Monday, August 15, 2016

Completing the Puzzle: Team Building/ / Ice Breaker Game

A puzzle is a problem to be solved. It is a literal act of collaboration as several components (or pieces) work together to create a larger picture. Using this metaphor as inspiration, we tried a new team building activity during this past speech camp. This activity was one that I was looking forward to because it would challenge students to negotiate and "play fair." Watching the event unfold and reflecting with students after the activity was complete, I can say that compromising, collaborating, and being considerate of others are key attributes of a successful team. Just as a puzzle is comprised of several pieces that work together to create a greater picture, a team must complement each other and unite to find success. 

This game would be a great ice breaker for a classroom or a team building challenge. Taking only 20 minutes, I was surprised and pleased with the experience and the outcomes of the puzzle challenge. While I completed this activity with high school students, it could easily be adapted for younger children through adults. 

The Setup: 

With five teams of 10 students, my assistant and I took five Marvel themed puzzles (48 Pieces), labeled them one through five, and removed six individual pieces from each puzzle. We attempted to select pieces that looked most like others in hopes of making it equally challenging for all teams. Then we placed one piece from each of the puzzles into a bag labeled with the corresponding number. This piece would need to be earned by solving a riddle. The other five pieces were placed into one giant bag from which students would pick pieces. Perhaps they would be lucky and select their pieces or perhaps they would receive pieces from players that they would later have to barter with to find all of the pieces that belonged to them. 
The Game: 

Each team selected a puzzle at random. (Little did I know, but I had dropped one piece from one of the puzzles. Technically one team would not be able to win this challenge, no matter how swiftly they moved or wisely they negotiated). Then they received five pieces at random. After attempting to complete their puzzles, they evaluated what was needed to finish their puzzles. The first group to complete their puzzle would win the game. The game moved quickly. Students raced to assemble their puzzles and deliberated about what was missing. Making plans and communicating as small groups were essential for their ability to break apart tasks and to mingle with the other groups. Time was certainly limited, and they needed to effectively communicate as they exchanged information and pieces with the other 40 speech team members. Overall, the game required much less time than I thought. Students did not withhold as much information from each as I had anticipated. Goal-oriented and determined, these students seemed to focus on task one - completing their puzzles without worrying as much about the progress of other teams.

The Implications: 

In terms of strategizing, teams often divided into smaller factions - seeking specific pieces each. They realized that giving away a piece necessitated a reciprocal exchange. They needed to use the pieces of others to trade for their own pieces. Also, students realized that they need to be careful with what they revealed to others. Showing all of their spare pieces could put them at risk for not being able to trade with others. While many resorted to cunningness and a little bit of "thievery" to complete this task, students also realized that they needed to work together to find mutual success. This activity was designed to challenge students to communicate under pressure. Students need to determine how to finish a task while using problem-solving strategies. Watching students share ideas and brainstorm with their small groups, interact with their competition in the larger group, and find success was not only fun but also paved the way for strong connections for the season. While my fellow coaches and I were hoping that a "piece summit" would emerge in the midst of the hustle to fill in the final holes in each team's puzzle, I am proud to say that students approach this activity with fervor and a great sense of humor. Poking fun at one another while trying to complete a task can create lasting memories and even inspire a little collaboration from time to time.

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