The Marshmallow Challenge is useful for starting empirical, agile or collective intelligence sessions. It allows a group to experience shared leadership and realise the importance of having a common purpose. It is also a good introduction to prototyping and experimental culture.
Set up tables with 3-5 chairs around the room (teams will need plenty of space to move) and place one Marshmallow Challenge Kit on each table.
Setting the Scene:
As a facilitator, you explain to participants that the goal is to build the highest freestanding structure (it must stand on its own, without being fixed to the wall or ceiling), according to the following rules:
a whole marshmallow must be at the top
it can be pierced but not all the way through and definitely not cut (or eaten!)
time allocated to meet the challenge: 18 minutes
Start the challenge and be a timekeeper for the participants. You can use a projector to display the countdown or regularly call out how much time is remaining until the 18 minutes are up.
Remember to circulate in the room to observe the process, the interactions in each team and remind participants of the rules if you see instructions not being followed…
At minute 17, remind the participants that they must raise their hands when the end gong sounds, and therefore let go of the completed tower.
Determine the Winning Team
You invite each group to explain in 30 seconds:
if they made plans
how many attempts did they make?
did they succeed in building their tower the first time around?
and then measure and observe each tower to identify the winning team (build the tallest self-supporting structure).
A performance to celebrate in itself!
You invite the group to provide feedback and self-diagnosis through the following questions:
what is your overall feeling?
what level of listening did you notice?
What was your approach? What made it successful? What would you do differently the next time?
what were everyone’s roles in the team? How did the team organise itself organically?
how did the team adopt the rules to test innovative solutions (cutting spaghetti, using the pair of scissors as a counterweight, etc.)? Did you make plans first or did you start building straight away?
what are the lessons that the team can learn from the exercise for their daily operations or for future projects?