The Domino Effect

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Ingredients

99 Dominoes
A yard stick for each team

Directions

Notify 3 teams that they are about to build a tower exactly 20 and 5/8 inches high using the 33 dominoes provided.

Ask teams for estimates on how long it will take them. They will usually estimate somewhere around 8-10 minutes.

Pick one ‘tiger-team’ and tell them you really believe in them and you believe they can do it in half the time: <4 minutes. (It is practically impossible to get it done in 4 minutes… we’ve tried)

Then tell another ‘slack team’ to take it easy and give them 15 minutes.

Leave the other team at the original 8-10 minute mark.

Start the timer and watch the fun.

The ‘tiger team’ will have a lot of tension as they rush to stack the dominoes. They will experience frustration and it isn’t unusual to see some in-fighting.

After the 4 minutes are up, examine their work and voice your disappointment. Give them an extra 2 minutes and tell them that they better get it this time. They won’t. So give them another 2 minutes and be sure to mention what a nice manager you are. :)

By this time the 8-10 minute team should be pretty much done. In our testing, 8 minutes is a good amount time to build the tower.

What is interesting is that the ‘slack team’ almost always uses most of their 15 minutes, demonstrating Parkinson’s Law.

Debrief by asking each team how they felt during the exercise. Which had the best team dynamics?

Learning Points

  • Teams pressured to deliver “faster” are often less productive and deliver less than those with reasonable expectations.
  • Teams under stress get stuck in the ‘Storming’ stage and cannot perform to their potential.
  • Trust team’s estimates (and other decisions) and see them gain more ownership and performance.
  • Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion (Parkinson’s Law)
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3 Responses to "The Domino Effect"
  • jcmeyrignac September 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Nice idea !
    You can also demonstrate Ringelmann’s and Köhler’s effects as follows:
    1) increase the team size -> people will slack off (Ringelmann)
    2) discourage the fastest team, tell them that the level of the team is weak.-> every member will adjust his effort to the team’s, and effort will drop
    3) encourage the slowest team, and tell them that they have a very good level (even if it’s not true) -> every member will increase his effort

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  • Jon Savage April 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    What is an optimal size for each team for this game?

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  • Don McGreal April 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Jon,

    I think 3 to 8 people per team works well for this game. Realistically, only 2-3 can actually be doing any domino stacking, but the others can certainly be involved with suggestions and motivation.

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