Extending the Marshmallow Challenge: Team Building Exercise Based on Design Thinking


  • Laurie Meamber George Mason University




This activity builds upon The Marshmallow Challenge developed by Tom Wujek, and has been showcased among other places, on his website (https://www.tomwujec.com/), in a TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower), and in the literature across a variety of disciplines. The purpose for using this activity has been twofold. First, the exercise introduces the concept of design thinking. Design thinking is a collaborative and systematic process for creative problem solving. The design thinking approach is used extensively in this course that asks students to work throughout the semester to develop a new product idea from concept to prototype, and to plan for product launch. Second, the exercise is the first of several that focus on team building. It is therefore applicable for courses in a range of disciplines that utilize team projects and/or to foster team work.

The goal of the exercise is for small teams to compete to create the tallest freestanding structure out of a limited set of materials provided by the instructor - 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow that must be placed at the top. The teams are given 18 minutes to complete the exercise. After the exercise is completed and a winner declared, the faculty member poses questions to the teams on factors that contributed to their success and failure, students watch the TED talk, and are debriefed by the faculty member. The students learn that successful innovation involves including multiple perspectives, each member's skills, and iterative trial and error.

Author Biography

Laurie Meamber, George Mason University