This fantastic video from ted.com is by Tom Wujek, and discusses the differences in approach to solving the ‘Marshmallow Challenge’. At Kameleons, we have used this activity in a variety of settings; in our MetaMorph team development program for Schools right through to our Diploma of Management Groups (Team Effectiveness and Manage Projects modules).

The effectiveness of this activity is its simplicity and the consistency of results and behaviours. As Tom mentions in his video, the actions of management groups differs greatly from the behaviour of young School students. Having conducted this activity more than 100 times, we can varify that many of Tom’s observations match our Australian experience.

At Kameleons, we have found that the main difference between School children and adult groups is their approach to the problem itself. Adult groups concern themselves with ensuring team harmony, ensuring that everyone has a role and that most people in the team are being kept busy. In the 18 minute activity, it takes the average adult group until the 15 minute mark before they even touch the marshmallow, confirming Tom’s ‘panic’ conclusion. To quote from Stephen Covey, children ‘begin with the end in mind’. After being told to build a tower with a marshmallow on top, most children grab a handful of the spaghetti and stick the marshmallow on top (see insert picture), fulfilling the brief early and then modifying their creation afterwards. Adults tend to focus on their attention on team harmony and forget the main role of the task (and the tower) – to support the marshmallow.

The final results between adults and children is equally interesting.

  Adult Groups School Children
Average Height of Tower (cm) 65 32
Average % Success Rate 55 85

Although adult groups generally build taller towers (Adult average: 65cm, School children: 32cm), the success rate of adults (a free standing tower supporting a marshmallow) is much less (Adult success average: 55%, School children: 85%). While it is certainly heartening that adults can build bigger towers that 5/6 year olds, the ‘boom/bust’ success rate of adult groups is more concerning. While both groups suffer from a lack of planning, the children overcome this shortcoming by constantly testing and making sure that the marshmallow is central to their designs and trials.

What can we learn from such a simple activity?

There are many points that can be drawn from this activity, depending on the setting and the group. The main debrief points and outcomes we refer to are:

1.  A good plan is essential to the completion of a complex task.

2.  Having a clear picture of what you want the outcome to be brings a greater chance of success (begin with the end in mind).

3.  Be mindful of the time that you have for any project and take the time to plan your time – constant activity doesn’t necessarily achieve better results. This can apply equally to the classroom as well as personal habits relating to homework preparation and study.

4.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – trial and error (or testing and fault finding) can prevent wastes of time and energy.

Can we help you develop the teamwork and leadership of your Year Group?

Is your year group more a group of individuals than a team? Could the teamwork of your students be improved? Do your students get bored by constantly sitting in a classroom? Are you looking for ways to make problem solving and communication more dynamic? Do your students know how to measure success?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then perhaps the MetaMorph workshop is for your year group.

The MetaMorph Workshop

The MetaMorph workshop uses experiential activities such as the Marshmallow challenge to change behaviour as well as knowledge when it comes to teams. The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ aptly describes the training and coaching process in the workshop. Using experiential activity and real problem solving opportunities, we encourage students to find the answers to team development issues themselves. Insightful debriefs after each activity help students discover further opportunities for improving their team behaviour. Post workshop, we can provide you with lesson plans for further experiential activities that can be completed with minimal resources in the classroom.


Why not give us a call at Kameleons on (03) 9822 6683 or (0409) 627 270 to discuss how we can help you and your team achieve greater results through planning.