal of forming a line according to the order of their
year of manufacture, eg 1978, 1982, 1983, 1991…
Great Egg Drop
January 31, 2010 by Mark Collard
Filed under: Problem-Solving
A purposeful problem-solving team activity that comes with a thrilling climax
At A Glance
Groups are provided with identical resources to build a ‘vehicle’ for an egg to travel from a tall height to the ground,
hoping that it will prevent the egg from breaking upon impact.
What You Need
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One egg (not hard-boiled) per team
20 plastic straws per team
1 metre (3-4’) of masking tape per team
Paper and pens (optional)
A large plastic sheet
1 -2 hours
What To Do
Like many group activities, you are encouraged to really ham the presentation of this exercise to the max! Develop
whatever scenario you care to think of, but be committed and make it fun.
For example, introduce yourself as a famous astro-physicist, and explain that you are seeking the best way for
humans to land onto the surface of Mars. You plan to divide your group into competing teams of engineers, who
will be charged with the responsibility of building a space-craft that will not only transport humans safely to Mars,
but more importantly, help them land in one piece. Whatever…you are now ready to present the task.
Each ‘team’ will be given identical resources – an egg, a set of straws, and a short strip of masking tape. The
challenge is to build the strongest vehicle for an egg to safely travel a distance of 3 metres (10’). Why? Because, this
is a prototype of the very spacecraft that will carry humans to Mars, of course! However, the distance will be
gravity-fed, i.e., it will be dropped from a height, and land with a thud on the ground (that’s why you need the
plastic sheet – it’s a landing platform).
Announce that each team’s vehicle will be judged on engineering quality, efficiency of resource use, aesthetics, and
naturally, on the survival of the egg. Feel free to add other forms of criteria too. Once all of the questions have been
answered, and you have distributed the materials, declare that their time has begun. Allow at least 45 minutes for
each team to prepare their craft.
Finally, the program reaches a huge climax when each team returns and, under a veil of secrecy, submits their
vehicle for testing. Leading with shouts of “10, 9, 8, 7…” and so on, you drop each vehicle from a height – one at a
time (standing on a table works pretty well) – and await the results.
Typically, the egg will erupt with a fit of yellow and white splatter. Even a tiny flow of yolk will be sufficient for the
crowd to go wild. Sunny-side up, anyone?
Variations
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Add a variety of materials to those above, such as balloons, rubber bands, cotton wool, etc.
Ask each group, as part of their overall objective, to prepare a short presentation to accompany the launch
of their ‘vehicle.’ Paper and pens can be used to design a ‘marketing campaign.’ Points are further awarded
for creativity, originality and believability of their spiel.
Madagascar Rescue
May 26, 2010 by Mark Collard
Filed under: Problem-Solving
A creative group initiative that combines many problems into one.
At A Glance
A group standing on a large tarp must first manage to flip the tarp upside-down without touching the ground, and
then rescue a series of objects strewn around them.
What You Need
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A large tarp (preferably non-rip material)
One “stepping stone” per person
Bunch of objects, such as soft toy animals
What To Do
This initiative is a classic example of how much fun it can be to combine two or more individual problem-solving
activities into one. In this case, I am adding Turn A New Leaf to Stepping Stones.
Start by placing the large tarp (approx 2m x 3m works well for 15 people) on the floor, and randomly distributing a
bunch of soft toys around the area. Now, ask your group to stand on the tarp entirely, that is, no overlapping of feet
or other body parts. Distribute a piece of driftwood (stepping stone) to each person.
Set the scene by describing that the group is standing on the underside of a capsized ship which was bound for
Madagascar (ie think of popular animated movie of same name). The ship was full of exotic animals, and sadly, they
have now been tipped into the ocean, and will drown within 30 minutes (or other seemingly appropriate time-frame).
Explain that the group’s first task is to upright their vessel, and then, to rescue all of the animals using the drift wood
they have been supplied.
In an effort to flip the tarp, the group is not permitted to step off or touch the ground at any time. Without giving too
much away, most solutions normally involve twisting the tarp at one end and moving people from one side to the
flipped-side. Dispense whatever penalty for outside touches seems reasonable, but I normally require the group to
start over.
Then, upon uprighting the ship, the group’s next task is to rescue the strewn animals. Again, no one is permitted to
step into the ocean (ground), but may use the drift wood (stepping stones) to traverse the area safely. But, two rules
apply – every stepping stone MUST maintain total physical contact with the group at all times (ie if a stone is left
untouched for even a split-second, for example, between steps) that stone will sink (ie it is removed from the game),
and if someone happens to touch (or fall) into the ocean, they must return to the ship. Note, if a person should “fall”
(requiring them to return to the ship) and no one else is touching the stepping stone at the time the first person fell,
that piece of drift wood is also removed from the game. Yeah, I know, it’s brutal!
Clearly, there are tons of opportunities for teamwork, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills to be
exhibited here. Game continues until all of the animals have been safely rescued, or… all of the stepping stones have
sunk!
Variations
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Extending the scenario, explain that owing to tidal patterns, some animals may “drift” (ie change their
location) relative to the ship at any time. Alter the tides at your discretion.
Use a tarp that is too difficult to flip with everyone standing on it. This will invite the group to be creative,
to discover perhaps that some members of the group will have to float on their drift wood (stepping stones)
until the ship is righted.
Rather than a higgly-piggly distribution of animals, place them in a zig-zag formation away “behind” the
ship. Or, place the animals in an upside-down Y shape requiring the group to split left and right perhaps to
complete the rescue.
Quick Shuffle
January 12, 2010 by Mark Collard
Filed under: Problem-Solving
A good introductory, success-oriented exercise.
At A Glance
A group works together to re-shuffle seven people back to their original positions of a line in which they were
standing prior to the group closing and then re-opening their eyes.
What You Need
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An open space.
Minimum of 10 people.
10 – 15 minutes.
What To Do
Be careful not to reveal too much in this briefing, lest you give your group a clue as to what’s about to happen. It’s
not critical, because you can always up the challenge, but it’s good to preserve the adventure for as long as possible.
Ask seven people from your group to stand in one line, side-by-side, in front of the rest of your group, and then ask
the latter to simply look at the former for about 10 or so seconds. Now, instruct those who are doing the looking, to
close their eyes for 15 to 20 seconds, during which time the chosen seven will totally shuffle their positions. No one
leaves the line, each person simply moves to a new spot within it.
As you will have guessed, the group now opens their eyes and is charged with the responsibility of re-shuffling the
group back to their original configuration. It is quite likely that not even the seven people will recall their original
positions correctly – because they didn’t see what was coming either, and that’s OK.
The guts of this activity is about the looking group
working together co-operatively to solve the problem. Like most initiatives, it’s not always about getting the right
answer. To this end, and to prevent a “hero” from doing all of the shuffling, be sure to frame this simple exercise as
a “group” problem, and suggest that every “looking” person takes a turn in making one shuffle at a time. The chosen
seven should remain silent at all times during the shuffling process.
Of course, after the first round, everyone is attuned to memorising the formation of the line when the activity is
repeated, but there’s still plenty of room for disagreement. Naturally, applaud the idea of using pen and paper, but
disallow it!
Variations
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If you have a large group, create several sets of seven, with matching groups of three to five people to do
the looking and re-shuffling.
Experiment with larger look-at-me lines, of say 10 or more people.
Moving only one person at a time, record how many moves it takes for a line to be correctly reshuffled.
TP Shuffle On A Rope
March 10, 2011 by Mark Collard
Filed under: Problem-Solving
Indoor (and outdoor) variation of a classic initiative.
At A Glance
A group standing on a straight line of rope attempts to re-order their positions, ensuring that all movements are made
with at least one foot on the rope at all times.
What You Need

Long piece of rope (say 10m for 25 people)
What To Do
The original TP Shuffle is a wonderful group initiative, but as it required a long 5 to 8 metre pole (TP = telephone
pole) laying on its side, it was not always readily accessible. Until now…
Lay a long rope in a straight line on the floor (or relatively even ground) and ask your group to stand directly onto it
with both feet.
Next, explain that you would like them to now re-arrange their current positions according to a particular sequence,
for exmaple, the month and date of their birth. So, at one end of the rope it is possible that someone may be standing
with a birth date of 1 January, and next to them, 2nd of January, and so on, through the days and months to 31
December at the opposite end of the rope.
However, here’s the kicker – all movements must be made with at least one foot always touching the rope. If at any
time, one or more people involved in a move should discover that both of their feet are not touching the rope, they
will incur a penalty. Penalties can also be incurred if any other part of the body (such as a hand or butt) shoudl touch
the ground – often because they were used to break a fall.
Typically, penalties vary from simply counting the number of infractions, to requiring the offender to move to the
end of the rope opposite to the direction they were travelling. For example, if a person with a birth date of
September should come off the rope, they must start over from the January end of the rope. Yeah, tough, I know!
While clearly the task is not performed while balancing on a telephone pole, this variation does offer many of the
benefits of the original, including the development of creativity, support and communication skills.
Variations
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Vary the sequence criteria, such as last two digits of their mobile phone number, street number, height,
shoe size, length of hair, etc.
Complete the task with several members of the group blindfolded.
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