The Marshmallow Challenge: A dental team-building exercise

Nov. 12, 2012
Kathleen O’Donnell, vice president of coaching at Jameson Management, explains how you can use an eye-opening team-building exercise called the Marshmallow Challenge to inspire creativity and work better as a team in your practice.

When looking for a great team-building exercise, I had the wonderful luck of stumbling on First introduced by Peter Skillman at a TED talk several years ago and now facilitated by Tom Wujec at businesses and corporations worldwide, the Marshmallow Challenge gives a group of four people 18 minutes to construct the tallest freestanding structure using a few strands of uncooked spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.

Prior to facilitating the Marshmallow Challenge with our Jameson clients, our advisors had the opportunity to train the groups on DISC behavioral styles and on how groups make decisions. One of the facts discussed in the training session was that women get “plopped” seven times more often than men get “plopped” in group decision-making situations. To be “plopped” means you are completely ignored when you say something and contribute to the group discussion. Basically, you feel invisible.

The training session also covered information about “kills.” A “kill” is when someone offers input and others bludgeon the comment with negative statements such as, “We’ve done that before.” ... “That won’t work here.” ... “You’re new here so you don’t realize that this will never fly.”

When comparing a “plop” to a “kill,” many people found the “plop” more damaging. They feel as though they are invisible and that their input does not receive attention or make a difference. Whereas with a “kill,” a person gets a reaction and knows at least he or she is recognized for contributing.

Now, armed with the knowledge about “plops” and “kills,” we started the Marshmallow Challenge. Here are a few key insights learned from the competition:

  • Collaboration is important. Working together as a team will allow you and your teammates to accomplish amazing results.
  • Focus on the task at hand and don’t be distracted by your surroundings. Concentration is a powerful tool that helps to accomplish great things effectively and efficiently.
  • Identify assumptions and test them early and often. Trial and error gives you the opportunity to problem solve and find the best solution.
  • Prototyping is key to success; then refine and try again. With a plan, you can move forward, find out what works and what doesn’t, then improve and perfect your final piece.
  • Get outside your box and make room for creativity. Creative ideas lead to innovative conversations and unique results.
  • Eliminate the fear of failure. Success is part passion, part determination. Leave failure behind and believe in yourself.

Try this eye-opening team-building exercise in your own practice and watch the creativity spike!

Author bio
Kathleen O’Donnell is vice president of coaching at Jameson Management, Inc., the international dental practice management, marketing, and clinical advising team helping dental professionals improve productivity and profitability while reducing stress. Visit for more information and to reach Kathleen.