Why Spaghetti and a Marshmallow is the Ultimate Team Test

Why Spaghetti and a Marshmallow is the Ultimate Team Test


Take the marshmallow challenge: A simple team-building exercise which will lead to incredibly deep insights for your business. The objective is to build the tallest free-standing tower using 20 spaghetti sticks, 90cm of tape and 90cm of string, with a single marshmallow on top. In 18 minutes. This forces people to collaborate fast.

Start the clock!

Typically, 2,5 minutes are spent orienting, 3,5 minutes planning (aka jockeying for power), 10 minutes for building, followed by the grand reveal, which promptly collapses.

Who’s the worst at this exercise? “Recent business school graduates. They build really lame structures because they’re taught to come up with one right plan,” says design workshop guru, Tom Wujec.

“They spend all their time building and jockeying for CEO of Spaghetti Inc. Then when the structure collapses, it’s a crisis.

The best teams are six  year-olds.

This isn’t just hilarious, it’s valuable. They produce the tallest and most interesting structures because there’s no planning or power struggle. They also start with the marshmallow. They build multiple prototypes, always keeping the marshmallow on top. It’s the essence of prototype iterations.

How does a R100 000 prize affect employees? They fail every time. Why? Unless they understand and value the process of prototyping and iteration, the high stakes negatively affect performance.

Related: Want More Creative and Productive Employees? Let Them Goof Off 

Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.