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Problem Solving Games

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Here are some team building games designed to focus on problem solving.

Problem Solving Games

This section is for team building games focused on improving problem solving skills.

Sheet of Paper Step Through

Problem-solving, togetherness, kids' scissor-skills

A novel paper-cutting icebreaker exercise, played in pairs, or threes, or as a group. The activity can be used as a bigger group problem-solving and team-working task.

Equipment: Scissors and sheets of paper, A4 size or similar.

Instruction to group: You have five minutes to devise a way of cutting the sheet of paper so that it creates a ring - without any breaks or joins - large enough to fit over both people, and then to step through the ring (in your pair/three/as a group).

A cutting solution and diagram are below, and also explained in smaller scale in the business card trick.

Depending on your purposes, situation and group, you can change this exercise in various ways, for example:

  • Issue the cutting diagram to all participants. This should ensure that the activity produces at least one successful demonstration of the task.
  • Do not issue the cutting diagram, but instead demonstrate the solution, and instruct the participants to remember it. This tests people's concentration and retention.
  • Issue the cutting diagram half-way through the exercise when (as is likely) participants fail to discover a cutting solution - which highlights the importance of having instructions and knowledge for challenging tasks which might initially seem quite easy.
  • Ask people to do the exercise in teams of three rather than pairs, which increases the brain-power available, but also the potential for confusion, and also the size of the paper ring necessary to fit over three people rather than two.
  • Issue sticky tape, allow joins to be made and add a two-minute time penalty for each join in the ring.
  • Change the task so that the group creates a paper ring large enough to fit over the entire group - allowing for only one sticky-tape join per pair of delegates. This opens the possibility for many different cutting solutions because each pair is effectively then required merely to convert their sheet into a long length of paper rather than an unbroken ring.

Activity notes:

As facilitator it is recommended you practice the suggested cutting solution so that if necessary you can demonstrate it (before or afterwards, depending on your adaptation) to the group.

Beware of using this activity in any situation that could cause embarrassment to overweight people or where delegates would be uncomfortable with the inter-personal proximity required.

The qualification of putting the ring of paper over a given number of people is that while standing (necessarily very close) together they are able to pass the paper ring over their heads and down to the floor, enabling them to step over and thereby through the ring without breaking it.

Here is an example solution, assuming that the sheet of paper is first folded. This is one solution to the exercise. If you know another please send it. There are some alternative solutions listed after the first diagram and explanation.

Fold the sheet of paper in half, and cut it through both sides of the paper, as shown in the diagram, in the following sequence:

Cut 8-12 slits (8 are adequate - the diagram shows 12), from the folded edge up to about 1-2cm of the open edge, each slit being about 1.5-2cm apart.

Cut a slit between each of the above slits, from the open edge to about 1-2cm of the folded edge.

Cut along the folded edge, but not the ends marked with blue circles.

You should then be able to open the paper into a ring which comfortably fits over two people.

Cutting more slits increases the size of the ring, as would using a larger sheet of paper. Slit dimensions can be increased for larger sheets.

paper cutting trick

A further adaptation of the exercise is to issue one large sheet of paper (for example from a broadsheet newspaper) to a group of people (up to ten or even twenty people) and task them to work out how to cut (or tear, for added difficulty) the paper into a seamless ring which will fit over the entire group. This creates lots of problem-solving activity in the planning stage, and much physicality and togetherness when the ring is being passed over the group. You can avoid inactivity for group members during the cutting/tearing by instructing that all group members must take a turn at cutting/tearing. Team members can also plan the step-through strategy and other logistical aspects of the exercise.

You will be surprised how large a ring can be created. An A4 sheet easily makes a ring circumference of 3m. A big newspaper sheet easily produces a ring circumference of 7m.

Alternative solutions

Here is an alternative solution (thanks E Roddick and one of his workgroups in San Gabriel Valley, US). Cutting lines are shown in red and blue. The diameter of the ring produced would increase by lengthening the parallel spiral pattern, requiring cuts closer together. I understand from another contributor (thanks Brian) that in 1970s London this method was used by young lads with bus tickets, to ease the boredom of the daily school commute..

The technique entails cutting or tearing the red line first, and then the blue.


Here is another alternative solution (thanks A How).

The cutting lines are shown in red. The solution is similar to the first folded solution, but without the fold.

The blue line is the outside edge of the paper or card.

If you have another solution please send it.


Egg Balancing

Concentration, positive thinking, discovery, breaking down barriers, wonderment and fascination

For groups of any size. Each person must have an egg and a table-top surface.

According to myth, due to planetary gravitational effects or similar nonsense, it is possible to stand an egg on its end during the vernal (Spring) equinox, which is on or close to 21 March, when night and day are equal.

In fact it is possible with a little patience and a steady hand to balance an egg on its end on a flat level surface, any time. The big end is much easier.

Here's one on my kitchen table. This interesting feat of manual dexterity and myth-busting provides the basis for an enjoyable and fascinating group exercise. The temptation to pun is almost irresistible.


A raw egg is perhaps easier to balance than a hard-boiled egg because the weight sinks to the bottom and creates a sort of 'googly-man' effect. The science is not especially clear about this and if there are any professors of egg balancing out there I'd welcome your input.

You can use this activity in various ways, to demonstrate or emphasise patience, discovery, positive thinking, questioning assumptions, breaking barriers, stress avoidance; and for team contests.

Incidentally you can tell the difference between a hard-boiled egg and a raw egg by spinning the egg. A raw egg spins slowly and speeds up, and continues spinning after you stop it; a hard egg spins faster and stays stopped. These differences are due to the independent motion of the liquid in the raw egg, whereas a hard egg behaves as a single mass.

An additional point of interest is that a few grains of salt enables a very quick balancing 'trick', which is of course cheating.

Facilitators are recommended to practice the task before asking others to try it. The balancing is easier on slightly textured surfaces and a lot more difficult on very smooth surfaces. Eggs with slightly pimply shells are much easier to balance than eggs with very smooth shells. Some eggs are easier to balance than others so have a few spare for any that simply will not balance.

A mop and bucket is recommended if using this exercise with children.

(Thanks to N Mehdi for the suggestion.)

Tubes, Strings and Balls

Teamwork, planning, creativity

For groups of four people or more, best with six people or more. Teams of more than ten become chaotic (which is okay if that's what you are seeking to demonstrate).


  • A ball of string or very thin rope.
  • Scissors.
  • Two empty cardboard tubes of Pringles, or similar cardboard tubes (for example postal tubes for rolled papers).
  • Some marbles or golf-balls or other small balls which fit into the tubes. (The exercise works fine with one ball; more and different balls increase the interest.)

The group must work together to achieve the task:

  • Place one tube in the centre of the room or table, open-end upwards. This is the 'receptor' tube.
  • Optionally (facilitator decision) secure the receptor tube to the table or floor using sticky putty (e.g., Blu-Tack) - don't put sticky putty on carpet..
  • Using the string and the other cardboard tube (one end open, other end closed - called the 'transporter' tube), transport a specified number of balls - one at a time - into the receptor tube standing at the centre of room/table.
  • Each group member must hold at least one length of string connected to the transporter tube.
  • No group member may handle a ball within six feet (two metres) of the receptor tube.
  • No group member may move from their position once a ball has been placed into the transporter tube and the transporting commenced.
  • (Strings need to be tied to the transporter tube not only to move the tube, but also to tip it, in order to deposit the ball into the receptor. The facilitator does not need to tell the team(s) this unless failing to realise this becomes counter-productive.)

Variations and preparation ideas:

  • Large groups can be split into competing teams - each with their own equipment and floor-space/table.
  • Optionally give groups planning/preparation time.
  • Introduce penalties for dropped balls, dislodging/upsetting the receptor tube, team members moving illegally, etc.
  • Introduce more awkward items for transporting, e.g., coins, pens, chocolate snack bars, etc.
  • At its simplest the game is to transport just one ball. Increase balls and complexity as you wish.

Given the variation and interesting dynamics within this exercise you are especially recommended to test it first with a group so you can understand how it works and the sort of controls and guidance or freedoms that you would like to apply for your own situation. It's a very flexible concept; adapt it to suit your needs.

Solution example:

This exercise is subject to a lot of variation, including the solutions that people devise. If you are a facilitator trying to imagine how it works, this might help..

At least three strings need to be connected to the top (open end) or near the top of the transporter tube, which keeps the tube upright and hanging from the connected strings being pulled tight by team members, and enables the tube potentially to be suspended and moved anywhere by and between the stringholders. Given that people cannot move their positions once the ball is loaded into the transporter tube, the method of 'playing out' string, as well as pulling it, is crucial. Strings that are too short become a problem. At least one team member needs a string connected to the bottom of the tube to enable the tipping. If just one string is connected to the bottom of the tube then the tube can be tipped from just one direction, which means the team needs to have good control over the positioning of the tube. Having more than one string connected to the bottom of the tube (from more than one position) increases the options for the direction of the tipping, but the downside is that (beyond a certain point, depending on the coordination capability of the team) the difficulty tends to increase with more people having more strings connected. Any bottom-connected string that crosses with a top-connected string will encounter a problem when it comes to tipping, because logically the bottom-connected string must get higher than the top-connected strings, hence the example solution which follows.

At its simplest, imagine the receptor tube (the target into which the ball must be tipped) being in the centre of a clock face. Three team members are positioned at, say, 12, 4 and 8 o'clock, each of whom has a string connected to the top of the transporter tube, and a fourth team member, say, at 6 o'clock, has a string connected to the bottom of the transporter tube to enable the tipping. The ball is placed in the transporter tube, say by the team member at 12 o'clock. At this time no one can move from their position. The people at 4 and 8 take up the slack while 12 string is kept tight enabling the tube to be lifted. While 4 and 8 pull the tube towards the clockface centre, 12 plays out, keeping a tight string. When the tube is in the correct position for tipping, 6 can pull, while the other three strings stay tight to keep the tube's position, or adjust as necessary.

As you can perhaps now imagine, putting six people into a team, compared to four, tends to increase the difficulty because of the risks of top/bottom strings crossing, the complexity of gauging who needs to pull and who needs to play out or slacken off, and the general confusion resulting from a bigger team making more inputs.

You will see various creative solutions, often by bigger teams, involving for example:

  • The construction of a sort of cable-car solution, in which the tube can be pulled, suspended from strings acting as 'cables' threaded through the top of the tube
  • Teams which discover that they can pass strings/control from one team member to another (which you may choose to allow or disallow - disallowing makes the task more difficult)

Paper and Straws Variation

A quicker simpler version of this game can be played using drinking straws, a ball of rolled-up paper and a (very thin) dinner-table place mat:

  • Team members sit around the table.
  • Put the place-mat in the centre of the table. Alternatively stick a suitably sized/shaped piece of paper flat to the table to act as the target area. Alternatively mark a circular target on the table surface - optionally with concentric scoring rings - using chalk or coloured sticky tape (e.g., electrician's insulating tape).
  • The task is for team members to use the drinking straws (one each) to blow the ball of paper onto the place-mat, and optionally (facilitator decision) additional paper balls afterwards (very difficult without dislodging any balls already in place).
  • Facilitator decides how many paper balls are involved in the game, and where the balls are placed to begin (not crucial, provided some way from target). More balls = more complexity/difficulty/time.
  • No team member may be within one yard (one metre) of the paper ball. (You might need to reduce this distance for weak blowers and big balls..)
  • Split large groups into competing teams with their own equipment and table.
  • Optionally require all team members to remain in their seated positions once the blowing commences (this makes the task more difficult than enabling team members to move around the table).
  • A very flat target is required so that 'overblow' happens, which tends then to involve all team members in the blowing, especially if static around the table. (If the target mat is too thick it will stop the ball rolling over it).
  • Warning: Blowing can cause dizziness. Ensure all players are advised not to blow to the point of hyper-ventilation and collapse; it's just a game.

Review points (especially for string/tubes game version):

  • Did we work as a team?
  • Leadership - did it happen, what was the style and the reactions?
  • Planning - did it happen? Was it required?
  • Did the activity energise us? How and why?
  • (If competing teams were involved) What were the competitive effects?
  • Lots more review points will arise, and you will think of your own depending on your own situation and purposes.

Classification Game

Introductions, discrimination, mutual perspectives

This is a simple exercise requiring no equipment or materials preparation, for groups of any size and age.

Split large groups into teams of six to ten people.

The activity is quickest when teams are smallest. Minimum team size is four.

Instruction to group/teams:

We all tend to classify and stereotype each other - 'pigeon-holing' is a common expression for this.

Usually this sort of classification is subjective, unhelpfully judgemental, and sometimes of course it's unfair to the point of being illegal discrimination.

Discuss/introduce yourselves in your team(s).

Discover a way to divide or classify yourselves evenly into two/three/four subgroups within your team(s) by using criteria (ways of classifiying/describing people) which contain no negative or prejudicial or good/bad discriminatory judgements.

Optional briefing:

Examples of criteria to evenly divide/classify the team according to -

  • Late-night people and early-morning people
  • What sort of weather we like
  • What sort of food we like
  • What we like to do for fun
  • Our fears
  • What we would change in the world

If as a facilitator you use these examples feel free to instruct the group to think of their own ideas, and not merely to use one of the examples.

More complexity and/or specific focus on a subject can be suggested, for example:

The purpose of the exercise is to encourage people to get to know each other better, to collectively consider the nature of all individuals within the team, and to think of each other in ways that are quite different to how people tend usually to classify others.


  • Share and discuss the team'(s') decisions, making notes where helpful on a flipchart (or equivalent hi-tech system).
  • How easy was it to find out and think about each other in different ways?
  • How does this thinking differ from potentially negative or subjective judgements?
  • What sort of classifications can be negative?
  • What makes a classification positive/helpful rather than negative/prejudicial?

As a facilitator/teacher, you can approach the exercise as a quick ice-breaker, or a more complex longer-lasting learning activity.

You can stipulate how many subgroups should be classified within the team(s), and how many different classifications are required (one 50:50 split using a single classification is simplest and quickest), or you can offer wider more open flexibility, and see what the teams develop for themselves.

The Johari Window is a useful reference model, as is (up to a point) employment background on discrimination, minorities, bullying, etc. Approach the activity with a broader view than reminding people about employment law and discrimination:

The way we understand and regard each other is a big subject, offering far more helpful outcomes than merely applying a legal code.

The Takeaway Game

Planning, analysis, number skills, ice-breaker, energiser for the brain

Based on an old numbers game this activity can be adapted in many different ways for groups and teams of all sizes.

It takes a minute to explain and set up, and as little as a minute to play.

You can easily expand the game, add complexity, and turn it into a much longer planning and tactics exercise.

The basic game (for two teams, or people in pairs, playing each other):

Put fifteen coins (or cards, or keys, or anything) between the contestants.

Explain the rules:

  1. Toss a coin to decide who goes first.
  2. Each side may remove one or two or three coins in turn.
  3. The winner is the person/team removing the last coin(s).
More complex game variations:
  • Start with a greater number of coins.
  • Allow more than three coins to be removed.
  • Allow coins to be put back (with a limit because otherwise the game might never end).
  • Play the game between three or more teams or individuals/pairs (for example playing a number of rounds with several pairs/threes against each other will lead to tactical collaboration between teams, so as to prevent a strong leader emerging, which can be fascinating).
  • Play the game according to coin values, stating maximum value that can be removed/put back each turn.
  • Play the game with playing cards, using the values of the cards (pictures counting as 10, or Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13, and Ace =1), and stating a number of points which can be removed at each turn. Again, additional challenge can be added by allowing a limited number of cards/points to be put back.

With increased complexity the activity becomes increasingly suitable for teams and allowing a strategic planning stage.

Mathematically-minded people will realise soon that the simpler versions of the takeaway game can be planned and controlled quite easily by the team/person playing first. Complex versions of the game are far less easy to plan and control.

Increase the fun element fun by playing the game with (readily identifiable and returnable) items from the pockets/handbags/cases of the players (for example keys, pens, phones, etc). Different items can be given different values, for example, key=1, pen=2, phone=3.

The game obviously allows mathematically-minded people (who are often quiet and understated in the background) to demonstrate their value to the group, which can be an additional benefit of the exercise.

Points to review, for example:

  • What is the method to ensure victory when playing the basic 15 coin game? (Leave your opponent with four coins, achieved by leaving them with eight at the previous turn, and twelve at the previous turn, meaning that the player starting must first remove three coins.)
  • What does this teach us about achieving successful results?
  • What does this teach us about the importance of planning and strategy?
  • How could the method be adapted for greater numbers of coins (to start with, and the maximum removable each time)?
  • What does this teach us about being able to transfer/adapt a winning formula from one situation to the next?
  • At what point does a task become too complex to predict a guaranteed result? (This is illustrated in the game by adding complexities such as more participants, different item values, and option to put back as well as removal.)
  • What can we do to maximise our chances of achieving a successful result in complex unpredictable circumstances? (In the game and in work/business/life generally?)

Quick Paper Tower

Warm-up, creative thinking, and/or teamwork, skills and process analysis

A quick table-top exercise for individuals or teams, and a quick version of the bigger newspaper tower activity.

Issue a single sheet of paper (A4 or international equivalent) to each group member (or one sheet per team if the exercise is to be played as a team game).


Using the sheet of paper only - no other materials - construct the tallest free-standing structure - in 5 minutes.

Points to review:

  • Planning and timing - who planned and who ran out of time?
  • Pressure - what were the effects on people and performance from the pressure of time?
  • Innovation - what innovative ideas were devised?
  • Risk - what observations could be made about high-risk and low-risk methods/approaches?
  • Learning - would each team/individual be able to improve their result at a second attempt? (Almost certainly.) Discuss how and why, and the value of experience.
  • Best practice - if the whole group were to be given the task to build a single tower what ideas would be combined, and what does this tell us about the power of collective ideas?
  • Skills - what skills were found to be crucial for best performance of the task, and could you have guessed what these vital skills would be before the exercise, or did they only become apparent after actually attempting the task? And what does this tell us about the identification of skills (to be developed/taught) for a given task?
  • (If played as a team game) what were the opportunities and challenges in enabling the team to perform the task effectively? Consider and suggest a process which would enable an effective team approach to the task: What elements and principles from this are transferable to normal operations and team-working?
  • Process improvement - what single tool or additional material (no larger than the width of the paper sheet) would achieve the greatest improvement to the result?

Incidentally the best technical approach to this task almost certainly requires the construction and use of connectable tubular rolled or triangular telescopic sections, made from lengthways strips of the sheet. Using this technique it is possible to make a tower at least three times higher than the length of the sheet. If you know better and/or have pictorial evidence of a better solution please send it to share with others on this webpage.

The exercise can be adapted to suit your situation, for example giving group members 15 minutes for the task and issuing an extra practice sheet of paper will increase the depth and complexity of the task and the review.

New World

Potentially bigger exercise for leadership/team roles, multiple intelligences, life skills, analysis and reaction

This is a flexible and fascinating scenario-based activity for groups up to 12 people and all ages. Split larger groups into teams and adapt presentations and reviews accordingly. Schools could potentially develop various extensions to this activity.

Ask the delegates to discuss in a group and answer the following question:

Scenario: Imagine the world suffered a catastrophic event like a meteor strike, plague or nuclear war, which destroyed most human life and all of the developments of the past century. A mixed group (age, gender, ethnicity, religion) of a few hundred lucky people has survived (it's helpful to agree where - anywhere - because location will influence some aspects of the approach to the question).

Question: If this group is to thrive and develop, what initial leadership structure would you suggest, stating 6-12 key roles? (Optionally and ideally ask delegates to justify their suggestions.)

Agree timings and presentation/review in whatever ways are useful to the delegates. The number of roles can be the same as the number of delegates, especially if you choose to extend the activity.

The exercise can be extended by adding any of the following supplementary questions, which can (optionally) be approached as if the delegates are the survivors leadership team, allocated the key roles identified.

Roles can be allocated via volunteering or some other group process, at the facilitator's discretion.

Optional supplementary questions:

  • What basic laws would you introduce for the group of survivors?
  • As the leadership team, what would be your ten immediate main aims?
  • What 3-5 main difficulties would you expect in leading the group and how would you try to handle these challenges?
  • What lessons from the modern world would you find most valuable in rebuilding the new world?
  • What would be your five main medium-long term aims?

You - and/or the delegates - will be able to devise further questions relevant to your own training/learning situation.

There are potentially thousands of useful reference sources which can be incorporated within an exercise like this, really anything you are currently seeking to bring to life and provide context for application. Here are a few examples:

The activity is very flexible. It can be shortened to a two-minute icebreaker, simply to agree the 6-10 roles, or expanded to incorporate all sorts of issues and reference models and tools, depending on the development aims and needs of the delegates.

To shorten the exercise into a quick icebreaker simply state the scenario and ask delegates to take 1-2 minutes to think of 3-6 leadership roles. Then quickly gather and count the suggestions on a flip chart or wipeboard, and close with a quick review of the most popularly suggested team roles. Relate to Multiple Intelligence theory or Belbin's team roles theory or another suitably relevant team roles/skills reference model.

Change Exercises

Illustrating and experiencing dealing with change

Here are some simple quick ideas to help demonstrate the brain's reaction to change. They are based on having to accomplish a simple everyday task in a different way:

  • Do left-handed a simple task normally done right-handed (or vice-versa)
  • Blindfolded or with eyes shut (be mindful of safety issues)
  • Outside (instead of indoors - maybe even in the rain/wind - which tends to create radically different circumstances)
  • In pairs (when normally the task is one person's - like using a pair of scissors - which highlights pressures resulting from team changes)
  • By someone other than oneself, to oneself (which highlights fears around personal control and trust)
  • Upside-down against a wall being supported by a colleague (task and trust pressures)
  • Turn the task upside-down (for example a keyboard - strangeness, unfamiliarity and re-learning pressures)

Examples of simple tasks to which the above alternative methods might be applied (where safety and practicability allows):

  • Cutting paper shapes with scissors
  • Tossing a ball of paper into a bin
  • Typing on a keyboard
  • Cracking an egg into a bowl
  • Making a cup of tea or coffee or a sandwich
  • Writing or drawing
  • Using mobile phone
  • Putting a wristwatch onto the opposite arm
  • Applying make-up or tying a neck-tie
  • Tasks involving counting, sorting or building things (playing cards are ideal for all of these)

Not all tasks can be matched with all methods, for example making a cup of tea blindfolded is not very safe. Using a keyboard outside in the rain is neither safe nor practicable. Use your imagination and common sense to devise interesting and memorable combinations.

Different methods (types of change) create different pressures - on different parts of the brain - and these effects vary according to the individual.

It does not matter that the methods are mostly ridiculous - the point is to demonstrate and experience the different pressures of different types of change.

Observe and review how different people react in different ways to different methods. We do not react to change in the same ways. Empathy for other people's feelings is therefore crucial in managing change affecting other people. Motivational and attitudinal models such as those developed by Maslow and Erikson help explain why people react differently to change. One person might feel terribly threatened by a certain change which another person can take in their stride. Personality has a big affect too, for example, steady dependable people can find change more challenging than spontaneous intuitive people.

Change of any sort is difficult ultimately when:

  • Change requires the brain to overcome fear (of failure and self-doubt, etc) and uncertainty of the change itself (which can be extreme for certain people/personalities), and
  • Change requires the brain (and often the body too) to learn something new or to re-learn or accept something in a different way.

Change can be especially frustrating if it involves re-learning something which under a previous method or system was achievable competently (see conscious competence model) - because the brain can imagine and remember being competent, which can cause a sense of loss or failure relative to past experience.

The tasks and different methods above a just a few examples. You will think of many others more suitable to your own situation.

There are many more activities on this website which address change from more of a mental perspective instead of the physical examples above. Johari Window activities address a particularly useful aspect of change, i.e., self-awareness and exposure to other people's impressions of self.

Dice Exercise

Sales planning, marketing, sales strategy, selling effectiveness, time management, maximising your productivity

This is a quick simple activity for a meeting or training session. The activity illustrates some important lessons.

Approach a salesperson (or person with similar responsibilities) with a handful of dice. Hold out the dice, handing just one to the person. Avoid encouraging them to take the other dice.

Then ask them to throw six 'sixes' in thirty seconds to achieve success or win a small prize, while you (as the facilitator) continue holding the remaining dice in your open hand.

Expect the thrower to build up to frenzied activity as you count down the seconds aloud.

Some succeed, some don't. The lessons of the exercise are in the review.

The learning points are:

  • The chances of hitting sixes increase with the number of throws - a big part of selling is a numbers game, in which percentages and ratios are significant. So why not throw quickly from the start to increase your chances? Why wait for the deadline to increase energy levels?
  • The thrower could have asked for more dice. (As the facilitator explain in the review that you would have given them more if asked.) Obviously the more dice being thrown, the more sixes are likely to appear. We can expand our range or opportunities by simply thinking how to maximise our effectiveness at the outset of a task. We can ask ourselves (and others) when we approach a new project - What other ways and potential exist? For example, working together in a business to look for cross sales for other departments. And looking for additional distribution methods and market sectors, which can also dramatically increase potential.
  • Also, (prior to the exercise) the facilitator can doctor some of the dice to have an extra six. The facilitator keeps the doctored dice among those retained in the hand. Use correction fluid to make extra dots - fours and twos easily convert to sixes. These doctored dice represent the availability and neglect of methods which offer better returns than the initial assumption, or 'received wisdom'. This demonstrates the value of research, and perhaps testing, of methods and targets which produce a better rate of success.

You will uncover more examples related to your own situation which will arise from this powerful yet simple little exercise.

Chiefly the exercise is for sales people, but can be used for anyone with responsibility to plan how to use their time, and especially how best to direct their efforts in order to maximise results and rewards.

Anyone with average skills can easily out-perform the most skilful operator if they target their effort more strongly and effectively.

Success does not only depend on what you do. Success depends mostly on where and how determinedly you do it.

Note: Technically 'die' is the singular for dice, and dice is the plural, as in the famous expression 'The die is cast', which is an interesting item of trivia, not least because it is also connected to the expression 'crossing the Rubicon', if people are likely to be interested.

Thanks to R Chapman (no relation), for the contribution of this excellent exercise. Incidentally die is singular for dice not plural, as I ridiculously stated when I first posted this item, (thanks M Burgess).

Questioning Games

Demonstrate, teach and practise the difference between open and closed questions

Many people habitually ask closed questions when they want to gather information and encourage the other person to talk, instead of using open questions.

Here are some scenarios to use with groups in demonstrating the effectiveness of open questions, and the ineffectiveness of closed questions, for gathering information efficiently. Use your own alternative scenarios if more appropriate to your situation.

In each case state the scenario to the group, and then role-play or ask for closed questions by which the group must gather all the facts or solve the puzzle. This is neither easy nor efficient of course. Then ask for suggestions of open questionswhich will reveal the information or answer most efficiently.

Scenarios (numbers 2 and 3 are lateral thinking puzzles suitable for questioning exercises):

  1. You are seeking to rent a holiday cottage in a particular area (say Cornwall, or whatever). The newspaper has one advert in the Cornwall section, stating merely: 'Holiday Cottage For Rent' and a phone number. Role-play your phone call to discover if the cottage is what you want, using closed questions only. (If helpful, brainstorm a long list of typical requirements beforehand.) Similar exercises are possible using other sale/hire/services scenarios, e.g., cars, houses, party/wedding venues, coaching, clubs, etc.
  2. A class of twenty-five children is invited by their teacher to share a bag of exactly twenty-five sweets. After the share-out all the children have a sweet but one sweet remains in the bag. How is this? Instruct the group to ask closed questions to solve the puzzle. (The answer is that last sweet was taken away in the bag.)
  3. Two electric trains were mistakenly routed onto the same track in opposite directions into a tunnel. One travelling at 200 mph, the other at 220 mph. Each train passed successfully through the tunnel and was able to continue its journey without stopping or colliding. How so? Instruct the group to ask closed questions to solve the puzzle. (The answer is that the second train entered the tunnel several minutes after the first one had left it.)

Use or adapt your own puzzles and scenarios as appropriate for the audience.

You can also vary the way that the group asks questions - in turn, one-to-one with observers, in pairs, etc.

Here is some explanation of the use of questioning in a sales training context, as typically found in a traditional selling process. Questioning of course features importantly within coaching, counselling, interviewing, investigating, and many other disciplines, so adapt the explanation to suit your needs.

Use the poster of Rudyard Kipling's 'six serving men' verse to help explain and reinforce the best way to ask open questions.

You can also extend this activity to develop the way that questions are structured and asked (style, emotion, tone, body language, use of words, etc), in which the Mehrabian theory is a helpful reference.

For help with enabling powerful facilitative questioning see Sharon Drew Morgen's Facilitative Methodology.

(My thanks to Sarah Phillips for this activity idea.)

Causes and Solutions

Discussion or illustration of problem-solving, dispute resolution, crisis management and avoidance, solutions-focused thinking

Quick and easy to set up, and very adaptable for all sorts of training and development purposes, this exercise is based on the following simple principle:

Ask individuals or pairs or threes (or a larger team with guidance as to team for leadership) to identify an example in a newspaper of some sort of dispute or conflict, and then to analyse the causes and solutions.

Ask people to adopt the view of a mediator. Suggest or brainstorm some pointers to help people approach the task, for example:

  • What helpful facilitative questions could be asked of the parties involved to work towards a solution?
  • What might be changed in the methods or attitudes or structures of the situations in order to prevent a recurrence of the problems?
  • How does each side feel and what are their main complaints, feelings, needs and motivators?
  • To what extent could the problem have been averted or predicted, and if so how?
  • How can others learn from the situation?

Discussion and presentation format and timings are flexible and at the discretion of the facilitator.

Save time if needs be by highlighting suggested articles in the newspapers.

Refer delegates to relevant management or behavioural theories and models, and/or ask that delegates do this when they present/discuss their views/analysis.

Jigsaw Puzzle Race

Team-building, illustrating teamwork, team problem-solving, lateral thinking, etc

For groups of 8-100 people, even more with suitable adaptation - this is a very adaptable game.

Divide the group into a number of teams. Give each team some pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and instruct them to assemble the puzzle as quickly as possible. Ensure each team's pieces appear initially as though they could be an entire puzzle in their own right.

Say, "The task of each team is to assemble the puzzle as quickly as possible. Each team has the same puzzle. No further instructions will be given," (other than options explained below; the point is for teams to resolve the exercise for themselves working together in teams, not by asking the facilitator).

The teams will assume they are competing against each other, but in fact there is only one jigsaw puzzle, and the pieces are shared out among the teams. If the teams are in the same room they soon find out, and begin to cooperate. If they are in different rooms the realisation takes a little longer, but eventually the teams understand that the pieces are held by all the teams and the only way to do the puzzle is to work together.

The facilitator's preparation for this exercise is there therefore to obtain or create a jigsaw puzzle whose complexity and number of pieces are appropriate for the group numbers and time available for the activity. Ensure there are sufficient pieces to occupy the total number of team members, and obviously each team needs a suitably sizes table or floorspace to work on, so that all team members can be involved. Larger teams (upwards of five people) will be additionally challenged in areas of team organisation and 'work allocation' to ensure everyone is involved.

The exercise can be made easier and quicker for the teams by describing or giving clues as to the shape or image on the puzzle, for example, (if using the template below) "It's a square," or "It's a geometric shape," etc., as appropriate.

Offering a prize in the event that the puzzle is completed within a timescale of say 10 minutes (or during the session, day, whatever, depending on the situation), adds extra interest. The prize is obviously given to the whole group, so be mindful of the budget... Use these words or similar: "In the event that the puzzle is completed (within...) a prize will be awarded," rather than referring to 'the winning team," which is not technically correct, because the activity is one of cooperation not competition.

Exercises based on this theme demonstrate that all the people and all the teams make up the whole, and no team or individual can do it alone.

Ideally you need to have a space somewhere that the puzzle can be kept and worked on during tea-breaks, should the activity over-run the initial time-slot. This is not a problem - people will continue to work on it during the day/session, and the ongoing activity and assembled puzzle serve as a constant reminder to team members of the theme of cooperation and teamwork, so don't worry (and explain this to the group once they've started cooperating) if the puzzle is not completed in the time initially allotted.

Here is a jigsaw puzzle pattern (in MSWord) and separately as a pdf. This puzzle is for groups of, for example, twenty people split into five teams of four. The puzzle needs to be significantly enlarged - at least five to ten times bigger - for best effect, so that it's visible and usable for lots of people, and makes a big impact. The more teams and players, the bigger the enlargement is required (and the more pieces - achieved by drawing and cutting more lines). The jigsaw pattern artwork needs to be taken to a decent print/copy bureau, enlarged, printed, laminated onto card or foam and cut by hand. If you possess basic craft skills and the necessary equipment you can do it yourself - it's quite straightforward really. The dashed lines are thick so as to be cut through the centre (along the lines), which helps the puzzle assembly. You can adapt the puzzle for more players by drawing more drawing more lines to increase the number of pieces. The design of the puzzle is currently the businessballs logo although you can substitute it with your own (if using the MSWord version, via box 'fill' pattern). Someone who knows MSWord well will know how to adapt/develop it. Use and adapt the puzzle artwork, or source your own jigsaw puzzle, to suit your own situation.

Values-Led Team-Driven Change

Goal-setting, values, philosophy, planning and change management

This is a simple themed activity which can be adapted to suit your situation.

It concerns fundamental aims and values - making work more real and meaningful.

For groups any size although groups of more than ten or so will need to be sub-divided and facilitators/leaders appointed, and then a forum arranged to share and review ideas and actions afterwards.

The activity focuses on reconciling personal dreams/values/philosophies/passions with the organisational aims and methods.

Ask: What can we all do to change and improve how our organisation acts?

Pick the easy gains. Leave the tough ones for later/ever.

Refer people to the Serenity Prayer.

Refer (especially if the teams have idealistic compassionate roles/tendencies) to the 'zeitgeist' of our times: organisational ethics, 'Fairtrade', sustainability, corporate integrity, 'Triple Bottom Line' ('Profit People Planet'), etc., and have people visualise what successful organisations will be like in the future, given increasing awareness and expectations of employees, customers and general public opinion in relation to humanistic values.

How can the individuals and the team help to develop/influence/behave within the organisation so as to make it (the organisation) fit our personal perspectives and these modern values?

You'll need to provide strong support and follow-up afterwards, and ideally get some buy-in from the top. This is a brave initiative, although most organisations are now beginning to understand that the concepts are real and will eventually be irresistible.

Obstacles Exercise

Communications, giving or writing clear instructions, teamworking strategies

A team activity for groups of four to twenty people to promote team-building, communications and understanding about clarity of instructions. Much larger groups can be accommodated with suitable space, adaptation and planning. For indoors or outdoors. The exercise can be organised for a single team although normally it will be more effective and enjoyable for a number of teams competing against each other.

The activity is simple. Nominated members of teams must guide their blind-folded fellow team-members, using spoken instructions, through an obstacle course made with chairs or other items.

In preparing for this activity remember to source sufficient blindfolds for team members.

Alternatively instructions can be written, in which case team members (not blind-folded) must negotiate the obstacle course walking backwards (obviously so as not to see the obstacles but to be able to read hand-held instructions).

Where two or more teams compete against each other a nominated observer from each team acts as adjudicator, to count the number of times that the walkers make contact with obstacles, resulting in penalty points. Clear adjudication rules must be stipulated so that the integrity of the scoring is protected, for example, after completing the course each walker signs their name against the written score marked by the adjudicator. An example score sheet is shown at the end of this item.

The winning team is the one to complete the course as quickly as possible, after deduction of penalty points, for example ten seconds per obstacle contacted.

Given a group of just four or six people it is generally better to split this into two competing teams rather than run the exercise as a single group activity, unless you have a particular reason for running a single group exercise.

Room set-up is quickest achieved by simply asking the delegates to place their chairs somewhere in the 'playing area', which immediately creates the obstacle course. The facilitator can make any necessary adjustments in case any straight-line routes exist.

Teams then have five to ten minutes (at the facilitator's discretion, depending on time available, team size and complexity of the obstacle course) to plan and agree a start point and a finish point through the obstacles - in any direction - and to plan a strategy for guiding blind-folded members through the route planned, (or for the backwards-walking version of the exercise, to write instructions sheets for walkers to use).

So that everyone experiences being a guide and a walker you can stipulate that every team member must negotiate the course, which means that team members must swap roles (the guided become the guides having completed the course). This would also require adjudicators to swap roles with guides or walkers of their own teams.

This is a flexible exercise that allows the facilitator to decide how difficult to make the obstacle course, how specific to be regarding start and finish points (all teams starting at one side of the room, or leave it up to the teams to plan their routes in any direction from one side to the other), and the strategic complexity of the challenge (determined by team size and number of obstacles - large teams of more than four or five people will also require a strategy for who performs what role and when roles are exchanged).

Additionally the facilitator can decide to stipulate whether all instructions are spoken, (blind-folds), written (walking backwards), or a mixture of the two methods (for example stipulate how many team members must use either method).

Review points afterwards:

  • Why did the winning team win?
  • What were good strategies?
  • What were good instructions and what were unhelpful ones?
  • What were the unforeseen problems? (One unforeseen problem, especially where competing teams are permitted to decide their own start and finish points and therefore are likely to cross the routes of other teams, is the fact that walkers of other teams will become obstacles during the exercise)
  • What adjustments to strategies and instructions were made along the way?
  • Discuss the merits of practical trials before having to decide strategies and instructions.
  • And lots more points arising from the activities.

Here's a simple example of the adjudicator's score sheet:

Walker's nameObstacles 
(by walker)

Employee Relations and Communications

Tteam briefing role-plays, speaking to groups, handling difficult communications and questions, written communications

This is a simple quick role-play or written communications exercise. For groups of up to a dozen. Split larger groups into smaller teams and appoint team leaders to chair and facilitate.

Ask the participants to draft (and then deliver as if in a meeting) a 2 minute employee 'team brief' item or a verbal instruction (or for participants who are not comfortable standing up and speaking to the group a written employee notice or email) relating to a contentious subject. There are some examples below, but you can define different scenarios depending on your situation and the needs of the delegates.

  • Car-park spaces in the front of the reception are now reserved for directors only.
  • Canteen is being closed in order to make room for more office space.
  • Access to site is restricted to employees only - no family or friends permitted unless on company business in which case formal pass and security procedures to be followed.
  • The site is now a non-smoking area everywhere.
  • (Add your own scenarios as appropriate.)

You can run the exercise for individuals or in pairs. If in pairs encourage both people to have a go at speaking. More variety is created if you offer different scenarios - for instance by having people pick blind which one they must handle. Alternatively for complex scenarios you might prefer to see how people take different approaches to the same situation.

You can additionally/alternatively ask delegates to describe their own particular scenarios for use in the role-playing activities.

You can extend and increase the challenge within the activities by asking the team to role-play some 'questions from the audience' at the end of each spoken exercise, which the speaker(s) must then handle appropriately.

Review use of language, tone, clarity, effective transfer of key points and reasons, technical and legal correctness, and the actual reaction of other participants to the verbal delivery/written notice.

People Picture Interpretations

Relationships, communications, attitudes, body language

This activity is a simple discussion of the group's interpretations of different pictures (photographs of people) - anything between one and six different pictures, depending on how long you'd like the activity to last - each picture/photo featuring people engaged in some sort of activity or interaction.

Show a picture to the group and ask them to consider and comment on how they interpret what's happening in the picture - what's being said, how people feel, what the moods are, what the personalities and motivations are, what might have caused the situation and what the outcomes might be - as much as people can read into and interpret from each photograph. Additionally ask the group or teams what questions they would want to ask anyone in the picture to understand and interpret the situation.

You can organise the group's response to each picture in different ways - in open discussion, or split the group into pairs or threes and give them a couple of minutes to prepare their interpretation for presentation and discussion in turn, or split the group into two teams and see which team can develop the best interpretation, and optionally, questions.

It's helpful, but not essential, for you to know the true situation and outcomes in each picture (perhaps you've read the news story or the photo is from your own collection), which will enable you to give the actual interpretation after each picture is discussed. However one of the main points of these exercises is appreciating the variety of interpretations that can be derived from observing people's behaviour, facial expressions and body language, which means that many situations can quite reasonably be interpreted in several different ways. So knowing and being able to give a definitive 'correct answer' is not crucial - the main purpose of the activities is the quality of the ideas and discussion.

To prepare for the exercise, find and enlarge, or create slides of several pictures of people in various situations. These photographs and pictures are everywhere - on the internet, newspapers and magazines, in your own snapshot collections and photo albums. Select photographs of people showing facial expressions, body language, especially interacting with other people. In addition to communications, motivation, relationships, etc., you can link the exercise to Johari Window (the exercise will develop people's awareness about themselves and each other from listening to the different interpretations of the pictures) and personality (different personalities see the same things in different ways).

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