Interesting insights about when successful collaboration happens

This blog shares a 6 minute TED talk by Tom Wujec who shares some fascinating insights about collaboration.

He shares results of an activity called ‘The Marshmallow Challenge’ which has been run hundreds of times with different groups of people – for the purposes of exploring what works – and doesn’t – when people collaborate.

Intriguing results:

  • the people who performed the worst – recent graduates of business schools!
  • the people who performed the best – recent graduates of kindergarten!


  1. the kids don’t ‘jockey’ for power
  2. business school graduates are trained to find the ‘right plan’, spend ages developing it, then leave little time to execute it

So what has he learned?

Success happens when people develop a plan for a prototype – build it – seek some feedback and then refine things within the time frame so they can do that again. An iterative process helps groups to learn quicker about what works and what doesn’t for the task itself, and also helps them to learn what works and what doesn’t with the group of people that are working together.

He has found that groups that have people with strong facilitation skills and specialist skills tend to perform the best.  And it is important to take the pressure of ‘high stakes’ away. On occasions where there was a huge reward for success, all the teams failed.

An activity like the ‘marshmallow challenge’ helps uncover hidden assumptions, and shows groups how they need to “apply the very best of thinking, feeling and doing” to have success. “A small proto-type experience can take an ‘oh-oh’ moment to a ‘ta-da’ moment” and help teams learn when successful collaboration happens. They can then start their next task – the ‘real’ business challenge – and hit the ground running with the recipe for collaborative success.

Maybe your team could try this fun activity to learn more about how they can collaborate better – or try a ‘pilot’ where they can experience the benefits of iteration – before they tackle their next ‘wicked problem’.

If you want to learn more about this after watching the video, click ‘The Marshmallow Challenge’.