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Welcome to the complete Marshmallow Challenge guide with all the resources you need to run the challenge successfully AND take a facilitative approach so that you maximise the learning opportunities.
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There are many versions of the Marshmallow Challenge available online, but this version is based on the original challenge developed by Peter Skillman and takes a facilitative approach. Practically speaking this means adding a period of reflection at the end of your Marshmallow Challenge to increase the effectiveness of the exercise.
The Marshmallow Challenge is often used to illustrate design thinking mindsets, such as prototyping and iteration, and the importance of ‘failing’ quickly or to make generalised points on effective teams. By taking a facilitative approach to the challenge it can also be used to gain deeper insights and help participants discover what it is about their specific behaviours that help and hinder effective team working.
We’ve created a number of helpful resources here to help you take this facilitative approach and gain the most learning possible from the Marshmallow challenge with reflections and reviews.
Set each table so that they contain all the materials needed for each team. Place the review sheets face down.
Allocate teams, it’s usually a good idea if the teams are arranged so they are composed of individuals with a range of interpersonal styles. This typically leads to a richer team dynamic, and as a result a more insightful review.
|Per Team||For the Facilitator|
|1 marshmallow||Flipchart & pen|
|20 sticks of spaghetti||Tape Measure|
|1 metre of string||PowerPoint briefing|
|1 metre of sticky tape||Facilitator Guide|
|Scissors||1 pen per team member|
Use the PowerPoint deck to brief the teams.
Less is more. Ensure participants follow the rules but:
The most successful designs typically include a lattice work of triangles with the marshmallow being balanced at the top. Much like the Eiffel Tower. If you’re doing the version with multiple marshmallows building pyramids and stacking them is the most effective way to get the tallest tower. But of course the real way to win at the Marshmallow Spaghetti Challenge is to forget about who built the tallest tower, and reflect on what you’ve learnt and how you can make best use of that learning.
At the end of the task measure the towers and have a short group discussion about successful design features. This serves to give participants ‘closure’ on the task so that they can focus on reflecting on the team processes at work.
If it’s practical, move participants away from the towers, either onto clear desks or into a different room. This helps move focus away from the structures.
Give participants a review sheet to complete individually.
The use of reflection after the task allows the deeper learning to take place. It gets the participants to think about their individual actions and behaviours and how that worked in a team environment.
For younger groups this allows them to think about what they did well and how they would have done things differently. For older groups this reflection allows for meaningful discussion around processes and team dynamics.
Once participants have completed their sheets encourage them to discuss the answers in their teams. It may be appropriate to get teams to record their key learning points onto a flipchart.
The common themes that arise from this group reflection are listed below and should help you as a facilitator to identify and categorise what you’re seeing. Remember the job of a facilitator is to enable the discussion not to guide it as this allows participants to make discoveries so these are very much for your reference and not for sharing with the group.
The below resources have been created to help you to run the marshmallow challenge as effectively as possible. The presentation will help you to set the task up, the facilitation document will give you everything you need to run an effective session which leaves participants with real learning and the reflection sheets will help all participants to think critically about what they’re learning from the marshmallow challenge.
Download Powerpoint slides for running the Marshmallow Challenge – to present while facilitating
Free PDF Marshmallow Challenge facilitator guide download – so you have full instructions
Free Marshmallow Challenge Worksheet download – help young people reflect on the task
Free Marshmallow Challenge Worksheet download – help adults reflect on the task
The marshmallow challenge allows for large number of primary learning opportunities. The below table outlines what they are and is based on MTa’s model of human behaviour.
|Primary Learning Opportunities:|
|Core Behaviours||Complex Attributes|
|+ Asking for help||+ Builds on ideas|
|+ Expressing self||+ Problem resolution (solving)|
|+ Listening||+ Reviews progress|
|+ Takes calculated risks|
The Marshmallow Challenge in undeniably popular, it’s easy, quick to run and good fun. When something works OK it’s tempting not to explore alternatives, but MTa Learning Managing Director Jamie Thompson believes there are far better activities. It is his belief that the real value comes from the reflection on these tasks that generate complex, and rich interpersonal processes. The way that the marshmallow challenge is typically conducted skips this vital stage. If you’re looking for alternatives to the Marshmallow challenge consider the MTa Team Kit for teamwork or the MTa STEM Kit for developing STEM skills.