Team Dynamics Activity: Puzzle Me This

Effective working groups thrive on healthy team dynamics.

There is always a need within organizations for team dynamics activities. Over the past month or so I’ve opened several different multi-day workgroup sessions with a team dynamics activity that has gone over quite well with audiences that have ranged from executive teams to frontline staff.

team dynamics activity in action

How to do Puzzle Me This: A Team Dynamics Activity

Following are the guidelines for a team dynamics activity. It includes teamwork, puzzles, lockboxes and the need to listen to instructions.

Activity Name: Puzzle Me This

Time: Approximately 30 minutes

Required Materials:

  • 1 puzzle for every small group (I used an image of our organization’s mission/vision/values statements and ordered a custom photo puzzle, but any old puzzle with approximately 50-100 pieces will serve the purpose)
  • 1 lockbox for every small group (I used these lockboxes that I found on Amazon)

Advanced Preparation:

  • Fill the lock boxes with some sort of incentive or prize (or perhaps even a clue to the next activity)
  • Set the combination for the lock boxes
  • Write the combination for each lockbox on the back of each completed puzzle
  • Break the puzzle pieces apart and place each complete set of puzzle pieces into a separate envelope
  • Create an instruction slide (or an instruction flipchart). Below is an image of the instruction slide I used:

team dynamics activity instructions

Team Dynamics Activity Instructions:

  1. Break participants into groups that should not exceed 10 people per group.
  2. Give each group a lock box and a sealed envelope that contains the puzzle pieces (two items of note here: first, don’t tell the participants what’s inside the envelope… it’s more fun when they tear it open and realize they need to put together a puzzle; second, make sure you have given each group a set of puzzle pieces with the combination that corresponds to the lockbox they’ve been given… this can turn into a very frustrating activity if teams are given a set of puzzle pieces with the wrong combination written on the back!)
  3. Show and/or read the instructions, making sure that participants know that everything they will need to open the lockbox is contained inside of the envelopes they’ve been given. Keep a close eye on the time (the element of time adds pressure to the group dynamics!).
  4. Monitor the groups’ progress, giving periodic updates on how much time is remaining.
  5. As time begins to wind down, you may have a decision to make. Some groups may open the lockbox quickly. Others may need a hint. As I give time warnings, I’ll often say something like: “You have five more minutes to open the lockbox.” Some teams lose sight of the fact they’re supposed to be trying to find out the combination to the lockbox and they get too focused on completing the puzzle (other teams realize very quickly that something is written on the back of the puzzle and solve the challenge right away without needing to complete the entire puzzle).

team dynamics activities in action

Debriefing a Team Dynamics Activity:

  1. What helped set your team up for success in this activity?
  2. What served as a barrier to success? What caused struggles or challenges for your group?
  3. How would you explain your group’s dynamics as you navigated this challenge? Were some people more active than others? How did that impact the end result?
  4. How might this activity relate to what we’re trying to do in this training program/working session?

What are your most successful team dynamics activities? If you end up using this team dynamics activity, please drop me a line and let me know how it went!  

8 thoughts on “Team Dynamics Activity: Puzzle Me This

  1. Here are some interesting ways to consider asking debrief questions. The first question answers the question what and helps the learners describe the experience they just had. Those questions might be what did you observe? What was your initial reaction? The next set of questions answer the question of so what? Here they talk about the difference that it made. This quick question might be how is your experience different from what you had expected? What did you like or dislike about the experience?
    And the deeper level question asks the question now what? This is where they begin to make application back to their job. This question might be how can you apply this learning to your job?

    • It’s so easy to just to say “What/so what/now what?” Thank you Priscilla for taking it a step further in order to offer some examples of what questions might look like at all three levels. I love these questions!

  2. Nice one, Brian! I love that you include instructions on the debrief. I just shared this post with our learning and professional development CoP Yammer group and mentioned how important (and cool) the debrief is. I’m facilitating a week-long workshop in Rwanda in August and am totally using this activity as a launch.

    • Thanks Paige. It’s definitely one of my new favorite go-to activities! You’ll definitely need to drop a line when you’re back from Rwanda and let me know how it went over… And let me know if you come up with any new debrief questions!!

  3. This is a really interesting way to promote teamwork, and to see where improvements could be made in the dynamics of the group. Just wondering about group size … I feel like 10 people per group, even at a max, would be too many for everyone to participate. Or is that part of what you are figuring out … who is going to sit back and do nothing, who stresses about getting it done, and who leads the way to success? At the end of the workshop, what are your goals for what they walk away with? Do they have concrete ideas about how they can/should change to work better together? Is there incentive to make that happen? I want to try this out, but I want to make sure I end with the right messages!

    • Hi Paula – You’re right, a group of 10 gets to be big. And that’s why I’d say it’s at the outer limit, and yes, the reason I’m still ok at 10 is to see what the dynamic looks like. Who sits back and lets others do the work? Who steps up? Does anyone make an attempt to bring others in? If you’re going to use a larger group, you do need a puzzle with more pieces.

      I know when I personally was involved in a group activity on parallel with this several years ago, it dawned on me during the debrief that I disappeared as the group got bigger. It was a really powerful reflection for me (this was actually 12 years ago and it has stuck with me!).

      The debrief and reflection is AT LEAST as important as the activity.

  4. I like the twist of having a lockbox added to this activity. I have used puzzles before. Each team gets a puzzle to put together but each team has some key pieces of the puzzle from another team. In other words, no team can solve THEIR puzzle with our working with the other teams to get key pieces.

    • I had initially played with the idea of mixing a few pieces up, but I thought the lock box was enough of a challenge.

      I did the activity today and decided to throw a new wrench into the activity – at the halfway mark, I had the teams switch spots with another team and take over the other teams’ work. It led to some good debriefing about needing to have trust in other people in the room!

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