Sweet Exercise to Teach Empowerment and Self-Organization

I taught a one day agile course to a group of IS leaders. I wanted to come up with an exercise that illustrated that to be efficient, you have to reduce hand-offs, allow teams to self-organize, and leaders must be servants.

So, with my wife, we came up with “Project Pinwheel”. Below is how it works.
  • Straws
  • Paper fasteners
  • Paper copies of the pinwheel pattern to cut out
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Paper punch
  • Shoe-box size plastic containers (to hold the supplies at each table)
This is the process that I used. Feel free to change it to suite your needs.
At each table, there were 5-6 students. Each plastic shoe-box contained enough supplies for 20 pinwheels (would need less most likely). Also, make sure that you make samples of what the pinwheels are supposed to look like for each group.
There are two rounds. Below are the slides I showed to the class for each round.

Round 1

Your job is to create as many pinwheels as you can in 5 minutes. Take a minute, and assign the following roles at each table:

  • Cutter – owns the scissors and completes the cutting
  • Decorator/Designer – owns the markers and creates the design for the pinwheel
  • Hole Puncher & Paper Fastener – owns the hole puncher and the paper fasteners
  • Folder – does any necessary manipulation or folding of the paper during the creation of the pinwheel
  • Tester – tests the pinwheel when it has been finished. Verify that it has been decorated and that it at least moves a little when someone blows.
  • Manager – responsible for telling each team member what to do. The manager will communicate the tasks to the team members. The team members are not allowed to see the instructions.
  • At your table there is a box. Each box contains the instructions and the supplies.
  • No one is allowed to step outside their role.
  • The manager is the only one that can speak, by instructing the team members. Each team member is only allowed to speak to the manager.
  • If the pinwheel fails testing, the tester must hand the pinwheel back to who they think caused the “bug”.

At this point, the teams DO NOT see the sample. They don’t even know it exists.

Now, start the timer. After 5 minutes, they will likely create 0 pinwheels.
Round 2
[Slide for round 2]
  • Manager, you are now a servant leader. Please do whatever it takes to help the team.
  • Team members are allowed to help others out.
  • You can cross role boundaries.
  • Everyone can read the instructions. You can use the instructions as a guideline, but you can now be creative in how you create the pinwheels.
  • First, take 2 minutes to discuss how you will work together to be more efficient. Then, you will have 5 minutes to create as many pinwheels as possible.
Here, the team goes through a time-boxed planning session of 2 minutes to figure out how to best make the pinwheels before the 5 minute pin-wheel making session. Oh, I also pull out the sample pinwheel, so the team can have a collective understanding of what the “vision” is.
During my first session, each team made between 5-10 pinwheels. The ones who made less had issues with the “servant leader” thing, which made for a great discussion afterwords.
This is a bit of a pain in the butt to set up, but in the end, it is WELL worth it, and now I have the supplies for many classes to come!
Below is the instruction sheet that each team used.
Project Pinwheel Instructions
  1. Cut-out the pinwheel on the solid lines only.
  2. Decorate both sides of the paper pinwheel.

  3. Cut the dotted lines from the four corners to the center circle. Try not to cut into the center circle.
  4. Use the hole punch to poke a hole through the four tiny dark circles. Use the hole punch to poke a hole through the straw about 1/2 inch from the top.

  5. Hole punch the middle of the center circle on the paper pinwheel where the dotted lines converge.

  6. Make the holes on the four points meet at the center circle.

  7. Push the ends of the paper fastener through the holes on the pinwheel. Then push the fastener through the center circle.

  8. Place the straw on the back side of your pinwheel and push the ends of the fastener through the hole in the straw. Open-up the fastener by flattening the ends in opposite directions.

  9. Test the pinwheel to ensure it is functional. If the pinwheel is not functional, determine which step you need to send it back to in order to gain functionality. Repeat testing again until pinwheel is “complete”.

Only decorated, functional pinwheels that can at least minimally move when blown can be counted as “complete”.

Below is the image to cut-out to make the pin-wheel.  You can also find the image just by searching for “pinwheel pattern” on google.