What is the Marshmallow Challenge and Can Your Team Beat It?

Publisher Channel Content by
Nextiva





How can twenty sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow help build a stronger team?

The Marshmallow Challenge has become a popular exercise in which small groups are asked to build the “tallest free-standing structure” out of the materials provided. The teams have eighteen minutes to complete this task including the entire marshmallow on top. It’s a fun and instructive exercise that allows teams to experience simple lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The Marshmallow Challenge has been conducted with business school graduates, CEOs, architects, engineers, and even kindergarteners. There have been surprising findings for which groups perform most successfully.

Surprisingly, recent business school graduates are among the worst performers and kindergarteners often excel at this challenge. The children don’t spend time fighting to be the leader of the group. Instead, they just start playing and in the process begin prototyping. Business school grads spend most of the time talking, planning and building, which means they don’t have much time to change the design when it finally comes time to put the marshmallow on top which is usually too heavy for the structure that was built.



Team Building Lessons from The Marshmallow Challenge

Always Test Assumptions Through Prototyping

Participants think that marshmallows are light and will be easily supported, but when teams start building the structure, it suddenly tips it over. Only through realizing that every idea has value and then prototyping various solutions can the teams find out what works.

Don’t Focus on Being the Tallest

When the instruction is given that the tallest will win, teams assume that height will win the contest. As a result, they wrongly focus on how high they can build the structure instead of the stability its base. Many times, companies try to grow too fast before they have a solid business.

Use What is Available

Development of every product has limitations and teams can only use what they have and not get resources they want to build something better. In business, there is never unlimited resources or the perfect environment to grow.

Use Only What is Needed

There are some things that are given in the The Marshmallow Challenge that do not need to be used like the string. Teams have to figure out what is useful and what needs to be discarded in developing any solutions.

Give Up Perfection

Teams start out dreaming about building an elegant structure like the Eiffel Tower. They have to give up this idea of perfection and build something (even if it is ugly) that works that can be “good enough” to win.

If you’re looking for a fun way to kick start a meeting or get a team into a creative frame of mind, try running The Marshmallow Challenge. Is your team up to it?

Marshmallows Photo via Shutterstock

More in: , 4 Comments ▼

Barry Moltz


Barry Moltz Barry Moltz gets small business owners unstuck. With decades of entrepreneurial ventures as well as consulting with countless other entrepreneurs, he has discovered the formula to get business owners marching forward. His newest book, BAM! shows how in a social media world, customer service is the new marketing.

4 Reactions

  1. Barry, where are some pictures of actual marshmallow challenge towers? Would love to see some of these “ugly” creations.

  2. We have used this with clients and team members alike in the past and have used other items such as gummy bears, it has a great impact on team building for sure.

  3. Barry Moltz

    Good to hear Jeremy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*