In advance, prepare or source a set of 10 lateral-thinking/problem-solving activities (click here for samples.)
Print one puzzle per sheet of paper and pin these sheets in different locations throughout your playing space.
Form small teams of 2 to 5 people and equip them with pen and paper.
Challenge each team to visit all of the various stations and solve as many of the problems as they can in the allotted time.
Each team can set their own pace and visit the puzzles in any order.
Upon conclusion, regather your group and review all of the solutions.
Lead your group in a brief reflection of the activity.
How To Play Narrative
I love this exercise because it’s only limited by one’s imagination.
It’s easy to set up, allows people to work at their own pace and can occupy a group for a long time (if required.)
Mastermind activities, or brainteasers as they are sometimes called, require some form of focus, creativity and mental stimulation to be solved and there are tons of them out there. You know the type – you need to think ‘outside-the-box’ to seek a solution.
Here’s an example: Why are the numbers listed below in the correct sequence?
8 5 4 9 1 7 6 3 2 0
Some folks will know or work out the solution quickly, while others will soon get frustrated.
Yet, with a little patience and some willing teamwork and encouragement, many people will quickly learn that they often short-change their problem-solving abilities.
You should aim to create a set of at least ten or more brainteasing problems with various degrees of difficulty.
A link to a range of problems I have often used with groups – which only require pen and paper to solve – can be found in the Resources tab. For your convenience, there are many other team puzzles which are featured elsewhere in the database that are entirely suitable for use in this exercise.
Once you have created your desired set of Mastermind problems, print them off and pin them to various stations throughout your playing space, classroom or large hall.
Form small teams of 2 to 5 people and challenge them to engage with and solve as many of the mastermind problems as they can within a set timeframe. Normally 45 to 60 minutes is sufficient.
Allow time at the end to present the solutions to each problem and reflecting on any salient topics.
By the way, the numbers are listed in alphabetical order (as they are spelled.)
Practical Leadership Tips
To spread the load and prevent over-crowding at any individual station, invite each small team to start at any station they choose and move between them at will.
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of solving a tough cognitive challenge.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to solve these puzzles – whether as an individual or a group – may speak to the benefits of building strategies for resilience in advance. That is to say, most people will struggle at times with at least some of the puzzles, and having developed the stamina to stick with them would be essential to their success. Also, as a set of cognitive challenges, you could also invite your group to identify and explore a variety of emotional intelligence competencies during the exercise, eg the subtle ways in which some people choose to give up, get distracted or ask for help.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Mastermind Relay could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Advanced Mastermind Relay: Assign higher points to the more difficult problems and fewer points to simpler problems. With this set-up, teams can choose to tackle many of the easier tasks or spend most of their time solving the one very difficult problem to earn their points.
Stationary: Print off a set of identical Mastermind problems and distribute them to each small group to complete at their tables.
Active Mastermind Relay: Integrate a series of ‘prop’ style problems. For example:
– Using a full deck of cards, build the tallest house of cards;
– Estimate how many jelly-beans are inside a jar; or
– Making only three attempts drop a coin into a cup that is resting at the bottom of a bucket of water.
Round Robin: Instruct your teams to move in a particular sequence around the Mastermind stations, allowing about 5 to 8 minutes for each problem to be solved. To spread the load, be sure to nominate a different starting point for each team.
Testing Relay: Use this Mastermind format to test your group’s knowledge about any particular topic, eg science and mathematics.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Form small teams of 2 to 5 people in separate breakout rooms and share your list of brainteaser/team puzzles with them all. Starting in the large group, brief the activity and when ready, send all participants to their respective breakout rooms. The teams may work on any of the puzzles in any order. Note, while this is very difficult to police, instruct your groups to not use any forms of technology such as internet search engines to look for solutions (it’s an honour system.) As soon as all of the small teams have solved the puzzles (or the time has run out,) return everyone back to the large group. Review each puzzle and its solution as a large group, awarding points for each correct answer along the way.
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Useful Framing Ideas
You may not be a group of Albert Einsteins but I have a set of problems that will test even the most clever of people in the world. Let’s see how you fare…
You will have heard the phrase ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Do you know what this means? [ allow time for some responses… ] That’s right, it originates from a very common lateral-thinking exercise in which you try to connect a set of nine dots positioned in a square with just four straight consecutive strokes of your pen. The solution requires your pen to draw outside of the square. With this understanding, I would like to inspire you to think outside the box with a different set of problem-solving puzzles…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this medley of intriguing team puzzles:
When you think of ‘lateral-thinking’ exercises, what do you tell yourself?
Do you feel that solutions come to you easily or with a lot of difficulties? Why?
What helped you crack the solution for some of these puzzles?
Can you think of a problem in your life or work that was solved with lateral-thinking? Share an example.
The inspiration for Mastermind Relay comes from a number of wonderful trainers I saw present this activity many times during my internship with Project Adventure in 1990.