IAF Methods

Paper Tower Game

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This can be an introduction to a workshop in which assumptions need to be examined. It is also used as an introduction at a technical limit workshop.

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For Part A: To reinforce planning, cooperation and to realize that perceived boundaries might not be real. For Part B: Knowing the technical limit does not guarantee that it can be reached if there's not enough time but that you still get a lot better result through detailed planning and learning. It is also to become aware of assumptions and if planning is useful.


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  • 2 reams of A4 or 81/2 x 11 inch paper and two rolls of tape.


Pre-Work Required: prepare the paper and masking tape for the first part of the exercise.

Exercise A
1. Split the group into teams. Numbers should be ca. 6 per team for a dynamic exercise. More than 10 per team and you lose people.

2. Give each team 5-x sheets of A4 and 2" of tape.

3. Present the challenge (be careful how you phrase it):

- "You have been given 5 sheets of paper and 2 inches of tape.The task is to build the tallest tower in 15 minutes. The time starts NOW".

It may be useful to pre-prepare this statement on a flip chart.

4. Facilitator tips (pre-prepare questions that will become aware of these areas and how they could improve).

- watch out for the following shortfalls:


- Some teams dive in, others make drawings, others still pilot design ideas.

- Some are good at ensuring all the team knows the plan and that all are listened too.

- The facilitator's time squeeze and immediate start drives behaviour that is not based on value but on 'urgency'

?- There was no statement that this was a competition.?
- They could have all collaborated.

- Some teams wait and then copy the best ideas off others.
- Some teams ask the facilitator how to build it.

Boundary Conditions?
- They could have asked for more paper and tape.
- They could have used flip chart paper.
- They could have asked for glue or wood or bricks or tables or....?
- There are no boundary conditions other than 15 mins of time, and.?
- They could have asked for longer.

5. The following are possible questions to ask but they need to be thought through for the group you are working with.

a What were some of the things you did as a group?
b How did you make decisions?
c How did you communicate with each other?
d What was the most important driver for the way you worked?

a How would you describe the relationship you had with the other teams?
b Why did you have that relationship?
c What in the description of the exercise led you to believe that this relationship is valid?
d What other relationships could have been taken with the other groups?

a How did you learn during the exercise?

Boundary Conditions
a What were the boundary conditions in the exercise?
b What are the stated boundary conditions?
c If the only boundary condition was the 15-minute time limit what could have you done to build a bigger tower?

Exercise B

1. Discuss what could be the tallest tower say with a full pack of A4 and a roll of tape (you need some limit here). Draw the analogy with the Technical Limit height - make a note.

2. What would be the technical limit of a paper tower using a ream of paper and a roll of tape? (One way to look at this is the height of the ceiling as it could be hung from the ceiling. Do not suggest this solution at this time though.)

3. What would be the best way of building such a tower? Allow a brief discussion of how to build such a thing.

4. In the middle of the conversation after some ideas are out, place a full pack of A4 and a roll of tape in the middle of the room and tell them to build the tallest tower possible in 15 minutes. The whole room should join in.

- Usual result:
The group usually melees around a bit then gets on with building a tripod structure out of rolls of paper - some get up to 3m high or more.

- The main point here is that they accomplished something far greater than before - celebrate that.

5. Compare the actual height with the pre-noted technical limit.


1. What are the learnings of this exercise?
2. Why do we make assumptions that are false?
3. What can be done in teams to help examine assumptions about the boundary conditions of a project?
4. You can point out that even when they started to understand "The Limit", with insufficient time to plan, they'd never make it


Derived from: this is a variation on a bridge building exercise that has similar dynamics

History of Development: unknown

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