This week in the multi family therapy group I challenged families to work together in a race against other families to complete the Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower Challenge. The challenge is based on TED talk by Tom Wujec “Build A Tower, Build A Team” which has been viewed over 4 million times.
Build A Tower- Build A Family
The challenge is for everyone, from CEOs to infants to high school graduates: all are given 20 pieces of dry spaghetti, a meter or so tape and string, one marshmallow, and 18 minutes to build the tallest, free standing tower they can.
This team building exercise is by no means new, so I make things more challenging to those who have done it before, and I don't allow the families to talk for the first four minutes. Frustration, hilarity and a lot of hard work and thinking go on for the next 18 minutes. More importantly as a family therapist, family dynamics inevitably come to play out.
At the end of the 18 mins declare the winner by measuring the distance from the ground to the marshmallow - the team with the highest marshmallow wins the grand prize of... the remaining marshmallows.
Many things occur during the game, communication, creativity, frustration and some laughter. A lot of excitement happens in the last few seconds of the game when most teams start to place the marshmallow on their towers. Without fail, most teams don't consider the relative weight of the marshmallow which can make or break a spaghetti tower.
Teaching with Metaphor in Family Therapy / Multifamily Group
The exercise is an incredible metaphor for family life. And once the winner is declared, we discuss the symbolism as a group before we move into the process section of the multi- family therapy group. A wealth of talking points is brought up by this exercise and the encouragement of some reflective thinking:
1. The Roles We Play
During the exercise, what did you notice about your family and team mates?
Who was in charge?
Who gave up? Who got bored?
Who under performed?
Who over performed?
Is this what it's like in your family in other areas? What would you change?
2. The Structure
Take a look at your tower, and consider it a metaphor for your family, are you as a family building each other up to stand strong and independent? Are there flaws and weaknesses we need to address?
3. The Unknown
Most teams place the marshmallow on the top of their structure in the final seconds of the race, without realizing how heavy it is. It's the unknown factor in the game, or, the thing that comes along in life when you least expect it, that topples things over.
What's the 'unknown' in your family? What does our family not take into consideration until the last minute?
How do we need to improve in family therapy to gain more structure and integrity.
Oliver Drakeford is a family therapist in los angeles and beverly hills. He specializes in group therapy, family therapy and individual adult.