IAF Methods

Materials Auction (Construction activity variant)

by for . Last edit was over 2 years ago
60 - 90 26 - 50
Experiential team building activity
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To foster creativity and proper planning in a competitive team activity

To build a structure, to plan for it, i.e. its resources and spending budget


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  • set of different construction material, sufficient for each workgroup to auction
  • "money", coins or other substitute for the auction



Setting: Whatever is required for base activity, except that most "construction" activities require each team to have identical materials - for this variant there should be a variety of items, all different, with many combinations that could work for the activity (e.g. for fixing things together there could be one each of sellotape, stapler, paperclips, elastic bands).

Ideal conditions: This activity is used part way through a longer workshop event or retreat, to add variety and emphasize planning, creativity and conflict resolution.

Pre-Work Required: Facilitator must choose materials carefully, to ensure there are enough that every team could, with good choices, make a reasonable attempt at construction.

Facilitator personality fit: Needs to be capable of engaging in the activity as "fun", while keeping control of quite a strict process.
Needs to be able to encourage competitiveness between teams without letting this get out of hand.


  1. Explain the base activity.
    Explain that the materials available will be auctioned off, and briefly show the materials (best if there is a suitable place with them laid out for inspection). Allocate each team an amount of money.
  2. Allow the teams sufficient time. Time varies with task and materials, 10-30 minutes to plan what they would like to build, what they will need to buy, what they will do if they fail to secure each item (do not prompt them in that - let them either do it themselves or suffer the consequences).
  3. Run the auction. Be careful to set bid increments, otherwise you run risk of teams taking hours bidding up to millions of dollars in one dollar increments, which is fairly disastrous to whole exercise.
    If any lots are left unbought at the end, then you may decide to re-auction these, mainly in case where one team had reasonable planning but was very unlucky and ended up with little or no good materials.
  4. Run the construction activity - if this had a separate planning time allocated then drop that time, as they should have decent plans already.
  5. Award a prize for the best construction (depends on task and criteria set - tallest, strongest, most aesthetic). Review process


Follow-Up Required: Discuss how teams planned what they would bid for, how much, and what contingency plans they had if they didn't get each item. Lead them to appreciate how important good planning is in some circumstances, where some decisions (as to what materials they will have) cannot be changed later. Encourage them to understand the importance of contingency planning.

Usual or Expected Outcomes: Forces teams to plan more at beginning, and encourages creativity. Helps introduce importance of contingency planning. Identifies participants who have good ideas but are shy about expressing them, and those who dominate. Identifies issues of resolving conflicts.

Potential pitfalls: Those teams who do not do well in the planning stage may find themselves at a dead end before the formal end of the activity. Useful learning can be gained from this but facilitator must be careful that message is a learning one, not a negative.

How success is evaluated: Which teams do well in the activity? With hindsight would teams do things differently in the auction?

Examples of successes and failures: Most teams recognise that they could have done better with improved early participation, planning and creativity, and take these lessons away.
One team found themselves unable to do anything in the rest of the activity due to poor choices in the auction - with careful facilitation they still had an enjoyable experience building something completely outside the rules, and acknowledged a major lesson learned (and demonstrated so in later exercises).


Source: Bernard Gore

Derived from: Variant on any of a number of construction activities.

History of Development: First designed when running workshops with very limited materials - wanted to run a construction activity but couldn't get enough to provide all teams with identical material, so had to find way to distribute variety of materials.

Recognizable components, references: Variant to any team building experiential learning activity that involves building an object (tower, bridge, hoist, etc).

Comments (1) ( 2.5  avg / 2 ratings)

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  • Reflecting on the process of planning, choosing materials, and replanning according to the materials available could produce very useful learning for project planning.

    over 2 years ago