The Marshmallow Tower Challenge is a simple team exercise that is enjoyable but also encourages people to work together to practice problem solving , design thinking, resilience and agility. It is simple to facilitate, with inexpensive simple materials.
Duration: 20+ minutes (total timing depends on debrief time) Note the original exercise allows 18 minutes, I have reduced this to 12 minutes.
Create subgroups of 4-6 people
This exercise is a great way to encourage team members to collaborate, problem solve and to model design thinking such as testing and iterating. This activity also encourages critical thinking by asking participates to synthesize what they learned quickly to create new designs. Must also demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges or frustrations.
Each group gets:
20 pieces of spaghetti
1 metre of string
1 metre of tape
Instructions (written is good)
Access to small scissors.
Please set a 12 minute timer on your phone for this problem solving challenge.
Check you have these materials:
20 sticks of spaghetti + one metre of tape + one metre of string + one marshmallow.
Each team has 12 minutes to build the tallest, free-standing structure using just the materials supplied to each group. The marshmallow must be attached to the top of the structure you build.
After 12 minutes, I will call time and measure the height of each structure that remains standing with the marshmallow on top. The winners are the team whose free-standing structure is the tallest.
Debrief activity (you can address the group, ask questions or supply questions to group for discussion). If there is only time for one question, ask what they would do differently if they were doing the activity again. (If there is time you could do this activity again).
What was the hardest part of this challenge? Easiest?
What have you learned? Why is testing so important?
What would you do differently if you had the chance to rebuild the tower?
How did your team organise your approach?
How helpful was everyone on your team in challenging the process of building the tallest structure?
Did any team members tune out of the activity — out of frustration with other members or for some other reason? What could you have done to keep all members of the group fully engaged?
Did you feel everyone’s ideas were well received during the activity?
How did you feel as the time limit was approaching? Did pressure increase? If yes, was that helpful or not?
Did you celebrate wins? If yes, how did you do this?
Comments from Facilitator:
To be a successful designer you must be able to hear feedback, (in fact see it as a gift) and use the feedback to better your design, take risks, be creative, try new things and be experimental.
Many teams move too quickly from planning to final solution and not enough time experimenting. They don’t ask enough questions and push the boundaries. Did you find that you work this way, you risk your prototype failing too late to make needed changes
Credit: This material is adapted from Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow Challenge – See his TED Talk here.