IAF Methods

Missing communication

by for . Last edit was almost 2 years ago
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Experiential activity for a team building event to enhance team communication and effectiveness

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  • to solve a mystery puzzle as a team
  • to realize the need for more/better communication.
  • to learn to look for someone in the team who may have vital information


You will be able to upload attachments once after you create the method.


  • Any of many reasonably high level adult puzzle books.
  • Pepared exercise sheets, see instructions below
  • Paper, pens



Types of participants: Team members, especially for loose teams not working physically close together.

Set up: Multiple teams of 4 or 5, sufficient space to prevent over-hearing other teams. Facilitator should know total numbers ahead of time to properly prepare. Best used as part of wider workshop with multiple goals, with participants used to exercises and not primed what this one is for.

Pre-Work Required: Prepare exercise. You need a puzzle from a book, one of those exercises like "Bill is the oldest, John is sitting next to the youngest, Frank is not Bill's brother, etc......Who is the tallest?"

Copy the statements of the puzzle on sheets, one sheet for every participant, one set of sheets for each team, but one statement will be removed from each sheet, from well down the list so it isn't obvious. Remove different statements from each sheet per set  per team, i.e. each team will have all the statements to solve the puzzle, but no individual team member will.

You will probably have to try the combinations with someone who is good at this - some sources may have puzzles that are too easy and still possible with several statements removed.

Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: Facilitator must understand client sufficiently to help team relate message to their environment.

Facilitator personality fit: Can be an initial feeling among team that they have been duped, facilitator must be comfortable dealing with defusing this.


Use this when the teams are used to doing exercises. Split into equal sized teams (you need to have known numbers beforehand to prepare the sheets).
Hand out the sheets to each member, you need to be careful that each team has a complete set, i.e. the different sheets with all clues/statements per set, so that between them they have all the information, but without making it obvious - they should think they have identical sheets as the top few statements are the same.

Let them run through the exercise, if there are multiple teams, make it a competition to encourage them to crack on as quickly as possible. Very few will make any effort to do it as a team - in each team the one or two people who are most used to logic puzzles will try to do it themselves.

At some point many teams start to struggle, and there will be a sudden realisation - often their exclamation will tip off the other teams, otherwise let them work at it for a while (typically 20 minutes) then call a halt and if no-one has realised tell them that they were each missing information without realising it, but that the team had sufficient information if they had shared.


Follow-Up Required: Lead them through a conversation about whether this ever happened in their environment. Emphasize the point that often you think you have all or enough information or that someone has nothing useful to offer, but unless you check that assumption you can never be sure. Encourage them to identify ways in which they will address this in the future.

Usual or Expected Outcomes: Closer team work, better sharing of information, more recognition of value of colleagues.

Potential pitfalls: Relies mainly on participants not spotting a key fact - possible (but rare) for a participant to do and weaken experience.

How success is evaluated: Usually obvious "revelation" to team. Best use is where information sharing can be assessed during normal work.

Examples of successes and failures: Used in academic and professional services environments, significantly improved communication during rest of workshop and afterwards.
Many participants, who had previously expressed negative views on need for better information sharing, had an epiphany.
Partial failure in one case where not properly prepared, and mechanics of exercise result distracted from message (although still partial success).


Source: Bernard Gore

Derived from: The base exercise is a common team-work one, the removing of some information from some sheets adds the element of information-sharing.

History of Development: Developed in 2005 as part of a larger workshop. Used in a variety of situations since.

Comments (1) ( 3.0  avg / 1 ratings)

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  • I agree with the danger that people may feel duped -- that can be addressed if the facilitator is skillful.

    over 2 years ago