This exercise was created for practicing Benne and Sheats’s group roles (although it might be adapted for any other similar classification). It does so by asking teams to resolve text puzzles (derived from popular teamwork fables) while at the same time team members are acting various group roles. Based on their performance the teams (as well as the individuals) might be awarded Oscars. The exercise could be also used to discuss the importance of group roles on team dynamics and teamwork.

The timing largely depends on the group roles classification to be practiced and the number of games to be played. On average one game should take no more than 120 minutes.

There are some specific materials that you’d have to prepare upfront. If you stick to the original exercise (thus practicing Benne and Sheats’s group roles) you could download them here. Otherwise you might need to:

  • Choose an alternative classification of group roles – There’re many alternatives to Benne and Sheats’s classification. Some of the most popular ones are proposed by Belbin, Margerison and MacCann, and Myers and Briggs. You’d have to prepare a brief description for each group role as well. Some examples are given below (taken from Benne and Sheats’s Functional Roles of Group Members article).

    The Teamwork Oscars - Benne and Sheats’s Functional Roles Example

  • Select teamwork fables – The number of the teamwork fables should be equal to the number of games you’d play (which in turns should reflect the number and types of roles you’d like to practice). A lovely collection of teamwork fables could be found at Michael Rogers’s blog.
  • Turn the fables into puzzles – Decide what would be the size of the teams. Let’s say it is N. Then replace 2*4*N words in each fable with empty space. Given below is a passage from the puzzle of the Aesop’s Belling the Cat Fable, used in the original exercise.

    The Teamwork Oscars - Aesops Belling the Cat Fable Puzzle Passage

  • Chunk the puzzles – For each puzzle get the list of missing words sorted according to their order of appearance in the fable. Split the list into two chunks (so each has 4*N words) and shuffle the words. Further split each chunk into N groups of 4 words. Portions of the two chunks from the Aesop’s Belling the Cat Fable Puzzle are shown below. They are colored green and blue in order to indicate which part of the fable they are referring to (green for the first part and blue for the second one).

    The Teamwork Oscars - Aesops Belling the Cat Fable Puzzle Chunks

  • Distort the words – Shuffle the letters of the words so they become “semi-readable” (not being too hard for the participants to restore them). You could use the word letter mixer at It leaves the first and the last letter in place and shuffles all the other letters within the word. Portions of the final two chunks from the Aesop’s Belling the Cat Fable Puzzle are given below.

    The Teamwork Oscars - Aesops Belling the Cat Fable Puzzle Distored Words

Print all the materials and cut off the roles and the 4 worded groups from the chunks. Make sure that for each team there’s a corresponding pack of materials. Other things you might need during the exercise are papers, notes, pens and timer for timeboxing. There could be small prizes for the winners (even small Oscars).

Introduction (30 mins)
Introduce briefly Benne and Sheats’s classification of group roles and make sure that everybody understands the difference between task, building and maintenance (or social), and individual (or dysfunctional) roles. For each type of roles there should be a separate game. Their corresponding teamwork fables are distributed as follows: (1) Aesop’s Belling the Cat Fable for task roles; (2) The Fable of the Old Warwick for building and maintenance roles; and (3) The Fable of the Porcupine for individual roles. These fables were carefully selected in order their morals to reflect the specifics of the practiced types of group roles.
Split participants into teams. It’s important the size of the teams to be exactly 6 people (as the exercise is specifically designed for that particular case). If the teams are smaller or larger than this – the exercise might become too difficult or too easy (thus reducing its overall efficiency). In case the number of participants is not divisible by 6 – you might have one or more teams of 6 people and then the rest of the participants being observers. Their goal should be to carefully inspect the behavior of the team members as they play and then try to guess their roles at the end of each game. Yet another option is to have directors assigned to each team. They should know the role of each team member in advance and should provide help/guidance (privately) during the play (e.g. when somebody is not acting accordingly).

GAME (100 mins)

I. Set the stage (20 mins)
For each team form a pile of roles (either task, building and maintenance or individual) and ask everybody to pick up a random one. Make sure that the assigned roles remain private until the end of the game. Give 5 minutes for the participants to get familiar with their assigned roles and then another 15 minutes to figure out what should be their corresponding behaviors and attitudes during the play. They might consider things like speech, facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, etc. (as well as attitudes towards others; individual and group tasks; etc.). Let them list privately everything on a paper.
Distribute the puzzle to all the teams. Their goal should be to solve the puzzle while team members are acting the roles they are assigned to. The teams win points as follows:

  • 10 points for each correctly placed word within the puzzle;
  • 100 points for being the first team to solve the puzzle (or having the most correctly places words at the end of the game); and
  • 50 points for each correctly guessed role at the end of the game.

Let them also know that each team member would receive 4 distorted words either in green or in blue. If green, then these words belong to the first part of the puzzle, and if blue – to the second one. The following rules should also apply: (1) distorted words should be restored individually (without the direct help of other team members); and (2) the words should be placed into the puzzle collectively.

II. Action! (35 mins)
Announce the beginning of the game and ask participants to start acting. The game play should go through the following three phases:

  • Resolving the green part of the puzzle (15 mins) – Distribute the green distorted words (in a way each participant has exactly 4 green words). Then give teams 15 minutes for restoring the original words (individually) and placing these words within the puzzle (collectively).
  • Self-reflecting (5 mins) – Ask participants to review privately their list of expected behaviors and attitudes. They might put a tick on the things they believe their are acting well and cross the things they aren’t. The list might be modified as well (e.g. introducing new additional behaviors and attitudes).
  • Resolving the blue part of the puzzle (15 mins) – Distribute the blue distorted words and ask the teams to continue resolving the puzzle.

At the end distribute the original fable to the teams and ask them to calculate their intermediate results (using the rules specified above).

III. Who is who? (30 mins)
For each team collect their members’ roles descriptions and corresponding lists of expected behaviors and attitudes. Introduce briefly each role and ask team members to anonymously write down on a note who they think was its actor. Then go through each role and:

  • Announce who was acting the role;
  • Determine whether the team has guessed the actor of the role (the correct guesses should be more than or equal to 4);
  • Introduce the behaviors and attitudes expected from this role as seen by its actor. Ask the rest of the team members whether these were reflected in the actual behaviors and attitudes of the actor during the play.

When ready – calculate the final results of the game and announce the winning team. The latter might be awarded the Best Team Oscar. Other awards you might consider are Best Individual Actor (the person whose role was guessed by everybody and who was acting according to the expected behaviors and attitudes), Best Acting Team (the team with the most guessed roles) and Best Performing Team (the first team to solve the puzzle).

IV. The morals of the story (15 mins)
Ask teams about the morals of the story and initiate discussion.

You might use the exercise to further discuss the importance of group roles. You might consider their impact on team cohesiveness, team development, team structure and composition, team performance, leadership and decision-making, conflict management,etc.

Original article: