This is a classic exercise on team building. It is fun to participate in this exercise and yet it is quite powerful in bringing a team together while teaching communication, leadership and problem solving.
Delegates are asked to pour water into a pipe to raise a ping pong ball inside and therefore to get it out. The pipe is leaky though and there is a challenge on how fast they can get the water into the pipe without losing it through the holes. This requires cooperation, planning, delegation and resource management.
This exercise is ideal for team building and can be used for any age. Several variations are provided at the end to increase the difficulty of the task as you see fit.
Cooperate to take a ping pong ball out of a leaky pipe using only water.
What You Need
- For each team:
- A pipe drilled with several holes and with one end closed off. You can obtain this from plumbing shops or ask the shop employees to make it specifically for you.
- A ping pong ball
- A bucket
- A few cups depending on the size of the pipe and the team
- Outdoor space where people can move around easily and make things wet
- Access to water
- A prize
- Divide the delegates into several groups. Keep the group sizes between 6 and 8 delegates.
- Ask delegates to hold the pipe vertically with the closed off end at the bottom.
- Ask them to drop the ping pong ball into the pipe. It will rest at the bottom.
- Explain that their objective is to take the ping pong ball out. The team that does this first wins. They must work as a team and use water to get the ping pong out.
- Ask them to place a bucket of water about 10m away.
- Distribute the cups to the teams.
- They must follow these rules:
- You cannot tip or invert the pipe.
- You must collect the ping pong ball from the top of the pipe.
- The pipe and the bucket should remain where they are.
- You must use the cups to transport water from the bucket to the pipe.
- You cannot exchange water with other teams.
- You cannot sabotage other teams.
- Allocate a maximum of 20 minutes for this exercise.
- Stop the exercise when the first team finishes. Declare the winner and give out a prize.
- Follow with a discussion.
Explaining the Exercise: 10 minutes
Activity: 20 minutes
Group Feedback: 10 minutes
Encourage the teams to discuss the following:
- What was essential to get right in this exercise?
- Did you plan anything at the beginning?
- Did you decide on leadership and its role?
- How did you manage teamwork and resources?
- What did you think of the level of communication within your team?
- Did you have to update your plan as you went through the exercise? Was this easily communicated and accepted, or did it lead to confusion and lack of commitment?
- Was everyone in the team included and their opinions respected?
- Why the winning team succeeded? What were they good at?
- If you go through this exercise again, what would you do differently?
To make the exercise more challenging:
- Allocate two pipes per team
- Reduce the number of cups
- Limit the amount of water available in the bucket
- Place obstacles in the way between the bucket and the pipe
- Declare that the delegates cannot talk during the exercise and all communication must be carried out nonverbally.
- Hinder some members of the team in some way. For example, wrap both ankles of a person to prevent movement. Blindfold a person to prevent seeing. Wrap a left ankle of one person to the right ankle of another so that they must move together.