The Marshmallow Challenge - Unveiling Lessons in Teamwork, Creativity, and Innovation

May 30, 2023

In the realm of team-building exercises, the Marshmallow Challenge has emerged as a popular activity that offers valuable lessons on teamwork, creativity, and innovation. This seemingly simple exercise, which involves building the tallest structure using a limited set of materials, has been embraced by individuals ranging from kindergarten students to top-level managers in leading companies worldwide. By examining the outcomes of this challenge, we can gain insights into the strategies employed by different groups and extract valuable takeaways for our own collaborative endeavors.

The Rules of the Marshmallow Challenge:

Within a time frame of just 18 minutes, each group is tasked with constructing a tower using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and, most notably, one marshmallow. The objective is to design and build a structure that reaches the greatest possible height, with the marshmallow securely positioned on top.

Reflection on Lessons Learned:

One noteworthy source of insight is the TED Talk titled "Build a Tower, Build a Team." The observations made during the Marshmallow Challenge shed light on both successful and unsuccessful team performances, revealing intriguing patterns and behaviors.

Poor Performers: Business School Graduates

Curiously, business school graduates often struggle to achieve favorable results in the Marshmallow Challenge. These teams tend to invest a significant amount of time in devising a single, elaborate plan. Unfortunately, this approach consumes most of their allotted time, leaving them with little opportunity for execution. Consequently, rushed attempts to execute their plan lead to structural collapses and unsatisfactory outcomes.

Successful Performers: Kindergarten Students

In contrast, kindergarten students consistently demonstrate remarkable skills in tackling the Marshmallow Challenge. These young learners embody an instinctive and effective approach to problem-solving. Instead of spending excessive time on planning, they opt for an iterative process of building and refining their structure. Through multiple attempts, many of which result in collapse, they gain valuable insights into the problem at hand and continuously improve their solutions.

Key Lessons to Be Learned:

The Marshmallow Challenge serves as a powerful tool for highlighting important lessons in prototyping and iterative design. By analyzing the outcomes of this exercise, several key takeaways emerge:

Weighty Assumptions: The Marshmallow Surprise

The Marshmallow Challenge reveals the deceptive weight of the marshmallow, which is often underestimated. Teams that wait until the last minute to place the marshmallow on top, assuming it to be lightweight, frequently witness their structures collapse. This unexpected obstacle underscores the existence of false assumptions in every project, lurking until the final moments. It reminds us to remain vigilant, continually questioning our assumptions and considering potential hidden challenges.

Embracing Iterative Design:

The success of kindergarten students in the Marshmallow Challenge highlights the power of iterative design. By embracing a mindset of experimentation and learning from failures, they continuously refine their approach. Startups, too, employ this methodology to swiftly enter the market. They identify the minimum viable product (MVP), which consists of the essential functionalities of their envisioned final product. Through iterative design, they gather feedback, iterate, and gradually enhance their offering.


The Marshmallow Challenge has emerged as a popular team-building exercise that transcends age and professional boundaries. Its simplicity belies the valuable lessons it imparts about teamwork, creativity, and innovation. From the experiences of both business school graduates and kindergarten students, we learn the importance of embracing an iterative design process, questioning assumptions, and continuously refining our approach. By incorporating these insights into our collaborative endeavors, we can foster a culture of innovation and achieve remarkable results as a team.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn