If you were handed 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti, 1 yard of masking tape, 1 yard of string, and 1 marshmallow and then told to build a tower with the marshmallow at the top, what would you do? Believe it or not, this exercise gives us a lot of insight into building high-performance teams. During his TED talk, Tom Wujec reveals three major lessons you can learn from playing with your food.

After the timer began, the average team spent their time doing the following:

1. Orienting — Talking about the task and subtly (or not so subtly) determining leaders
2. Planning — Deciding the best way to tackle the task
3. Building — The majority of their time was spent here, just getting the task done
4. Crossing their fingers — Tower built, marshmallow in hand, they placed the sugar bomb on top and hoped the spaghetti didn't break

Some towers broke. Some towers stayed up. Some towers stayed up and surpassed new height records. So what was the difference between a wildly successful team, a mildly successful team, and a failing team?

Three major factors were common among the wildly successful teams:

1. They took an iterative approach.
The did not pick one plan and stick it out to the end, hoping their spaghetti would hold. They modified their build as they went along by periodically testing out the weight of the marshmallow against whatever structure they currently had.

2. They had diverse skill sets in the group.
Surprisingly, CEOs + Executive Admins worked better together than groups made up solely of CEOs. Some team members were good at managing (we'll let you guess who) and others were good at executing next steps. A good mix of skills and personalities make a stronger, more effective team.

 

3. They had prior experience with the task.
Four months after the first exercise, the worst performers were given the marshmallow construction problem again. They were all successful, blowing previous height records out of the water. Being able to learn from their past failure, these teams enjoyed success the second time around.

Here's an idea: Since you're already building your own high-performance team in your organization, why not run the marshmallow experiment with your colleagues? It should prove to be an enjoyable exercise in team dynamics. Or you could simply learn from the short TED Talk on high-performing teams below. It's less than seven minutes long, but loaded with lessons on creating your own top-notch team!

Think there are other important factors that go into building a high-performance team? Share them with us in the comments below!

Image credit: Photo by Creative SustainabilitySome rights reserved.

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