team building and leadership expert michael cardus

Developing team-building activities creates new lessons and areas for group development, keeps team-building facilitators fresh, and continually improves our own game and process. Here is a variation of the Cycle Time Puzzle Activity.

The classic activity has a Cycle Time Puzzle (image above): a large wooden puzzle with 16 pieces that have notches cut into each piece, plus a handout with an image or drawing of the completed puzzle. This puzzle is challenging (it seems simple at first); it pushes the team out of the “fun zone” into some serious “challenge and discomfort,” which is why it is one of my favorites, and I seldom use it and always with groups that I know can handle the challenge.

Here is what I am calling

“Classic Cycle Time Directives”

The overall goal is to complete the assembly of the puzzle, so it matches the configuration in the diagrams.

  • Solve the puzzle within the time frame of 45 minutes (that is, assemble the boards so they match the diagrams)
  • Be able to assemble the puzzle in 90 seconds or less.
  • Each team member is responsible for placing at least one board into the puzzle – each team member is responsible for delivering their piece into the puzzle.
  • During the 45 minutes, you may attempt as many assembly iterations as possible.
  • When beginning each assembly the boards must always start in a largest to smallest board pattern.
  • The boards may not be marked or written on in any manner. No marking the assembly floor or the assembly area.
  • In the finished design, the boards fit together without any significant bending or force fit.

Below is the variation I call it

Puzzle Connection

Puzzle Connection focuses on collaboration and decision-making. Teams practice problem-solving and communication skills and understand the need for constant communication between existing teams.

The group is broken into two or more teams and is shown a puzzle by switching jobs and locations; the teams must act as one to succeed.


You will need 1 cycle time puzzle per team of 12-15 people and a rope or tape to mark off the “work zone.” The “work zone” must be large enough for 1/2 the team to stand in and complete the puzzle. Change the size of the “work zone” according to how much pressure you wish to place on the time; smaller zone = greater pressure, larger zone = less pressure.

Before beginning, split the team of 12 (for example) into two teams of 6. One team is team X, the other team Y (you can call the split team whatever you want).


Complete the puzzle placed within the “work area” in less than 30 minutes. The puzzle is complete when it matches the given image. Each piece is used only once and fits squarely into the slots.


  • All pieces must remain inside the work area at all times
  • Each crewmember must move at least one piece.
  • Pieces may be moved to any open slot
  • There will be a mandatory crew change every 2 minutes.
  • During crew change, if any member of the relief crew enters the work area before all members of the working crew have exited, all inventory is disassembled and restacked. The relief crew is still working, but must begin again with the pieces disassembled.
  • Anyone on the team can call up to 4 (one minute) planning timeouts over the course of the job. Once time is called, the facilitator stops the watch and all the participants on the working crew must step outside the work boundaries to plan. Running time starts again when one minute has passed or the crew re-enters the work area.


Puzzle Connection lends itself to a variety of processing & de-briefing scenarios. One recommendation is to share, either in a handout or a PowerPoint slide or written on flip chart paper, the “9 Team Dynamics That Get Results”. Break the team into sub-groups of 3 (mixing people from teams x and y) and randomly assign 1 of the 9 Team Dynamics That Get Results to each sub-group. Possibly phrase the processing question to each sub-group like this;

“Each sub-group has 1 of the 9 Team Dynamics That Get Results. Each group is going to have flip chart paper and markers. Each sub-group will answer the following questions about their assigned Team Dynamic;

  • On a scale of 0 – 10 with 0 being non-existent and 10 being world class performance where would you place the team, in reference to your assigned Team Dynamic?
  • What about the experience shows you, that the team is at the level you chose?
  • What would have been different if the team was one level higher on the scale?
  • How can we, as a team move one level higher on the scale?
  • What is one action each person in your sub-group can do immediately to achieve this?

What variations have you tried?

Contact Mike for a custom Experiential activity. He is available to understand your team’s culture, language, objectives, and successes and create an activity or series of activities that will reflect your passion and dedication to improving your team and achieving your company’s goals.

Team Building expert Michael Cardus