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The Tinker Toy (C) Exercise

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Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#1
Denise Brooks led the Tinker Toy Exercise this past week. The class was given two cans of tinker toys and told to build the tallest structure possible (this exercise comes from the Deming Electronic Network).

How did it go? Was the task accomplished? Comments from last year's students are available below.

What are the implications of our tendency to compete versus cooperate? This is certainly fodder for a final exam essay . . .
 

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Nestor

#2
Insight On Behavior

Upon reflection of the exercise after the fact, the actions of the groups under the stress of the time constraints, amid the whirl of multiple ideas, comments, and plans and the unfamiliarity of the team members with each other, I believe that each of the team members fell back to their first learned behaviors. Usually in time of stress, people revert to their first learned behaviors. The first learned behaviors for most of us, considering who we are and the fact that we are MBA students, is to plunge forth take a position or a group and protect that position. I think that is what we experienced as team members and many times what we have experienced in our work histories. Over time, as the positions are solidified, more discernment reveals other possibilities. Through learning processes and life experiences will first learned experiences be forged into deliberate behaviors.
 
Q

qualitytrec

#4
Steve,
I was talking about this with a work associate here and was wondering if this were a western by-product or if the same thing would happen in other cultures. For example would people trained in an asian culture function as a team more readily or would they also drift toward compitition? Just currious if there are any studies or what your thoughts are on this.

Mark
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#5
Markasmith said:
Steve,
I was talking about this with a work associate here and was wondering if this were a western by-product or if the same thing would happen in other cultures. For example would people trained in an asian culture function as a team more readily or would they also drift toward compitition? Just currious if there are any studies or what your thoughts are on this.

Mark
Actually, a good website to go to for furthering understanding is http://www.alfiekohn.com
 
W

wealthbuilder

#6
During the discussion after the Tinker Toy task, I was surprised by some of the feedback given. Apparently some individuals did not take an active role and failed to assert themselves and provide their input. The group, not intentially, under utilized their resources by not taking into account everyone's knowledge and abilities. So how can a group, whether presumed in competition or not, come up with the best solution when they fail to communicate even within their sub-group? This may stem from our early childhood learned behaviors, however competition is re-enforced throughout our adult lives as well. Trying to get ahead in careers, social status and so on. It appears then, that even from our earliest teachings we are setup to sub-optomize our decisions and actions. Given this information, how do we change it? As managers, how do we influence others to think outside of this norm and strive to maximize all options for the desired goal(s)?
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#7
wealthbuilder said:
During the discussion after the Tinker Toy task, I was surprised by some of the feedback given. Apparently some individuals did not take an active role and failed to assert themselves and provide their input. The group, not intentially, under utilized their resources by not taking into account everyone's knowledge and abilities. So how can a group, whether presumed in competition or not, come up with the best solution when they fail to communicate even within their sub-group? This may stem from our early childhood learned behaviors, however competition is re-enforced throughout our adult lives as well. Trying to get ahead in careers, social status and so on. It appears then, that even from our earliest teachings we are setup to sub-optomize our decisions and actions. Given this information, how do we change it? As managers, how do we influence others to think outside of this norm and strive to maximize all options for the desired goal(s)?
Yes, each group had at least one withdrawn person not contributing. This does happen in the "real world" often. As managers (and especially team leaders) one should be on the look out for those that are always chiming in and those that never chime in. You may have to as a team leader take a more active role and actually seek out the quiet ones, and make sure to ask "What do you think about this question, Tom"? Then at least you stand a chance of surfacing all of the ideas available. It may also be an outfall of the competitive environment that the quiet people are unsure of themselves and thus be quiet unless specifically brought out. There are also differences in human personalities.
 
#8
Steve Prevette said:
Yes, each group had at least one withdrawn person not contributing. This does happen in the "real world" often. As managers (and especially team leaders) one should be on the look out for those that are always chiming in and those that never chime in. You may have to as a team leader take a more active role and actually seek out the quiet ones, and make sure to ask "What do you think about this question, Tom"? Then at least you stand a chance of surfacing all of the ideas available. It may also be an outfall of the competitive environment that the quiet people are unsure of themselves and thus be quiet unless specifically brought out. There are also differences in human personalities.
Paramount in any discussion about "group dynamics" is the issue of who the group leader is (skills, education, aptitude, political alliances) and how the leader becomes the leader (elected by group or selected by outside authority.)

The ideal leader gets the "biggest bang" from the group resources. Most leaders, however, squander their human capital. For proof, just look at the average business corporation and how its leaders misuse, abuse, and otherwise squander their human capital, despite all sorts of lip service to the contrary [insert mindless generic public relations statement about people being "our most valuable asset" here.]

A good leader will draw out and fairly evaluate opinions from shy members of the group.

Summary:
It is important to understand the "not-so-subtle" cues set forth by the authority figure (teacher or corporate executive) when setting tasks for the group or groups - ranging from "do or die" (the group that succeeds keeps its job, the other group is fired [ala "Apprentice"]) to "fat bonus," cues which say COMPETE, not COOPERATE.

In Quality, we continually talk about "root cause." What is the true root cause [of noncooperation] in a classroom situation when the instructor creates two or more groups as part of setting the assignment? In my opinion, it is definitely NOT cultural or social bias on the part of the students except to the extent students take their cue from the [supposedly] wiser and more experienced instructor.

(Talk about being set up to fail!)
 
B

Bill Pflanz

#9
Wes Bucey said:
In Quality, we continually talk about "root cause." What is the true root cause [of noncooperation] in a classroom situation when the instructor creates two or more groups as part of setting the assignment? In my opinion, it is definitely NOT cultural or social bias on the part of the students except to the extent students take their cue from the [supposedly] wiser and more experienced instructor.

(Talk about being set up to fail!)
Since Deming knew the normal outcome of the bead box experiment, does that mean he was a poor instructor? If we learn from mistakes, I could argue the case that having the teams fail is probably more effective and memorable than having them succeed.

Of course, I participated in one of those company team building camps where you do various team activities where I learned a lesson by succeeding. We managed to complete almost all the activities as designed because we were already working well as a team. The one activity that we completed irritated the camp facilitator since she had her prepared failure speech already but not a success speech. Her first comment was that we screwed up the entire excercise by succeeding.

Bill Pflanz
 
#10
Bill Pflanz said:
Since Deming knew the normal outcome of the bead box experiment, does that mean he was a poor instructor?

. . .
The one activity that we completed irritated the camp facilitator since she had her prepared failure speech already but not a success speech. Her first comment was that we screwed up the entire excercise by succeeding.

Bill Pflanz
Deming made it clear after the red beads that the process was at fault, not the workers. Tinker toys puts the burden on the students because they didn't cooperate - the instructor doesn't say the result is: "Always question the motive of the authority figure setting the task." (I don't think that kind of message would work in the US Marines, would it?) It sure wouldn't work with a goofy CEO like "the Donald."

Your camp experience really brings home the point you were set up to fail and got no reward for success. What does an instructor do if the class cooperates in Tinker toys? Usually, he suspects someone of knowing the "trick" and thus invalidating the "test."
 
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