What I learned from Tinker toys

The Tinker toy model we were to recreate.

The Tinker toy model we were to recreate.

My team's attempt at matching the Tinker toy model.

My team’s attempt at matching the Tinker toy model.

I bet you are wondering why I was playing with Tinker toys last weekend.

I am mentoring a 6th grader through the confirmation process at my church, and we had a retreat last weekend for all the kids and their covenant partners. Of course there were team building exercises and games to get to know each other better.

One of the games involved Tinker toys.

We divided into teams of 6 adults and students, and each team was given a bag of assorted Tinker toys. We designated one team member to “view” a model that was already built, and then he or she described it to our “runner,” who then described it to the builders.

Our goal was to build a model that matched as closely as possible. The describer had 5 “views” of the model, and therefore 5 attempts to tell the runner what to build. Surprisingly, each of the teams ended up with one small part of the model pretty close, but not the whole thing.

While this seemed like just a game, it actually taught us a lot about teamwork and communication within a team. Here’s what I took away:

  • Use your strengths – the describer needed to be an observant person, attentive to details, and a good communicator. The runner needed to be able to take in information and share it with the rest of the group accurately. It is critical that you match your team members to their strength areas to be most effective as a team.
  • Start small – don’t try to accomplish everything at once. The builders would have been overwhelmed if the whole model had been described all at once. We started with one end of it and just ran out of time to finish the entire thing. Start at the beginning of the project or task and work your way logically from point to point.
  • Be clear – the describer and runner had to be very specific in what they told us about the model, including colors, directions and special attributes (like fins or “bendy” things). Clarity is key in communications with teams so that everyone is on the same page, and working toward the same goal.
  • Listen closely – the runner had to listen closely to the describer, and the builders had to listen closely to the runner. Listening is a key part of teamwork because each person must be respected for what they have to say and not be interrupted or disregarded.
  • Work together – disaster would have resulted had each builder worked on their own Tinker toy model! For a team to be most effective, all the members need to be working together toward a common goal.
  • Be flexible – we discovered on the second round of descriptions that we were on the wrong track, so we quickly regrouped and changed our model. The team needs to be constantly evaluating progress and willing to change directions if necessary.
  • Celebrate your successes – we didn’t win, but we all celebrated what we did accomplish. Apparently, our teams this year came closer to matching the model than in the last several years – so that’s something to cheer about!

I admit that I went into this game with apprehensions, but ended up enjoying it more than the others that we played. Love it when I learn valuable lessons from unexpected places!

What other leadership lessons have you learned from games?

2 thoughts on “What I learned from Tinker toys

  1. I loved playing with Lincoln logs!

    I also loved playing with blocks and LEGO blocks. These toys helped me learn that it’s important to build on a solid foundation or base. As leaders, we need to make sure our foundation is strong.

    • Ooohh, another good point. Love how something so seemingly mindless can teach such important lessons.

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