Teamwork Exercise: Sort the Numbered Plates

Teamwork Exercise: Sort the Numbered Plates


In this team building exercise, delegates learn to work together to complete a seemingly simple task. However, teams can always get better results if they plan ahead, assign leaders, coordinate their activities and generally think of ways to optimise their workflow. You can teach about many teamwork skills in the context of this exercise.


Sort a number of paper plates in the correct numerical order as quickly as you can.

What You Need

  • 49 paper plates for each group of 5. You need to number each set from 1 to 49.
  • An empty area so you can lay all sets of plates down on the floor in a grid.
  • A table


Preparation Stage:

  • Divide the delegates to teams of 5.
  • Give each team a set of paper plates that are numbered from 1 to 49.
  • Ask each team to place their set in a grid of 7 by 7 paper plates on the floor. The numbers must be visible. The paper plates must be placed as randomly as possible.
  • Allocate enough space between each grid so each team can comfortably work on their own set without affecting others.

Sorting Stage:

  • Explain that each team’s objective is to pick up the plates in the right order from 1 to 49, stack them and then place them on the table nearby.
  • The rules:
    • The team can work together in parallel, though each plate should be picked up one at a time and must be picked up in the right order.
    • Once collected, they must place the ordered set of plates on the designated area on the table. The plate number 1 should be at the bottom and plate 49 at the top.
    • The group that finishes first wins the task.
  • Now ask each team to go to a grid that was not placed on the floor by them. This minimises any chance of cheating.
  • Each team now has 3 minutes to brainstorm, strategies and coordinate their activities.
  • Start the exercise on your mark.
  • Time their activity so each team’s performance can be compared to others. All teams must complete their tasks.
  • Bring back everyone together and reveal the results. Declare the winner.
  • Follow with a discussion.


Explaining the Exercise: 5 minutes

Activity: 10 min preparation + 3 min strategy + 10 min activity = 23 minutes

Group Feedback: 10 minutes


How well did you perform in this exercise? What was the secret to the success of the winning team? How well did you coordinate your activities? Did you assign a leader? Did you look for patterns or shortcuts to increase your efficiency? How well did you utilise every member’s available time?


There are many ways to change this exercise and to make it more challenging. Here are some examples:

  • Number of plates. Use a larger set of plates, for example from 1 to 100.
  • Grid’s shape. The shape of the grid doesn’t have to be a square. It can be a rectangle, a circle or a random shape.
  • Filtered set. Ask teams to only pick a subset of plates based on a given rule. For example, they must pick only even-numbered plates.
  • Change the order. You can ask them to pick up plates base on a given order. For example, pick up plates from 30 to 40, then 49 to 41, then 30 to 1.

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