Team-based tower building exercises can be a useful addition to a teamwork lecture. They are fun and exciting and students in engineering or manufacturing readily understand the objectives and have of enthusiam to build the tower. If properly facilitated and debriefed they can be useful exercises to explore team dynamics. The only disadvantage is that tower-building exercises tend to have fairly clear, quantitative objectives that is quite different from most team-based projects students will encounter. It's important to have an observer watch and comment on their process.
Ideally there should be about 5-6 people per team, with one person designated as an observer to monitor and record group interactions and lead a debrief session on the group's proces after the task is over. The observer should use an observer's checklist that suggests dynamics that the person should be watching out for during the exercise.
Basic Exercise Format
Teams are given a specified time limit (usually between 10-30 minutes) to build a free-standing tower out of a limited supply of materials. The team with the highest structure (measured vertically from base to top) wins.
There are several diferent ways to have teams compete to build free-standing towers. Here are a couple types of towers, though it would be pretty easy to get make up new ones with other materials. Students can be ingenious with almost any combination of materials.
1. Toothpicks and GumDrops
Give each team a box of toothpicks and a bag of soft chewable Brach's candy (soft enough for the toothpick to stick in the candy).
2. Newspaper and Paper Clips/Masking Tape
Give each team 15 sheets of paper and 15 paperclips or a roll of masking tape.
3. Typing Paper and Paper Clips/Masking Tape
After the building task is completed, the teams, observers, and customers discuss the outcomes and what they learned from the exercise. Some discussion topics (found on the observer's checklist)can be: