Equilateral Triangles Collaboration is an excellent conference icebreaker that highlights how large self-organizing groups can successfully collaborate without the need for stringent rules, regulations and leadership.
As an icebreaker in a workshop or conference that has ‘collaboration’ or 'self-organization' as a key theme.
To demonstrate how human beings can collaborate when solving relatively complicated tasks without a set of rules or a leader.
- A facilitator.
- A willing group of more than 20 people.
- 30 minutes.
- Large open space (no tables & chairs)
Are There Any Rules?
No talking allowed.
Once the Facilitator has said ‘go’ people can move wherever they like in the room.
Preferably this should be done in an open space environment (but tables, chairs and obstacles can be brought into the analogy).
1 The Facilitator introduces the icebreaker as a short workshop where we’ll quickly see how collaborative we can be in a relatively short amount of time.
2 The Facilitator asks the Participants to spread themselves out randomly around the room.
3 The Facilitator then asks the Participants to, without talking, pick two other people in the room and keep them in their heads.
4 The Facilitator then explains that the goal for each person is to now form an equilateral triangle between themselves and the two people they have chosen – no other rules apply other than not being able to talk (i.e. the Participants can put their arms out and point at the two people they’re trying to triangulate on).
5 The Facilitator then says go and starts the stopwatch.
6 Once the room has stopped moving the Facilitator stops the stopwatch and announces to the room how long the task took (normally about 1 minute).
7 The Facilitator then leads a discussion using questions like:
What are your thoughts having seen how quick that was to do?
How long would the same task have taken if I’d made one person responsible for putting you all in triangles?
What do you think this teaches us about self-organizing groups?
Is it important for us to always have someone in charge and how far should rules go in dictating how we collaborate?
There are rules to this exercise, but they are simple. The rule is to make a triangle, which everyone follows. Therefore, this works when 1) rules (more like principles) are simple and understood by all and 2) everyone tries to adhere to these principles.
A variation on the tool (which works well for those who don’t know what an equilateral triangle is) is to ask each person to identify two people in their head and try and put themselves between those two people equal distance from each one.
If the workshop or conference raises questions about the potential of collaboration later then you can always come back to the results of this icebreaker as proof that self-organizing groups are successful.