…And what’s with those odd exercises?

Adam Wilhelm (partially obscured at left), George Plisinski, Tracy Sweet and Diana Trautmann put the finishing -- and futile, it turns out -- touches on their spaghetti tower.
Adam Wilhelm (partially obscured at left), George Plisinski, Tracy Sweet and Diana Trautmann put the finishing — and futile, it turns out — touches on their spaghetti tower.
Stephanie Wilson (left) and Angela Flench gingerly step back from their finished tower, which stayed upright long enough to win the exercise.

Jesse Keljo and Cody Flood, who work as day chairs for the Leadership Hancock County team-building retreat, have seen those looks before: befuddlement, amusement and, for some, perhaps, a little worry.

Jesse and Cody were facilitators for two important team-building exercises for the retreat. Both involved taking risks and depending on others for success. Which, when you think about it, is the very definition of successful teamwork.

The setup for Jesse’s exercise was this: Six teams of four class members were given four items: a length of string, several strands of uncooked spaghetti, some masking tape and a marshmallow. The assignment: build a free-standing tower of spaghetti with the marshmallow sitting on top. The teams could use the string for guy wire or to construct struts made of spaghetti. Same with the tape. But the tower had to be capable of standing by itself by the time the clock expired.

Jason Hua, Stephanie Wilson and Angela Flench dove right in to the challenge, but first, they discussed the problem as they tentatively worked to engineer a structure that would stand. Not all the teams did that, Jesse would note at the end of the exercise: Some chaotically started taping spaghetti strands together, and their members didn’t always communicate effectively. The result was that some team members stayed on the sidelines and didn’t offer much help, or that team members worked against each other.

Sometimes, it was both.

Jesse noted after the exercise the importance of overcoming the fear of failure. It’s OK to try things that don’t work; the key is knowing when to move on to the next idea.

Cody’s exercise was even more vexing. Unfolding a large tarp — gray on one side and blue of the other — he invited all 24 class members to stand on it. It was a tight fit, and for those around the perimeter, one tiny step backward would put them off the tarp and foul the whole exercise. The goal: While standing on the tarp, the team had to flip the gray side to blue. No one could step off it. And to make it even more challenging, half of the class couldn’t speak, and the other half couldn’t touch the tarp with their hands.

As one group articulated strategy, the other group tugged on corners of the tarp, slowly repositioning each person. Twice they had to start over when someone stepped off the tarp. But on the third try, everyone was zeroed in on the task. One by one, tiptoe by tiptoe, the class members made it onto part of an expanding blue surface. When the last person stepped from gray to blue and the final corner of the tarp was turned, the group erupted in cheers.

The class certainly learned teamwork, even as they violated each other’s personal space and risked their colleagues’ ire by absent-mindedly stepping off. One group with which Cody was associated needed a second day to complete the exercise. Fortunately, the Class of 2017-18 needed only about 40 minutes.

Class members contemplate the uncomfortably small perimeter of the tarp.
Angela Flench tugs on a section of the tarp as classmates toe the edges trying to move from one section to another.
Greg Woods, Jason Hua and Courtney Miller realize they have to stick together — literally, it turns out — to compete the exercise.

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