All corporate team building facilitators have heard it, “What does this have to do with work? We don’t use nails (PVC pipe, plastic gutters, etc.…) in our jobs.

One of my favorites working with a group of very talented Doctors from Buffalo, NY, “We are doctors, not engineers; we cannot do this.

  • So I often wonder exactly how do team-building activities relate to work?
  • How can the group move from doing a task to creating new knowledge about working as a team?
  • What is my role (the facilitator) in connecting the pieces to build up as a team?

This will be the first in a series of posts – showing some activities and the potential connection to the workplace, team skills & leadership. The primary job of a team-building consultant using learning simulations is to facilitate and discuss with the team exactly how this relates to work…If you cannot facilitate a discussion with the team about how what they just did relates to work, you OUGHT not to be a Team Building Consultant for corporate groups.

The Great Nail Puzzle

Overview: This activity is presented as a think tank process. The group is divided into teams of three. Each sub-team is told that they must balance thirteen nails on the head of a single nail sticking out of a block of wood. They are given thirty minutes to experiment and develop a plan for the successful completion of the project. Then all groups are pulled together to discuss the sub-team’s ideas for completion. The group must agree on a plan and complete the challenge as one team.

New York State Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference (6)

What does this got to do with work? The challenge models the need for teams to work on decision-making, planning, and then sharing information honestly with the team (leadership).

Recently I led this initiative with an executive leadership team of 12 people with a  focus on teamwork skills by;

  • a) Explaining the task and expected outcomes to the entire group. There was a shared understanding of expectations.
  • b) NO ONE in the team had any greater or lesser knowledge about how to best complete the task.
  • c) placing the team in small breakout teams of 3 people required them to struggle and form the best solution within a time frame
  • d) having the group meet all together, each small sub-team share their best idea for project success, then having the leadership team then discusses each idea’s merits.
  • e) completing the task with an agreed-upon best solution to complete the task.

The work skills here are;

  1. Ability to define with clarity and distinction a challenging goal that can be reached.
  2. Delegation to small sub-groups to gather information within a set time frame.
  3. Sub-groups working in tandem on the same defined goal – without knowledge of the other group’s information.
  4. Sub-groups reporting on their findings and suggesting the best methods for completing the goal (task, project, etc.…).
  5. The entire Leadership team listening to each of the sub-groups findings and learning from each other shared successes, learned failures, duplicate process attempts.
  6. The entire leadership team agrees with all the information shared on how to best move forward on achieving the goal.

Concrete Example; the company is currently spending $400,000 per/year (or $16,000 per/2 week pay period) on overtime costs. The leadership team is called together to cut these overtime costs. The leadership team is often slow to decide, and all the information is not openly and honestly shared. Using the great nail puzzle – to illustrate steps for the team to work through will develop a model that can cut this overtime spending.

  • Define goal with clarity and distinction – “Cut overtime costs to $8,000 per/2 week pay period. We will leave here following that meeting in 2 weeks with an action plan and accountability for each director. Each director will then work with their reports to develop an action plan and accountability.”
  • Delegation to sub-groups to gather information with time frames – “Each group will report their ideas and findings to the team in 2 weeks.”
  • Sub-group reporting
  • The leadership team listens and learns from the findings of sub-groups
  • The leadership team comes to a decision based upon a consultative method.

Conclusion: using a team-building activity can serve as a model.  Using the Great Nail Puzzle illustrates that teams can make decisions based upon limited knowledge of exactly how to be successful.