Question to Pencil Cup Challenge


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  • #5505
    Manuel Grassler

    Hi there fellow facilitators,

    I recently got my connections kit and sorted out the ten sets for the pencil cup challenge. I also translated the operating procedure for building the cup as stated in the facilitators document. However we just briefly got into is exercise in my training and I am trying to figure out how it really works, as there is no further rationale in the facilitators manual.

    Can anybody help me?

    As far as I remember it goes as the following:
    Split the group and hand everyone a set of the bricks.
    Group A gets a set of guiding principles (which ones?) to build a pencil cup.
    Group B gets the operating procedure (the plan) to build a pencil cup as well.
    After building people compare their cups with each other.

    Learning rationale: While Group B got detailed instructions (plans) they will most likely misinterprete something and get their models wrong. Aka plan as much as you want people still won’t get everything.

    Group A on the other hand just got the SGPs and is highly likely to manage to build a pencil cup. They may differ but they at least will serve the purpose of a pencil cup. Leraning here, you don’t need a lot of instructions. A few simple guiding principles will also help you to succeed at your tasks.

    Is that correct or is there some more rationale and learing in it?

    Please share your experience with it.

    My main question though is: Are the SGPs for group A only keep it simple and think outside the box?

    Looking forward to your replies

    Marko Rillo

    Hi Manuel.

    Indeed, I have used pencil cup/letter dog exercise as a simple ice-breaker, but it is the most powerful in an instance where you have a relatively bureaucratic company looking for more flexibility. In those situations where the company past has fostered the truisms that the procedures, budgets and instructions are paramount. What I have done is divided people into groups of two and to half of them I have delivered the pencil cup exercise instruction and the other half simply asked to build a pencil cup with the task: “it has to be 7 bricks high and corner/ edge bricks at the top”.

    The way I see it, the pencil cup exercise is an adaptation of the, whereby you use simple tools to ask teams to build towers of and ask different teams to apply either democratic, functional or authoritarian management style and see how they cope. For Marshmallow challenge you may use either dedicated straws set (like this: Or simply collect your
    tape or string and
    a marshmallow.

    In a similar manner – the marshmallow task quickly shows that the democratic or facilitated teams work best and bureaucratic or authoritarian are the most ineffective.

    Does it make sense like this?

    Matt Goddard

    Hi, I’ve also used the pencil pot challenge, but to explore leadership. Like Marko I’ve given the instructions to half the team and an objective to the other half. Those with the instructions build an identical product, those with an objective build something functional and innovative. I then ask ‘what type of leadership do you prefer?’ This generates a great discussion before building an aspirational model of leadership for the team/group.

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