Modeling Success
Primary Market
Teambuilding, Corporate Training
Character Focus
Communication, Strategic Thinking, People Development, Leadership
Items Needed
One Toobeez set, 70 feet of rope, Blindfolds (optional), Flip chart (for debrief)

The Overview

“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”

Henry A. Kissinger


The group must duplicate a structure based on instructions from their team. The person building at any given time will have eyes closed and breath held.

  • One Toobeez set
  • 70 feet of rope
  • Blindfolds (optional)
  • Flip chart (for debrief)
Time Required

Setup Time: 10 minutes
Activity: 20 minutes
Debrief: 20 minutes (minimum)

Group Size: 5 – 20 participants

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

The Activity Setup

modeling-successUsing the long rope, create a circular space. Divide the Toobeez in half, creating two piles with exactly the same Toobeez pieces in each pile. Place one pile inside the rope circle. Use the other pile to build a structure outside the circle. This is what the group will be replicating during the activity. The more complex the structure, the more challenging the exercise will be.


Facilitator Script

In this activity you will be working as a team to build an exact replicate of this structure (point to the structure you’ve built outside the circle) inside this circle. There are some restrictions on how this can be done.

1. You may only use the Toobeez that are inside the circle at the beginning of the activity.

2. Only one person may be inside the circle at any given time.

3. Each person may  only enter the circle once.

4. While inside the circle, you must remain blindfolded.

5. While inside the circle, you must hold your breath. You may only remain inside the circle for as long as you can hold your breath.

6. When you are on the outside, you may not touch the person inside the circle.

7. The rope delineating the circle may not be moved.

8. If any guidelines are broken, everyone will start over building the structure.

You will have 20 minutes to complete this activity.

Any questions  on the material covered? (Answer any questions and get teams situated). Begin.

Observations and Modifications

Once the activity begins, your role as facilitator is primarily to observe. Listen and look for how people communicate and demonstrate leadership. The questions below, based on the primary Learning Intentions, are provided to guide your observations.


In this activity, communication is controlled by the guidelines of the exercise. People may strategize before entering the circle or they may jump right in. Regardless, observe how they exchange ideas with their team? Listen and notice:

  • How are people addressing each other (orderly, respectfully, deferentially, or confrontationally)?
  • How do people deal with and communicate around a failed attempt?
  • How do people listen, and to whom do they listen?
  • What non-verbal communication do you observe?
This activity allows people to practice their leadership skills.
During the activity, observe:
  • How people lead in their roles both inside and outside the circle.
  • How the roles people have in any given moment impact their ownership over the outcome.
  • How people relate to time.
  • Do they use the full 20 minutes?
  • Do they complete the structure? What do they do with the remaining time?
  • If everyone gets to go once and the structure is still not complete, what do they do with the remaining time?
  • Regardless, do they even know where they are in regards to time?


Use the complete 20 minutes. Even if everyone has gone and the structure is complete, let the team use that time; see what they do with it. Also, if everyone has gone once and the structure is s till not complete, do not let them go again. Let them experience the missed opportunity.

Concluding the Activity

After 20 minutes, regardless of how complete the structure is or how many people have gone, conclude the activity.

Variations are optional and will highlight additional skill sets.

1. Highlighting: Strategic Thinking

In addition to the instructions above, before beginning, the team must spend ten minutes planning their strategy.

2. Highlighting: People Development

In addition to the instructions above, before beginning, the team will build the structure outside the circle as well.

3. Highlighting: People Development

Divide the room into two teams. One team will be instructed to build the structure on the outside while the other team is following the instructions above (with all the guidelines and limitations in place) to build an exact duplicate inside the circle. The goal is to create two identical structures.

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 area in order to touch on many topics or work in depth on one or more areas 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”).


The intention of this activity is to enhance communication, trust, and leadership among the participants. However, it offers many lessons, so let the participants share with you what they learned and their comments as to the purpose of the activity.

  • What was the point of this exercise?
  • If using Variation #3: How was it different being the team building versus being the team replicating?
  • What was the biggest challenge of this activity (the physical obstacles, behavioral ones, or communication)?


We work together and act on the advice and guidance of others all the time. Often we have no way of knowing how a situation will turn out until it does; we cannot see how what we’re doing contributes to the outcome. Or, we have other limitations or distractions as we work on the project at hand. As in this activity, clear communication and a willingness to trust the guidance of teammates are both critical elements of effective leadership.

Concluding Questions
  • What did you learn about communication or leadership?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • Where else in your professional life do you act with partial information, relying on those around you?
  • What can you now do differently to optimize those situations?
Action Plans
  • How many ways can you apply what you learned in this activity to:
    • Client relationships
    • Interviewing/recruiting
    • Promotions/advancement
  • Based on your new experiences and insights, what could be different in going forward?
  • 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 become aware of their communication, the impact it has others, and the results it creates. Through this awareness people will then get to choose the alternatives that serve their goals.


  • Did you speak up when you had ideas?
  • Were you clear and specific when describing or asking questions about the next move?


  • How did you listen in each role?
  • Did you exclusively listen to one or two people, or did you listen to everyone?
  • What body language did you notice in yourself and others, regardless of whether you could see at the time?
  • How did your body language change as decisions were made and actions were taken?
  • How did your position in your organization impact how you communicated with your team?

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?

LI: Leadership

Leadership includes communicating powerfully, motivating and empowering others, creating results, and being responsible for the outcome regardless of your role.

  • How did your leadership and that of your teammates contribute to the outcome?
  • What limited your willingness to be a leader in this activity?
  • How were you participating when you were outside the circle?
  • What is the difference between leading and managing?

Summary Script

Effective leaders communicate clearly, work with others , and get results. Some leaders are quiet while others are out in front where everyone can notice them. Regardless, leaders take responsibility and ownership over an outcome and have communication, people development, and management skills create the desired results. Not all great communicators are extraordinary leaders. However, all extraordinary leaders are great communicators.

Transition to Strategic Thinking…

“Part of being an effective leader is having a vision for your team’s future and growth. Let’s consider the behaviors that contribute to effective strategic thinking.”

LI: Strategic Thinking (S)

Often we jump right into situations when taking some time to strategize would greatly increase our success and the speed at which we get there. Some smart planning often results in outcomes that would not be possible otherwise. Use the following questions to generate a discussion about strategic thinking, its value, and how to incorporate it into regular operations.

Using Variation #1:

  • What was your strategy?
  • What did you accomplish in the 20 minutes?
  • What behaviors contributed to/hindered being strategic?
  • How willing were you to take risks?
  • Did you continue to strategize and tweak your plan after the 10 minutes once the activity began?
  • How tied were you to the original plan? Where else does that show up?
  • What’s the value of thinking strategically?

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. Another important element is holding people to a higher level by both challenging them to grow and by giving them opportunities to do so.

  • What did you notice about how you and your teammates 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 some personal pitfalls you discovered? How can you avoid them?

Using Variation #2:

  • Were you willing to construct a complex challenging structure, knowing that you and your teammates were going to have to replicate it inside the active zone?

Using Variation #3:

  • How did people challenge each other? What was the opportunity here, and what did you do with it?
  • What was “winning” in this activity? As someone building the outside structure, what or whom were you thinking about as you were building the structure? What were your concerns?
  • Did you want to make the activity easier or harder? Why?

Key Take-Aways

  • Clear and precise communication has a direct impact on results.
  • Active listening is as important to communication as what one says.
  • There are ways to exert leadership and be responsible for an outcome regardless of where you are in a process or designated roles.
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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