Marshmallow Challenge

Unleash Creativity and Collaboration: The Power of Experimentation

Alfa Sommersol

In a captivating experiment, Kindergarteners accomplished what CEOs, Lawyers, and MBA students couldn't by using one simple strategy. This experiment holds valuable insights for agile practitioners seeking to enhance creativity and collaboration within their teams.

Picture: Marshmello @ VELD 2016 The Come Up Show, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Experiment

The participants were given a challenging task: build the tallest tower using the following materials:

The Results

The outcomes of the experiment, based on multiple trials conducted across various locations, were astounding:

To understand why this stark difference occurred, let's examine the actions of the MBA students compared to the Kindergarteners.

MBA Students in Action

The MBA students approached the task with strategic thinking and discussion. They shared ideas, asked smart questions, generated options, picked a strategy, divided tasks, and began building.

Kindergarteners in Action

In contrast, the Kindergarteners didn't engage in strategy discussions. They swiftly grabbed the materials and started building. They created multiple iterations, communicating in short bursts of phrases like "Here! No. Here!"

While the MBA students and other adult groups appeared to cooperate, psychologists observing the experiment uncovered a different phenomenon: Status Management.

Status management is the unconscious process of scanning and negotiating hierarchies, roles, and responsibilities within a group. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this behavior is innate, as ensuring our belongingness in a group is crucial for our safety. Until our status is established within a group, our brains are partially occupied with this task, limiting our creative capacities.

The Kindergarteners, on the other hand, didn't waste energy on status management. They wholeheartedly embraced experimentation. When something failed, they immediately tried something new. They worked energetically together, leveraging the power of collaboration. The Kindergarteners weren't inherently smarter; they simply worked in a smarter way.

As the new week begins, remember these lessons:

The Marshmallow Challenge with Debriefing

The Marshmallow Challenge is a popular team-building activity designed to foster collaboration and innovation within teams. Developed by Tom Wujec, this challenge has been conducted with numerous groups worldwide. The goal is to build the tallest freestanding structure within eighteen minutes using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow placed on top.


  1. Before starting the challenge, ensure each team has a table set up with the necessary materials.
  2. Create teams of four participants and explain the task.
  3. The objective is simple: build the tallest freestanding structure using the provided materials. The entire marshmallow must be placed on top.
  4. Emphasize the following details:
    • The structure must be free-standing and cannot be suspended from any higher object.
    • The marshmallow must remain intact; cutting or eating part of it disqualifies the team.
    • Teams can use as much or as little of the kit as they need.
    • Breaking the spaghetti, cutting the tape and string, and creating new structures is allowed.
    • The challenge lasts for 18 minutes, and teams cannot touch or support the structure once the time runs out.
    • Repeat the instructions multiple times to ensure everyone understands.

After the time is up, ask everyone to sit down and measure the structures to determine the winning team.


The debriefing session is an essential part of the Marshmallow Challenge, providing an opportunity to reflect on the experience and extract valuable insights. Use the following questions as prompts for discussion:

  1. Personal Reflection:

    • What was the strategy of your team?
    • What role did you play in the team?
    • What worked well in your team's approach?
    • What would you improve in your team's work for future challenges?
  2. Sharing Within the Team:

    • Reflecting on your team's performance, what worked well?
    • What improvements would you suggest for future challenges?
  3. Triad Discussions:

    • Consider your role within the team. What are the advantageous aspects of that role?
    • What are the disadvantageous aspects of that role?
    • What valuable lessons have you learned from this exercise?

By reflecting on the Marshmallow Challenge and discussing these questions, teams can gain insights into teamwork, collaboration, and innovation, fostering continuous improvement in their agile practices.

Remember, the power of experimentation lies within each of us. Embrace the spirit of a Kindergartener, focus on collaboration, and let the creative potential of your team flourish.

Now, it's time to unlock new possibilities and transform the way you work. Let the journey begin!

Watch Tom Wujec's TED Talk "Build a Tower, Build a Team" for more inspiration and insights

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About Alfa Sommersol

MBA - Innovation & Change - Fractional CTO - I help businesses become agile to drive business and technology transformations.✨ Let's discuss how agile practices can propel your innovation, change, and scaling.

Seasoned C-level technologist, digital strategist, entrepreneur, leader, and mentor with a strong focus on agile. With a background spanning entrepreneurship and technical project development, I excel at bringing projects from concept to reality. My passion lies in simplifying complex ideas and turning them into practical solutions. I thrive in advanced problem-solving scenarios and thrive under pressure and tight deadlines.

Agile Methodology Expertise - Enabling seamless analog to digital transformation Agile Project Management - Applying technical know-how for successful project execution Agile Business Modeling - Driving concept development through iterative and adaptive approaches Creative Problem Solver - Employing agile strategies for effective marketing and growth Strong Analytical Skills - Leveraging data-driven insights for agile decision-making Socially Responsible Approach - Promoting ethical and sustainable practices within agile frameworks

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