Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Team Building with LEGO Towers: Part 1

The opening premise was that I needed a hands-on activity for my semi-annual staff meeting. Such activities are not my bailiwick; hand me clay and ask me to make a vessel for my feelings and I'll make a crude ash tray, surpassed easily by almost anything coming from the hands of a toddler. So I embarked on an epic quest to find a tactile team-building exercise that I wouldn't hate myself for thrusting upon my team. "There must be something with LEGO," I thought, and commenced Googling... Thankfully salvation came from a fellow by the name of Nick Heap.

It had everything I wanted: team work, project management, ROI, and LEGO. Naturally, I created a PowerPoint deck to guide the morning.

The rules:

  • Build LEGO tower with positive Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Tower must be able to stand freely for 1 minute
  • 20 minutes maximum time from starting horn
  • No other materials can be used in the construction
  • Two phases: Planning and Construction (important cost implications below)
  • You can manipulate bricks (sort, count) during Planning, but Construction begins the moment two bricks are joined together
  • Each team will report its strategies and lessons learned during the post-build debrief
How to calculate ROI:
As demonstrated above, Revenue is driven strictly by the height of the tower (in centimeters). The complexity comes with the expenses (doesn't it always?). Materials are priced at a straight $0.50 per brick, whether it's a 1x1 stud or a 2x8 brick. Labor costs differ during the Planning vs. Construction phases -- which makes the honesty of the time-keeper much more crucial!

The Raw Materials

What should your shopping list be? I must admit that I spent 30 minutes at the LEGO Store in Burlington, Mass., puzzling over this challenge. Knowing I would have four teams, the decision to buy four green plates was easy. At first glance, the obvious answer seemed to be LEGO 6177, the "Basic Blocks Deluxe". You might think that in a kit like this the distribution of pieces by color would be roughly equivalent. Nope. Not even close. In this kit, the yellow, red, blue, and white bricks have nearly equal distributions -- except for the 1x6 and larger. The lime green, green, black, orange, and brown bricks are many fewer but almost align (but not quite -- for some odd reason the brown have four fewer 2x2s; the black and green have 3 additional 1x2; the lime and orange have 5 extra 1x1...) If you are truly concerned about absolute parity across the competing teams, you'll have to do a fair amount of counting and sorting. Ultimately, my shopping list was:
  • 3 LEGO 6177 (650 pieces each)
  • 4 gallon-sized ZipLoc bags (for the yellow, red, blue, white)
  • 5 quart-sized ZipLoc bags (for the other colors)
  • 4 32x32 green base plates
We only used the yellow, red, white, and blue bricks, although I also crafted a trophy for the winning team by adapting this pattern. Total cost, roughly $115. But with revenue (measured in fun) nearing infinity, I feel pretty good about the return on investment!

Will be back soon with Part 2 -- results and lessons learned.


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