Building Cup Towers

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Last Friday I was responsible for organising some team building activities to promote clear communication and negotiation skills. I had around 15 students to work with, so I decided to do the “Cup Tower Challenge”, as many of you saw on Twitter.

In all of the links on Pinterest about this activity, you provide each group of students with a supply of plastic cups and a rubber band with pieces of string tied to it (one piece of string per group member). As luck (or poor time management) would have it, I didn’t have time to cut and tie the pieces of string to the rubber band, so I just sat the three resources separately, as a bit of an extra challenge.

Students arrived at their table to:

  • 6 plastic cups spread out
  • one rubber band
  • 4 pieces of string.

My instructions were simple:

Build a tower out of plastic cups without any part of your body touching the cups.

I was interested to see that every single group ignored the rubber band, instead looping the string around the cup and tightening the grip to pick the cups up that way. I will admit, for most groups it was successful, but as the outcome was communication and negotiation, I knew I needed to up the ante.

I watched for a further 5 minutes, taking photos and videos, giggling at those teams who were absolutely lost for ideas and had no collaboration skills to fall back on.

My next instructions were just as simple:

Tie each piece of string to the rubber band. Now, build the tallest tower out of plastic cups without any part of your body touching the cups.

Each team still only had 6 cups on their table. However, I had bought a pack of 100 cups…so I spread the remaining 76 cups out on a table around 4 metres away from the groups.

This time there was more urgency – there was more at stake as groups wanted to be creating the tallest tower. Most of the groups quickly worked out how to use their rubber band-string contraption and were ready to start.

Group 1 decided to collect as many of the 76 cups as they could first – and they did so by stacking one cup on top of another, flipping the cup stack upside down to ensure they were secure, before putting it on top of another cup…all using their rubber band and string.

Groups 2 & 3 chose to stack their original 6 cups first before beginning to collect extra cups.

Group 4 took quite a while to establish how to tie the string to the rubber band. Then the pieces of string were too close together. Someone kept pulling too hard and letting go too early, which meant that cups were dropped and knocked over. Needless to say, a lot of this group’s cups ended up on the floor, which meant they needed to pick them up…using only their rubber band and string.

It was an absolutely fabulous social experiment team building activity…and a great reflection task, especially for Group 4.

What do you think?

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