The Leadership Letters: Tall Tower

All, Business, Growth & Success     by Alexis Muhlenkamp

This is an effective team-building exercise that allows a team to see and experience the difference between a boss and a great leader. You do the same exercise twice with different restrictions to show the differences pretty obviously. Don’t just watch the video, you’ll need the instructions to understand!

Materials that you will need;

  1. Two groups of 15 big plastic cups (30 all together)
  2. A flat surface (to build the towers on)
  3. Six or more people
  4. An MC (you)
  5. A small reward for the winners (I would suggest 2-5 dollars for each person on one team)

Round One (The Boss)

  • The people split into two even (or if you have odd numbers, ALMOST even,) groups.
  • Each group gets one of the stacks of cups.
  • Set stack of cups on flat surface.
  • Each group appoints a “Leader.”
  • The “Leader” stands about 10 feet away from the “Builders.”
  • The groups are instructed to try build the tallest tower out of the cups.
  • The “Builders” are not allowed to speak.
  • The “Builders” must do exactly (Yes I mean EXACTLY) what the “leader” says to do and NOTHING else to build the tower. (The leaders should be VERY specific, for example; “Jeff, pick up the top cup from the stack and put it about five inches in front of the stack of cups.”)
  • Give the teams three minutes to make their tower.
  • After one minute, the MC have the “leaders” move back farther (5-10 steps) away from the “builders.”
  • Another minute later have the “leader” turn around so they can’t see the “builders.”
  • When the teams have 10 or so seconds to go knock down their towers (obviously don’t tell them beforehand.)
  • Let the “Leader” try to have them fix it (they will definitely fail because the “Leader” can’t see where the knocked down cups are.)

Round Two (The REAL leader)

  • Re-set the cups into stacks.
  • The groups can appoint a new Leader if they want to.
  • The groups are going to try to build the tallest tower again.
  • Give the groups two minutes this time.
  • The new Leader can stand WITH the builders now.
  • The Builders are allowed to talk and give ideas this time.
  • The leader isn’t allowed speak.
  • The leaders job now is to indicate who’s ideas they should go through with by pointing at the person with that idea.
  • After one minute you may let the leader speak and help the team.
  • When time is up, declare a winner and hand out the rewards to them.

What you can do after the activity is have a discussion with your team about how this relates to leadership and what the differences between a boss and a leader. Our team a Preferred Insurance Center actually did this activity if you would like to see it in action, feel free to take a look at the video below.


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