Materials: Large paper and scissors
Exercise description Call for volunteers who want to participate in the exercise, a total of seven people. Their task is to first think of a paper shape they would each like to make for themselves. Then they receive a large paper, one pair of scissors and the following instructions: “Everyone is supposed to cut out a piece of paper in the size and shape they imagined, but without leaving any leftover paper in the end.” The rest of the group observes the process. Communication is allowed. Time: 20 minutes.
Evaluation Suggested questions to evaluate the exercise: How satisfied are you with the result (the paper shape you cut out)? Did you cut out the shape you initially envisaged? How satisfied are you with the process? Were there different roles in the process and what were they like? How did you agree on how you would complete the task? How did you decide about who would begin and who would finish the cutting? What did the observers notice? How do the elements of this exercise relate to your daily lives?
The number of volunteers for this exercise may vary and need not be exactly 7 (it may be 5 or 11). It is important that the number is not easily divisible so that people are not tempted to take the path of least resistance and simply divide the paper into equal rectangles, which is what the group will often decide to do once they hear what the task is.
The exercise may sound very simple, but it can simulate various phases in teamwork: agreement on joint work, the way that the group will reach agreement and make a decision, the process of decision-making about how to cut up the paper, and the final implementation of their decision. Most often the first stage, which can be decisive for teamwork, is completely skipped over and the group goes straight to suggestions about how to divide the paper or even straight to implementation without any prior agreement. This leads to neglecting the process and the focus shifts to completing the task any which way, with any kind of result. However, just like in real life, dissatisfaction with the result is directly correlated to dissatisfaction with the process and with having no influence over the outcome. We may blame others for this – e.g. those who took on a more proactive role – or we may end up blaming ourselves for not expressing our dissatisfaction on time and constructively influencing the cooperation process.
If the group is already exhausted from interaction and challenges (if the previous exercises were fraught), it may be best to leave this exercise for another time. It would be a shame to “waste” it in a situation of low energy and motivation, when people are susceptible to taking the path of least resistance, because in that case we would not receive the kind of material for analysis that this exercise can offer. In that case it is better to have the participants work in small groups, discussing their observations about teamwork.