Equilateral Triangles Collaboration

Equilateral Triangles Collaboration is an excellent conference icebreaker that highlights how large self-organizing groups can successfully collaborate without the need for stringent rules, regulations and leadership.

Equilateral Triangles Exercise

You can download a FREE Powerpoint or PDF of this tool at the bottom of this page

Objectives

  • To demonstrate how human beings can collaborate when solving relatively complicated tasks without a set of rules or a leader.

When Would You Use It?

  • As an icebreaker in a workshop or conference that has ‘collaboration’ as a key theme.

Are There Any Rules?

  • No talking allowed.
  • Once the Facilitator has said ‘go’ people can move wherever they like in the room.
  • Preferably this should be done in an open space environment (but tables, chairs and obstacles can be brought into the analogy).

Resources Required

  • A facilitator.
  • Large open space (no tables & chairs).
  • A willing group of more than 20 people.
  • 30 minutes.
  • Stopwatch.

Roles & Responsibilities

Facilitator

  • Manage process and activities.
  • Lead plenary discussion to uncover lessons learned.

Participants

  • Actively engage in the activity and plenary discussion.
Harold Jarche Triangles

Picture of me running this activity live

Process

  • The Facilitator introduces the icebreaker as a short workshop where we’ll quickly see how collaborative we can be in a relatively short amount of time.
  • The Facilitator asks the Participants to spread themselves out randomly around the room.
  • The Facilitator then asks the Participants to, without talking, pick two other people in the room and keep them in their heads.
  • The Facilitator then explains that the goal for each person is to now form an equilateral triangle between themselves and the two people they have chosen – no other rules apply other than not being able to talk (i.e. the Participants can put their arms out and point at the two people they’re trying to triangulate on).
  • The Facilitator then says go and starts the stopwatch.
  • Once the room has stopped moving the Facilitator stops the stopwatch and announces to the room how long the task took (normally about 1 minute).
  • The Facilitator then leads a discussion using questions like:
    • What are your thoughts having seen how quick that was to do?
    • How long would the same task have taken if I’d made one person responsible for putting you all in triangles?
    • What do you think this teaches us about self-organizing groups?
    • Is it important for us to always have someone in charge and how far should rules go in dictating how we collaborate?

Key learning

  • There are rules to this exercise, but they are simple. The rule is to make a triangle, which everyone follows. Therefore, this works when 1) rules (more like principles) are simple and understood by all and 2) everyone tries to adhere to these principles.

Secret Sauce

  • A variation on the tool (which works well for those who don’t know what an equilateral triangle is) is to ask each person to identify two people in their head and try and put themselves between those two people equal distance from each one.
  • If the workshop or conference raises questions about the potential of collaboration later then you can always come back to the results of this icebreaker as proof that self-organizing groups are successful.

Free Download Files

About the Author

Harold provides pragmatic advice and guidance on connected leadership, social learning, personal knowledge mastery, and workplace collaboration at Jarche Consulting.

Leave a Reply 14 comments

celeste Reply

I like it! Facilitating workshops on Collaboration , I will use it.

Thank you for sharing!

jean Reply

Thanks!

faris khalid Reply

this is a fun icebreaker. May try incorporating it with Walk Abouts – where the participants mill around the room and the facilitator calls our various situations/styles/ways to greet each other.

Roger Porthouse Reply

There’s another variation on this theme… Get them to complete the triangle exercise and lead the discussion whilst everyone remains standing in their place. Then take just one or two people and ask them to move. Tell the rest of the group that the game is still running and they should respond if their triangle gets out of shape.
You suddenly find a lot, if not all, of the room is moving again – all because of the actions of one or two people.
This speaks to the often hidden complexities of teams in large organisations.
Reflect on how your movements might affect others across the organisation.

    Nick Martin Reply

    That is a brilliant build Roger. I love the extra message. And then you have another plenary discussion once the room has stopped moving again?

François Lavallée Reply

Hallo
I have recently tried a variation on this. I posted it on two blog posts under http://aliterconcept.com/blogue/interactions-magiques-dans-lorganisation-intelligente/ and the end two days later.
In French. but Google translate is getting better my the minute….

Kim Ennis Reply

Hi there, I like the sound of this! But can someone clarify… I’m trying to picture running this exercise. Without talking, does the group eventually clue in and form one large equilateral triangle, after trying to form a number of small 3 person ones? Thanks Kim

    Nick Martin Reply

    Hi Kim … thanks for your question … just in case you didn’t get a notification Harold has answered your question below 🙂

Harold Jarche Reply

The exercise ends when all 3-person groups have created their triangles. Creating one triangle would be possible if they clumped into three groups, but I have never seen it happen.

Vinita Grewal Reply

It will work in my safe home with participants of the program.

Leave a Reply: