Lessons From The Domino Challenge

A fascinating new team activity that we recently rolled out for a customer – was what we call, “The Domino Challenge”. It’s a startlingly simple activity that teaches everyone involved profound lessons.

The activity entails a large team that is split into smaller sub-­‐units – working on arranging Domino stones one behind the other, at a precise distance and angle to one another. After all the stones are arranged very painstakingly, the first one is toppled – which in turn topples the next stone and so on, till every single stone is toppled, by the Domino effect.

The World record for this activity stands at 4491863 by Weijers Domino Productions. The India record for the same stands at a modest 11000 stones by the kids at the IIM Ahmedabad. See it here: http://youtu.be/0xsBDw8d3X

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Besides the excitement, commitment, concentration and patience that this activity teaches us, there are a few more interesting lessons, it teaches.

We can never Over-communicate:
Communication plays a very crucial role in a Domino Building activity. It is imperative for each team members to know what the other member is doing and what are they collectively working for. While building the project it’s also important to tell the peers what our next move will be so that others can place their stones in the correct positions as well.

Not very different from the real world where most of the challenges happen because somewhere we fail to communicate precisely, isn’t it? Since most work in corporates happen due to collaborative efforts of many individuals and teams, the more a team communicates, the more “in-sync” it naturally is.

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If you fail to plan, you plan to fail:
As in any project, the action starts on the field after the planning is over. It hence becomes critical that each team gets into the precise details of how their final structure will look like – and how it will hand-shake with the next segment, so as to meet the final team objective. Truly, the Devil does lie in the details. Teams who jump in without this necessary element of planning often end up with complex situations later.

The similarity with experiences in corporate life is uncanny here too. How often have we seen projects leading to a dead end or huge complexity, whenever the planning was not rigorous enough?

What is the bigger picture:
For an individual who is placing Dominos at one corner of the project site, it’s very natural to lose focus. Eventually he is only placing the same kind of dominos every time, which makes his work monotonous. It becomes very important for the leader to constantly remind all team members what they are finally working on. When the individual on the floor sees what the BIG PICTURE or the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is – his work starts to make a lot more of sense to him.

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So too in corporates – where very often individuals are spread out in far-flung locations. If the leaders do not constantly motivate and remind the field force about the larger objective, work can become very meaningless and monotonous for people. All of us seek a higher purpose to our work – it’s the leaders job to deliver it.

Justified distance is Important –
When we place dominos for a project be it in any formation, it’s important to watch out for the distance between 2 Dominos. If they are too far away they may not trigger the chain reaction and if they are too close they may not fall at all. So one needs to constantly monitor this distance between two adjacent dominos.

Quite similarly in team dynamics, if the distance between team members is significant (metaphorically), it becomes difficult to perform as a team. At the same time too much proximity may often feel like intrusion of privacy for individuals. We constantly need to strive for the right balance within teams.

What triggers you to action? –
However big or small a domino cascade is, the most important section is always the “trigger mechanism”. This is a small arrangement of Domino stones at the beginning. If the trigger fails to function, the whole cascading arrangement may fail to tip over. Though very small in size, the trigger mechanism plays such an importance role in every Domino project.

And so also in corporate teams, it is important for everyone to appreciate the role of every individual in the team – regardless of age, seniority, experience or job title held. The “Trigger” also signifies the role of motivation in starting of any action. Just like the dominos never stop once triggered (by and large), a project should go seamlessly if all members are constantly motivated to contribute in their roles. As they say, “Success breeds success”. Just as one Domino rightly placed can trigger many, so also one individual with the right motivation can inspire many in the team. 

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Trust other Teams:
In a Domino Project, large teams are always sub-divided into smaller teams who work on different segments. One sub-team may be working on a Wall, while other may be working on a tower or graphic. Each team however needs to place implicit faith in the work of the other teams for the project to be complete.  For example if one team makes a perfect wall but the trigger, which was expected from the previous team’s structure never reaches – The wall would be of no use!! But that is the beauty of The Domino Challenge – that it forces people to trust that everyone else will do their jobs perfectly too. This encourages Teams while working on their own sections to constantly monitor other team’s progress as well – and call out any risks they see. What a great state for all the teams be in, caring for others growth as well and always keeping trust that everybody will perform well.

If teams in corporates could think beyond their own small silos and work in a similar way, would that not be wonderful too?

dohOne Wrong Move:
After the Domino Project starts, the Team begins to work feverishly. They concentrate on developing solutions for the various construction challenges. Again and again you hear: “Oh no, not again” when someone accidentally knocks over a domino and, in a split second, demolishes a part of the painstakingly constructed domino line or structure. The bigger the project, the bigger the impact of one small mistake! This signifies the importance to building expertise in team and making every single move as carefully as the first one.

There are many messages hidden in the Domino project to take away as learning points. But after all the hard work, the result comes with its own rewards.  When the final chain reaction happens, the energy in the room is unbelievable. You see all your hard work performing perfectly in front of your eyes. It’s the same way when corporate teams working hard on a project see it come off perfectly!

When would you want your team to experience The Domino Challenge?

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