Collaborative Origami

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Timing: 15 mins


  • Origami instructions for half the participants (like this one)
  • Blank standard sized printer paper for half the participants


Pair up participants and provide an instruction sheet (face down) to one person in each pair (the “instructor”), and provide a blank sheet of paper to the other member of the pair (the “folder”). Split the pairs into three groups:

  • Group 1 sits side-by-side,
  • Group 2 sits face-to-face, and
  • Group 3 sits back-to-back.

On “Go!” the person with the instruction sheet flips it over and instructs the other member of the pair how to fold the origami.

  • In Group 1, one person folds, but both can consult the instruction sheet as much as needed.
  • In Group 2, the folder must not see the instruction sheet, but the instructor can watch the folder and provide feedback on progress.
  • In Group 3, the instructor and the folder cannot see each other, but they can talk (over their shoulders) as much as possible.

As each group successfully completes the origami item, have them stand up. The facilitator may cut it off after a period of time, because Group 3 may not successfully finish.

Learning Points:

  • Collaboration leads to faster results and better quality.
  • Communication barriers on geographically dispersed teams can be disastrous, even if there is unlimited verbal communication.
  • Visual maps are a useful communication tool.

CREDIT: Ken Howard, Improving Enterprises

Posted by Don McGreal

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8 Responses to "Collaborative Origami"
  • Don McGreal October 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Here is a blog post (in Spanish) by someone that used Collaborative Origami to communicate the benefits of Pair Programming.
    I never thought to use it that way! =)

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  • Beth Parker March 10, 2010 at 2:58 am

    It would be helpful if the article provided the origami instructions!
    Otherwise, good article.

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  • Learning Through Games June 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    [...] Collaborative Origami – collaboration & communication (15 min) [...]

  • Don McGreal December 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Hi Beth, I just uploaded the instructions we use. Check out the ingredients section.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  • Carlton Nettleton December 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I LOVE this game – I use it in ScrumMaster training to emphasize the different ways we communicate and which types are needed in Scrum. I have consistently found that at least one team who sits face-to-face will complete the origami faster than the side-by-side teams. I think this is interesting and in no way diminishes the power of the exercise.

    I like to debrief with this question: “How much time did you spend folding vs. talking about folding?”. These are the results I get

    1) side-by-side: folding >> talking
    2) face-to-face: folding ~= talking
    3) back-to-back: folding << talking

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  • Playing to Learn « Mastering the Obvious March 6, 2011 at 11:03 am

    [...] for the June 2010 Agile Ottawa meeting where participants played several great games, including Colloborative Origami, the Chair Game, and the Marshmallow Challenge: [...]

  • Sergey Shishkin April 21, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I’m going to try this game in my next workshop, with a small trick though: Choose a square-based origami (like this one but give participants A4 blank paper. Let’s see whether the back-to-back group figures this implicit requirement out ;)

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  • Ken Howard May 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I love seeing the comments about those of you who enjoy using this exercise. Just a plug – I included it in my book “Individuals and Interactions: An Agile Guide” I hope you’ll pick up a copy and try some of the other workshop exercises in there, as well as read supporting material to help amplify the learning objectives of the exercises. The book is on Amazon here:

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