Activities to demo ineffective silo'd communication


Call to the Community!

@jasonlittle on twitter was recently asking for activities on how to show the ineffectiveness of silo’d communication. I wanted to share one I’ve used, and see if others have good ideas we can share.

This activity is called “Organizational Origami”. Here’s how it works…

  1. Pick a origami figure you want to make. I have done the sailboat, and the dollar ring - but you could use almost anything. I’d recommend picking something of medium or difficult complexity. And always canvas your audience for anyone who is origami expert (yes, I did run into one, and she almost disproved the activity by herself).

  2. Make 2 copies of the origami shape instructions. 12 to 15 steps is a perfect amount, but feel free to use a more complicated one. Do not share the final product. Just the steps to build.

  3. Cut the sheet so that each step is its own paper. It will look like you have lots of larger sized fortune cookie, fortunes.

  4. Split your class or audience:
    ** I like to create one team that is about 6 folks (aka the agile team), and put everyone else on the silo’d team.

  5. The smaller agile team is encouraged to collaborate. They get all the instructions at once (not in order).

  6. The remaining folks are separated, told not to talk to each other - and the person with step #1 is put into the hallway. That person performs step #1, and when finished, lets the facilitator know. The person with step #2 is invited to the hallway. Only person #1 and #2 are allowed to talk. When that step is complete, person #1 is dismissed, person #2 stays in the hallway, and person #3 is invited back out. Continue this until the team works through all the steps.

  7. Around step #6, mass chaos ensues. No one is clear on what they are building. No one has a complete picture of the vision. No one even knows how many steps there are, nor has any idea if they are doing it right, or doing it wrong. (Around this time the agile team, or non-silo’d team, or team that collaborates - finishes, and takes a coffee break).

  8. The silo’d team is allowed to bring other people back out if they need to. They do. But they are still only allowed to talk to people who have either the step before or after them. They never actually finish. End their misery.

  9. Only ONCE, did the silo team ever finish the exercise (thanks to that origami expert). Usually what happens, is that the team presents some smashed up version that looks like a crumpled up piece of paper. Everyone laughs. People observe it would be easier to “have a meeting”

To combat that, I usually offer another origami. This time, have your meeting, but to simulate meeting times, I give them 1 min to complete the origami. I also ask people with important steps to leave the meeting to run to another one. Other people arrive late. Chaos ensues. More crumpled papers are submitted.

There are dozens of variations you can add to this.

  • Instead of allowing f2f communication, put people back-to-back, and have them describe the steps. Its hilarious. And chaos ensues at step 2.

  • Create different stations people have to go to, instead of all going to the hallway. Chaos ensues.

  • Create a validation step that represents management, every 3 steps. Show management what the origami should look like, and let them tell everyone its not correct. Management often does not offer to help either (another fun twist). More chaos.

I have done this game ~20 times, with different contexts, but every time its a blast.

What else do you guys use? Any other games we can share?


I have used this activity a couple times with a class divided into teams.
I have several phrases about communications, typically two sentences. A team leaves the room. The first person returns. I read the phrase two times to them. The next person enters the room. The first person tells the second the same phrase twice. This continues until all team members are in the room. The last person tells me the phrase. This is done in front of the other teams. Then I give the original phrase which typically is nothing like the last phrase. The idea is to show requirements given to a BA then from BA to design/architect then to dev and finally tester does not work. If all team members are part of the collaboration from the beginning then there is no need for one person to pass the information “over the wall” to the next. Seems to be very eye opening.


I’ve used the Empathy Puzzle from Twenty One Toys within teams to demo ineffective communication, and I think it could easily be adapted for silo’d.