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Teamwork Towers Two
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/18/2016

Teamwork b The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Sometimes, a new classroom exercise is really another part of an existing icebreaker. Recently, I conducted an exercise in my Criminal Justice Corrections 101 class that demonstrated some nuances of team dynamics. However, there was some unanticipated gold to be mined. As the alliterative title suggests, this exercise spawned a sequel.

I did not create the initial exercise of tower building. Perhaps you have encountered a version of this. I learned of it in a leadership training class that I attended in 2006. Teams of three or four have about 20 minutes to design and build a free-standing tower from twelve sheets of copy paper and a roll of tape. The base has to be at least eight inches tall. The tower cannot be taped to anything, including the floor. The structure has to stand for at least two seconds and be 72 inches tall or greater. The first team to accomplish this wins the competition.

Whether the tower ultimately stands, falls, or never gets close to vertical, there is much more going on. The exercise concludes with a discussion lead by the instructor. This should explore group dynamics, leadership, followership, teamwork, nuances of construction and strategies.

When I conducted this exercise on November 4, 2013 for a small class of criminal justice students, there was a healthy completive spirit. However, at the end of the allotted time, neither of the two structures could stand without assistance. The true learning manifested in the discussion.

Then, there was talk about a sequel…

After ten minutes of productive discussion, one student had suggestions for better construction for “next time”. All of the others chimed in. They clearly wanted a rematch and to build a better tower.

Hitherto, I had never heard about “next time”. That is because there had not been a “next time” in the original exercise. Now there is. I told students that they will build again. I told them that the rules are the same and that they could not prefabricate parts and bring them to class.

One student said, “I am going to google this.” It was spoken as a firm statement, but I felt that she sought permission. I gave the class permission to research as they would. I later learned that both teams researched the topic without my prodding.

On November 18, 2013, the same teams reassembled.

It seemed to me that the second session of building was quieter. I attribute this to the teams knowing roles and division of labor established two weeks earlier. One team googled paper tower building and had some plans drawn up prior to round two. It was a tapered cylinder with a series of spokes planned as the base. The other team, after an online search, actually built a practice tower that was square. In the end, both towers stood for at least two seconds. Preparation and planning made all of the difference.

There was some controversy over what constitutes the base, but that was an interesting exercise in who was taking notes and justification of methods and definitions. Speculation was issued about how THAT IS SARCASM would have fared with the missing team member present for round two.

The tower itself is merely a focusing mechanism. Learning about group dynamics is the key. Instructors should always keep an open ear for students' suggestions. When a student expresses further interest in a project or exercise, it is up to the instructor to tailor an activity to fit the curriculum. Inspiration and momentum go hand in hand. In other words, let them build another tower. The results may surprise you.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

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