Building Bridges
Primary Market
Teambuilding, Corporate Training
Character Focus
Communication, Cooperation, Teamwork, People Development, Leadership, Diversity, Decision Making, Creative Thinking
Items Needed
One (or more) Toobeez set(s): split in two equal groups, Blank nametags or stickers (for variations only), Flip chart

The Overview

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Mark Twain

Description
The group is split into two teams and instructed to build the longest bridge possible in the time allotted with the Toobeez provided.
Time

Setup Time: 10 minutes

Materials

  • One (or more) Toobeez set(s): split in two equal groups
  • Blank nametags or stickers (for variations only)
  • Flip chart
Time Required

Activity: 20 minutes

Debrief: 30 minutes (minimum)

Group Size: 10 – 40 participants

Space: 20 x 40 (minimum room size)
Open space – no chairs, tables, etc.

The Activity Instructions

Facilitator Script

In this activity, you will be divided into two teams, Team A and Team B (divide the room). Each team will be given a set of Toobeez. Your instructions are to win by building the longest bridge with the materials provided in the time allotted. You will have 20 minutes to complete this activity.Any questions on the material covered? (Answer any questions, and get the teams situated with their Toobeez). Begin.

Facilitator’s Choice…

1) The language you choose may influence how the instructions are interpreted. Consider using “group” or no distinction, “A’s over here, B’s over there” instead of using the word “team”.

2) How the teams are chosen may impact this activity. There are many ways to divide the room (i.e., counting off, using characterizations such as hair color, company level or division, gender, etc. or picking random individuals).

Observations and Modifications

Once the time allotted begins, your role as facilitator is to observe until the time is up. During the activity, listen and look for the following: How people communicate, cooperate, and work in teams. The questions below, based on the primary Learning Intentions, are provided to guide your observations.

Communication

In this activity, people get to communicate with their body, as well as with language. People may have open discussions about what the point of the activity is, or they may jump right in without even questioning their interpretation of the instruction. Listen and watch to notice:

  • How are people addressing, listening, and working with each other (orderly, respectfully, differentially, and/or confrontationally)?
  • How have people interpreted the instructions and how to win?
  • How do people influence each other?
  • What tactics do they employ?
  • What non-verbal communications do you notice – facial expressions, people stepping away or disengaging?
Teamwork and Cooperation
People will have different ideas of what their “team” is – whether it is the group they are in, a subgroup within that, or all of the people participating in the activity. The possibility here is for people to see that they can all work together creating a bigger possibility of “winning” than either team can create on its own. During the activity, observe:
  • How are people addressing, listening, and working with each other (orderly, respectfully, differentially, and/or confrontationally)?
  • How have people interpreted the instructions and how to win?
  • How do people influence each other?
  • What tactics do they employ?
  • What non-verbal communications do you notice – facial expressions, people stepping away or disengaging?

Concluding the Activity

When the time has passed, stop the activity abruptly. If they have not yet used all their pieces and “completed” a bridge, stop them wherever they are and ask them to take a seat. If one or both teams have “completed” before the time, let the time pass and observe how participants use the time. Notice whether it occurs to anyone to join together with the other team.

Variations

Variations are optional and will highlight additional skill sets.

1. Highlighting: Creative Thinking, Diversity, Influencing Others, People Development

In addition to the instructions above, there will be limited communication for certain members of your team. Specifically, the designated group will be mute (that is, not able to speak throughout the entire exercise). They must participate fully and communicate without using spoken words.

TIP…

To see skills in others, choose individuals who have so far been talkative, outgoing, or emerged as leaders and mute them.

2. Highlighting: Creative Thinking, Decision Making

In addition to the instructions above, there will be limited direct contact with the Toobeez. Those individuals chosen on each team will be the only ones who may touch the round connector spheres. Everyone else may only touch the tubes. No one will be able to touch both the connector spheres and the tubes.

3. Highlighting: Decision Making, Influencing Others

In addition to the instructions above, as a team you must choose by vote a design/building strategy before putting the bridge together. The team must determine what guidelines (%) constitute a “passing” vote. You may not proceed with building until everyone votes. In order to change the design of the bridge once building has commenced, a new vote must be taken and counted – the same voting guidelines apply to any additional votes.

TIP…

By not voting, any individual may stop the process. This tool could empower an otherwise quiet person to be heard, but only if that person has listened carefully to the instructions.

4. Highlighting: Diversity, People Development

In addition to the instructions above, divide the room by age or gender.

TIP…

When using variations #1 and #2, use nametags or color stickers to differentiate people. For instance, put a sticker/nametag on the people who are mute or connector spheres, so everyone is clear as to who is in which category.


THE DEBRIEF

The debrief should be an interactive discussion. Lead it by offering a series of questions and soliciting responses from the participants. To begin, ask questions about the activity itself and continue with specifics related to the skills you want to address or highlight. You may stick to one area of focus or choose to cover many topics. Suggested questions are offered below to guide you as you facilitate this debrief.

The debrief is organized with an Opening and Closing and then by Learning Intention, and it may be used in a variety of ways. You may use just the Opening and Closing for a basic debrief or add the Learning Intention-specific debriefs in between. To include the Learning Intention specifics in your debrief, either pick one or two questions from each areas in order to touch on many topics or work in depth on one or more area of learning and go through all of the questions for that topic(s). Look through the questions, TIPs, FCs, and Transitions prior to the training session in order to choose which ones you will cover (See “How to Use this Book”).

Opening

The intention of this activity is to enhance communication among team members and encourage and realize the value of cooperation. This activity provides participants with an opportunity to see how they work together, whether they lead or follow, what roles they assume, how they influence and are influenced by others, and how they interact in a potentially competitive situation. The activity offers an alternative to competition – the win/win.

This activity offers many lessons, so let the participants share with you what they learned and think the activity is about. As you ask questions about the instructions, listen to the responses to be sure the participants understand the instructions (i.e., someone can repeat them word for word, answers precisely, or there are no hands remaining in the air.

  • What was the point of this exercise?
  • Who knows what the instructions were?
  • What was the longest bridge possible?
  • How did you play the game?

TIP…

People may use the restrictions in the variations as excuses or explanations for why they did what they did and their levels of leadership, cooperation, and communication. Challenge them on those assumptions. Ask: “Is there an alternative?”

Closing

This activity is a platform for new actions. In all variations, the way to build the longest bridge is for Team A and Team B to cooperate. Any other solution leaves both teams with, at most, half of what they could have created by working together.

Concluding Questions

  • What did you learn about communication, cooperation, or teamwork?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • Where else in your professional life do you behave in a similar manner? Is it working?
  • What traits or behaviors did you admire in your teammates?
  • How will you apply what you learned from your teammates?

Action Plans

  • How many ways can you apply what you learned in this
    activity to:

    • Strategic partnerships
    • Feedback and performance reviews
    • Interviewing and hiring decisions
  • Based on your new experiences and insights, what could be different in going forward?
  • Which skills will you now adopt and develop?
  • What three action steps (with specific, measurable results) will you take this month to begin incorporating what you’ve learned into your daily routine?

LI: Communication

People are always engaged in many levels of communication. The following questions offer participants the opportunity to become aware of their communication, the impact it has on others, and the results it creates. Through this awareness, people will then get to choose the alternatives that serve their goals.

Speaking

  • How quickly did you speak up when you had ideas?
  • Were you clear on the instructions and how to win?

Facilitator’s Choice…

Anonymity may impact people’s willingness to be open and honest. Have people close their eyes and ask them to raise their hands indicating their answers to questions regarding being listened to, satisfaction with the results, etc. Use a scale of 1-5 (represented by holding up fingers) as appropriate to facilitate this process.

Listening

  • Who did you listen to or follow? Why?
  • Who thinks they followed the instructions and came up with an acceptable result?

Non-verbal

  • What body language did you notice in yourself and others?
  • How did your body language change as decisions were made and actions were taken?

When using Variation #1

  • If you were mute, how did you communicate? Was it effective? Did you participate fully?
  • If you weren’t mute, did you include the people who were? How?

Summary Script
We’ve just had the opportunity to recognize how each of us has been communicating as well as to identify role models and pitfalls. Now you can put that information into action to create clear and comprehensive mutual understanding. So, what do you think the results will be in your organization?

Transition to Cooperation and Teamwork…
“Now that we have an idea of the impact of our communications, we’re going to get into more depth regarding how we work together by focusing on Cooperation and Teamwork.”

Transition to Creative Thinking…
“One of the outcomes of excellent communication is an environment which fosters creativity and generates new ideas. Now that we’ve spent some time on the communication piece, let’s turn our attention to creative thinking and what you’ve learned about yourself and others from this activity.”

LI: Teamwork and Cooperation

Teamwork and cooperation includes how people interact with each other, the roles people take in group settings, and how people perceive situations – as competitive or collaborative.

Teamwork

  • How did your team work together?
  • What roles did you/people assume?
  • If you didn’t get your way, how did you participate?
  • Where in your job and career do you limit your definition of “your team”? How else could it look?

Cooperation

  • Did anyone consider working with the other team?
  • What would it have taken to work together, and what’s the possible impact?
  • What is preventing or blocking you from expanding your idea of team, and how could you overcome it?

When Using Variation #2

  • How did you coordinate putting the pieces together?
  • Did the pieces you had affect the roles you took on?

Summary Script
When people work together in an empowering way – one in which everyone is listened to and respected as a contributing member of the team – results are impacted. We often interpret situations as “us versus them,” when all parties would benefit by working together. As we expand our interpretation of “our team”, we also expand the possibilities for success and achievement.

Transition to Influencing Others…
“What happens when we want to work in a cooperative manner and other people resist? How do you create a team amidst resistance? There are many ways to influence others. Think again about the activity we just completed, this time reflecting on what influenced you and how you influenced others in your group.”

LI: Influencing Others (S)

It is useful to examine what influencing tactics you’re currently using, what tactics you respond to in others, and expand the options to include other influencing strategies. (For a comprehensive discussion of specific influencing methods, see Activity 8: Trading Game.)

  • Do you ever think about how you get your way?
  • Are you aware of how you influence and are influenced by others and when and why it varies?
  • How did you influence others in this activity?
  • How does this impact your organization?

LI: Decision Making (S)

How we make decisions has an impact on others and the organization. Empowering decisions, those that value others’ opinions and leadership abilities, allow you to collectively move forward with direction and purpose.

  • Were decisions made in an efficient and/or empowering way?
  • What criteria did you use?
  • What decisions did you make as an individual versus as part of a group?

When Using Variation #3

  • How did you decide what counts as a passing vote?

LI: Creative Thinking (S)

While we may share many similarities, each of us thinks in a unique way. Encouraging people to listen to and share their own ideas keeps organizations fresh and innovative. Use the following questions to generate a discussion about creativity, its value, and how to tap into each individual’s creative ideas.

  • How did you come up with ideas?
  • Did you share all of your ideas? Why or why not?
  • What behaviors contributed to/hindered creativity?
  • How did you react to a “different” idea?

When Using Variation #3

  • How did the voting work?
  • What could you have done to stop everything and make people listen to you?

Transition to People Development…
“Whose creativity surprised you? Did you tell them? Why or why not? How would you feel if someone told you your thinking impressed them? How often do you share feedback with your colleagues?”

LI: People Development (S)

The fundamental tool for successful people development, including for ourselves, is feedback. Excellent managers carefully observe people and communicate clearly. Outstanding employees are those that look for and listen to feedback on their own as well.

  • What did you notice about how other people participated in this activity?
  • What did you admire and want to encourage?
  • How can you support people to optimize what’s working?
  • How can you provide feedback and guidance effectively?
  • What are personal pitfalls you discovered, and how can you avoid them?

LI: Diversity (S)

The term diversity suggests a mix of people with perceived differences. There are many ways a group can be similar and many ways it can be diverse. For instance, a group of investment bankers may all have MBAs and six-figure salaries. At the same time, they may be different ages, different genders, different religions, different nationalities, have different likes and dislikes, and different political ideologies. Everyone interprets “diversity” a little differently; so begin by exploring what it means to this group. Encourage people to listen to each other openly as they consider differing points of view. What did you notice about how other people participated in this activity?

  • What types of diversity were present?
  • On what criteria are you basing being different?
  • What assumptions did you have about the people with whom you were working?
  • What was your initial reaction to being put in the group in which you were placed? Why?
  • How did you work with people you thought were similar/different?
  • What is the benefit of working in “mixed” teams?

 When Using Variation #4

  • What was your experience of initially being placed in a single gender group?
  • Did your assumptions and preconceived notions support or inhibit your contribution?
  • What is the risk here?

TIP…

It is valuable for people to recognize that, in general, groups of men andwomen have different dynamics. However, it is also important to caution people against over-generalizing. This is an opportunity to identify possible differences and explore ways to communicate with others, not an invitation to apply them to all individuals or groups of men or women.

Key Take-Aways

  • When people cooperate and work together, results are possible that individuals or individual teams could not produce on their own.
  • Winning can include everyone – it doesn’t have to be at the expense of another team or individual.
  • How can you provide feedback and guidance effectively?
  • Communication directly affects our results: clear, respectful communication encourages people to work together and creates a common understanding of a situation.
Abigail R. Kies, MBA is the founder of Play To Win Coaching, a leadership development company. Combining her business background and powerful coaching skills, Abigail works closely with individuals, teams, and organizations from diverse backgrounds in varied situations... entrepreneurs, managers, Fortune 500 executives, artists, teachers, lawyers... to enhance communication, enrich relationships, develop leadership, and realize visions.
Michelle Tillis Lederman, CPA, MBA, CEC is the founder of Executive Essentials, a training company. She has delivered seminars internationally for corporations, universities, high schools, and non-profit organizations including: JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Columbia Business School, and The Museum of Modern Art. Michelle is an Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business in the Management Communications department and serves on the faculty of the American Management Association.
All Activities of Abigail R. Kies, MBA and Michelle Tillis Lederman, CPA, MBA, CEC

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