This team building activity is a great tool to demonstrate the importance of clear process instructions. It works with any size group and requires about 5 minutes. You will need a colorful sheet of paper for each team member.
You will need a space large enough for the team to be able to see the person giving the instructions. Give each person one sheet of colorful paper (e.g., fluorescent yellow paper). As the instructor, do not pick up a piece of paper – or else the team members will pick up the paper in the same direction you do!
Ask the team to follow your directions:
“First, please close your eyes.”
“Please fold your paper in half.” Note: some team members may want to question you, but don’t answer them. Just repeat your instruction. Once they have completed the procedure, move on to the next instruction:
“Please tear off the upper right hand corner of your paper.”
“Fold the paper in half again.”
“Please tear off the lower left-hand corner.”
“Fold the paper in half once again.”
“Please tear off the upper right-hand corner.”
When all have completed this last instruction, ask the team members to open their eyes and open their papers. Look shocked, absolutely shocked at the different results. Hint: some papers will have one, two or three holes in the middle of the paper, etc.
In a middle-manager questioning tone ask, “What happened? I gave pretty specific instructions – and yet you came up with different results!” Let the team tell you what went wrong, for example:
- You didn’t let us ask questions/answer our questions.
- We couldn’t see what others were doing.
- We didn’t know what you wanted or what the end product was.
Agree that you probably could have done a better job communicating the instructions.
Debrief and Summarize
From your specific observations as well as the discussion, debrief the activity:
- What would have helped to make the instructions better and receive a more consistent result?
- Do you see this dynamic on teams?
- How can we prevent this dynamic from occurring?
- How might we apply these lessons to our team’s work?
If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities!
Photo by Christina Morillo