Pipeline Team Building Game
Problem Solving – Transport
Group Size: 5–30
Time: 45–90 minutes, depending on group size and variation used.
Goals of Pipeline Team Building
- Explore relationship-to-customer expectations
- Practice problem-solving skills
- Practice goal-setting attainment
- PVC Pipe cut at a length of around 1.5–2.5 feet
- You will need at least one pipe section per participant
- A variety of round, rollable objects, such as golf balls, small and large marbles, eggs, bocce balls, basketballs, etc.
- Two buckets – one to hold the rollable objects, and one for the end goal
- Border marker – rope, a tape marker, or sidewalk chalk all work well.
Pipeline team building activity guidelines
The objects represent products you need to deliver to the customer. You have two primary tasks in this activity:
- Set a realistic goal (or promise) that you can attain for the customer during the time allotted
- Deliver on that promise with 100% quality – note that there will be constraints on how you handle the product during delivery.
- Set out props so that the distance from the boundary marker (the start) to the container (the goal) is 3–5 steps more than the number of participants (i.e., 12 people = 15–17 paces). Adding a “dogleg” (a path to the container bending around the obstacle) adds more challenge.
- Place the pipe sections and balls in the start area and assemble the group within this designated “work area.”
- Instruct the team that the balls, eggs, marbles, etc., represent products needing delivery to customers. For more ideas, see the Variations section below.
- Any object dropped safely into the container represents a successful delivery.
- The only tools available to the team are the pipe sections. NO other props should be used for delivery purposes.
- For the first delivery, all team members must start behind the boundary marker until the object has been dropped into the first pipe section. Once the object is in the pipe, people are free to move anywhere.
- State that quality is crucial to the customer; hence, there are strict controls for transporting the products to ensure quality delivery.
- Objects may never stop, roll backward, be dropped and hit the ground, or be touched by anyone after the first person places them into a pipe section.
- Pipe sections may not touch each other.
- When a person has an object in the pipe, they may not move their feet, though they can move their arms and hands.
- Once the object has left the pipe, they are free to move anywhere
- All members of the team assemble behind the line to start the next delivery
- If any of the above rules are broken before delivery, objects in the pipeline must be returned to the start area and transported again. However, an object delivered safely into the container never requires redelivery, even if a rule is broken afterward.
- If appropriate, ask the team to set a goal before making their first delivery. This goal should represent the team’s number of products they can successfully deliver in the activity time frame.
- If asked, allow the group to practice moving objects to the container without monitoring infractions. However, any objects delivered must be returned to the start before they officially attempt to reach their goal.
- I will often write the guidelines on flip chart paper to ensure that they are well understood. I phrase it like this: “These are the requirements of doing business with my customer. If you wish to keep our business, each of these guidelines must be adhered to.”
Learning & Application
The goal of processing pipeline team building is to evaluate how the team organized itself to achieve optimal performance. Here are some questions you can ask for that evaluation:
- Did your team create a workable plan? How did this happen? Was adequate time spent planning?
- Did your team set clear, realistic goals that the entire group agreed on? Did you reach it? Why or why not?
- What factors contributed to your team’s success, or conversely, made the task difficult?
- What about this activity is similar to or different from serving customers at work?
- On a scale of 1–10, 10 being the highest, how satisfied are you with your team’s results and the process used to get there?
- What would you do differently next time to improve your effectiveness and performance?
Quality issues are often challenging for certain groups. If their efforts do not produce success, overlooking infractions becomes easier. Be clear in your mind about how you want to manage infractions during the activity, either by pointing them out and enforcing the rules or keeping track of when and how infractions occurred for review as part of the processing stage.
Golf balls tend to be the easiest objects to control in the pipes. Providing the group with an assortment of objects makes the task more challenging. It illuminates the need for flexible planning and practice to adjust to changing dynamics when implementing a solution.
A problem-solving technique focused on solutions.
- The activity can be made easier by modifying or eliminating some of the rules. For instance, you may allow the objects to move backward.
- A variation for additional complexity is breaking the area between the start and the container into sections with 2–3 people stationed in each designated area. People may not cross the boundaries into other areas. This dynamic tends to foster dialog about handling off-work and cross-functional communication and productivity.
- Instead of telling the team the objects and goal buckets represent “deliveries to the customer” and “successful deliveries,” have the group choose what the pipes, different objects, and goal buckets represent.
- For example, with student groups, the pipes could represent classes they must complete, the objects could represent students, and the goal bucket is graduation.
- By doing this, the group needs to think and reflect deeper into the activity leading to a more robust processing session.
Organization and team development connections
This pipeline team building activity provides an excellent opportunity for examining customer satisfaction issues and even internal satisfaction issues. If the instructor assumes the role of customer and states the rules as delivery specifications, the activity can highlight how a group can work to develop a satisfying customer relationship.
This activity has also been used to illuminate the concept of the customer-supplier chain, where people come to understand how the work they do impacts others in the organization. For people who have little or no contact with external customers, this process can help them understand how their role serves the end user or customer. For people who work with each other, the activity can illustrate how breakdowns in hand-offs between people can interrupt or stop delivery of a project, product, or service anywhere within an organization’s structure.
Smolowe, Ann., Butler, Steve., Murray Mark. Expanded Activity Guide For Adventure in Business. Project Adventure, Inc.: 1999