Explain that each group is to build the tallest free-standing structure they can using only their shoes.
Everyone has exactly three minutes to achieve the task.
The tallest structure wins.
Video Transcript for Leaning Tower of Feetza
presented by Mark Collard
So presently you’re in your small groups and each of you are going to have the identical challenge to solve this problem but you’ll have a maximum of three minutes in which to do it.
And it’s going to happen very quickly. As soon as I give you the challenge, effectively your time will start.
Your objective is to create the tallest possible tower using only your shoes.
So you will have a maximum of ten shoes. For the group that’s without a fifth person, you can use my shoes. So you don’t actually need me but you do need my shoes.
So with a maximum of ten shoes your objective is to create the tallest freestanding structure possible. The only thing that the shoes can be touching is the floor. You cannot adhere them to the floor. You can’t use any chairs or walls or skyhooks in order to keep this tower upright.
And at the three-minute mark, and I will remind you seconds in advance, you must step back from your structure. So therefore it is able to be self-supporting.
The tallest self-supporting structure earns the praise of the group. That’ll be your prize. Got the idea? And your time starts now.
(people playing Leaning Tower of Feetza)
Alright. Forty seconds. Forty seconds remaining. Remember you must step back from your structure when the time is up.
(people playing Leaning Tower of Feetza)
Four, three, two, one. Please step back from your shoe towers.
Alright, let’s find out who has the tallest one. Well, that one has self-qualified. So in third position…
Alright, from an eyesight point of view I’m going to guess that one’s slightly higher, but I have a highly technical system of working this out. Is that also your guess though? Do you reckon that one is taller than this one?
(Yeah, we definitely think so.)
Yeah, I figured you’d say that. Alright, let’s find out then. This is the one that we actually believe could be the taller one. I’m just touching it there. I’m not making it move off my leg.
We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen.
How To Play Narrative
The simplest activities are often the best.
Separate your gathering into small groups of any number – say 8 to 15 people – and ask them to sit together.
Next, explain that their goal as a small group is to build the tallest free-standing structure they can, using only the riches of their shoes.
Allow no longer than three minutes. Then say “GO!”
When time’s up, ask everyone to step away from their structures, and perform some form of measuring ritual to determine which tower is the tallest.
Often, standing by the structure and marking a spot on the side of my body (and comparing it to all others) works pretty well.
Have fun, it’s hard not to.
Practical Leadership Tips
Some groups will stretch the true meaning of what ‘free-standing’ means, but by my definition, it means that nothing – no seats, no hands, no walls, etc – can be used to keep the growing tower upright.
If you live/work in a hot and/or humid climate, there may be some value in introducing this exercise earlier in the day than later – for purely aromatic reasons!
Upon completion of the task, ask each person to grab two random shoes from the pile and locate their owners – a wonderful random strategy to invite people to get to know one another better.
With shoes still off at the end of the task, consider playing I Pass This Shoe next.
Feet In Shoe: Using feet only (shoes included), each small group will work together to form an unbroken chain of feet (touching each other, often end to end) from the floor to a point as high off the floor as possible. A safety note – it won’t be long before someone realises that to get the ‘tower’ really high, you have to start lifting people off the ground so that they can elevate their feet to the top of the growing tower. When this occurs, instruct the group to physically support these elevated people.
Foot In Shoe: As above, each person can only use one of their feet/shoes to form a part of the tower (requires a much larger group).
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
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Ask your participants to grab 5 x pairs of shoes each, ie 10 shoes to work with. If possible, after you have described the challenge, instruct each person to focus their video camera on the area they plan to build their tower. You’ll need to rely on the honour-system to trust the final measurements which each person will deliver to the group. Or ask each person to photograph their tower (next to something that will provide some height perspective) at the allotted time and upload it to the group.
With all towers appearing in the gallery view of your online meeting software, take a snapshot of your screen at the conclusion of the allotted time, lest one or more of the towers collapse soon after. It happens!
Alternatively, challenge your group to construct just one tower (ie only one person can touch the shoes) and invite the contributions of all other group members to help the person build the tallest tower. This will open up a series of hilarious and sometimes frustrating forms of communication.
Useful Framing Ideas
We all know that building a house requires solid foundations. This is true for most structures, and indeed many other long-term endeavours such as relationships, business enterprises, new developments, etc. If it’s going to last, it will need a solid foundation. Ignore this principle at your peril in this next task…
You’re going to be given limited resources and time to complete this next task, but it is highly likely that you’ll surprise yourself at what is possible. Observe what happens when you are first presented with the task, and note your immediate thoughts, actions and energy levels. Note if these change…
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 fun problem-solving exercise:
What strategies did your group employ to build its tower? What worked and what didn’t?
What impact did having a very strict timeline have on your team’s performance?
If you could build a second tower, what would you do differently?
Quick, Introductory ‘Team-Building’ Session
What You Need: 8+ people (divided into 2 or more teams), 30 mins
Props: shoes worn by participants
Clumps– highly interactive exercise, ultimately used to create random teams