The article about Team Building from Morning Edition on NPR shared an image that mentioned marshmallows & knives.
The team building activity has several names:
- Hard Edges Soft Middles
- Simple to Complex
- Marshmallow Knife Fight (Clark Dever gave me that name)
- The Cutting Edge of Team Work (Sam Sikes, the originator of this activity)
It does not matter what you call it!
Team Building is not an activity. It is part of the corporate development & training. As long as you treat it as an ‘activity,’ it will be a silly game that you had us play.
Suppose you treat this as an opportunity to connect the content (whatever it is) to an actual behavior change & how we get work done. In that case, you will be seen as a person who adds great value to the organization and makes the training connect in the heads of the participants.
How is stacking knives on marshmallows corporate development & learning?
Below are examples of how the activity may be used.
- It is a hands-on way to talk about the growing complexity of a team & how each person will adjust & change based on their Complexity Information Processing CIP + ability to handle ambiguity + quick adaptation of skills & communication from a simple task to a more complex task.
- Illustrating the successes & regresses that happen as a person is promoted through an organization. They start with skilled knowledge of a task that they master. Then if promoted to Supervisor, have to work & support others to complete tasks. Then if promoted to Management have to coordinate several people completing tasks that they may know of, but they need to integrate the work to ensure on-time, on-budget, and on-quality completion. Then if promoted to Director of a Department, have to coordinate multiple teams, each completing tasks that have to be coordinated for on-time, on-budget, and on-quality completion. Etc …
Sometimes I front-load the activity with content & have people try to apply the content within the activity. Sometimes, I facilitate the activity we process the learning as a group, and then I reference back to it as we cover content & direct application to the team’s work.
Team Building Activity Overview:
The activity builds upon itself.
- Round 1: 1 person 3 knives – 3 Marshmallows
- Round 2: 2 people 6 knives – 6 marshmallows
- Round 3: 4 people 12 knives – 12 marshmallows
- Round 4: depends upon how large they want to go.
How is this like work?
It’s a metaphor.
- Working by yourself (round 1), the task is novel, and you are responsible for your work.
- Working with a partner (round 2), the same skills you used in round 1 will work in round 2 AND now, how do you communicate with a partner and work to combine both the ideas & skills of a partner.
- Working with a small team (round 3), now 4 people with experience and ideas have to determine how to complete a task with everyone who has skills from the earlier rounds. Communication becomes more challenging, and the challenge becomes more complex.
- Now, working with a large team (round 4) is an organizational challenge. We are creating a shared language and having known Goals, Roles, Procedures & Interpersonal Behavior. More structure is required.
Do you see the connection?
Having people do something (not too scary or different) that appears to be novel or unique may be a good change to break their “stuckness in thinking” or the existing patterns of behavior the team exhibits. Once we can shift behavior patterns, people sometimes see better, novel, more innovative ways of doing their work.
Round 1: 1 person 3 knives – 3 Marshmallows
Round 2: 2 people 6 knives – 6 marshmallows
Round 3: 4 people 12 knives – 12 marshmallows
Round 4: it depends upon how large they want to go.
What do you think?
How is the explanation helpful? Could you see this being used for corporate learning & development within your company or team?