Team building is a powerful learning device that has often been neglected in formal education because when we were students many of us knew cooperation only as cheating. Joint problem solving requires legitimate giving and receiving of help. We know now that any effective team must have a strong foundation of soft skills to succeed.

It takes only about 45 minutes to identify these skills. Their commonality is made up of four fundamentals which all groups experience during the activity called C Squares ®.
  1. Fun
  2. Communication
  3. Cooperation
  4. Trust


Before you begin prepare a set of squares and instructions for each of five participants. A set consists of five (boxes) containing pieces of colored poly-foam made into patterns that will form five 6” by 6” squares, as shown in this graphic. Many individual combinations are possible but only one succeeds.


Divide players into groups of five and seat each group at a table equipped with a set of five (boxes), five sets of participant instructions and one Observer Instruction Sheet. Ask that the (boxes) be opened only on signal. Provide up to 20 minutes for groups to complete the puzzle. Your goal is for everyone at the table to have a completed 6 inch square. Begin the exercise by asking what cooperation means. List on the board the behaviors required in cooperation. For example: Everyone has to understand the problem. Everyone needs to believe that he can help. Instructions have to be clear. Everyone needs to think of the other person as well as himself. Describe the experiment as a puzzle that requires cooperation. Read the instructions aloud, point out that each table has reference copies of them and then give the signal to open the boxes. The instructions are as follows: Each person should have (a box) containing pieces for forming squares. At the signal, the task of the group is to form five squares and all the squares are of the same size.

  • You may give pieces to someone at your table but you may not ask for pieces or signal that you want one.
  • No member may speak.
  • No member may ask for a piece or in any way signal that he wants one.
  • Members may give pieces to others.

Ssshhh! No talking allowed. Having divided yourselves into groups of five I'll now hand each person a gift box with pieces of C Squares ® in them — but not all the right pieces. The right pieces are scattered throughout your group, so you'll need to share, without talking, without signaling, and without reaching out for the pieces you need. You can only take pieces group members voluntarily offer you. Remember, the first person finished is not the winner — no one wins until everyone wins. Then we'll debrief by discussing cooperation and competition in the game, in society, in history, and among the nations of the world.

Is our first instinct to cooperate or compete? What are the different outcomes of competition and cooperation? What does it feel like to give something away in order to achieve a group goal? These are the questions you will explore in this popular simulation. Easy to manage, yet powerful in impact, you will enjoy using this mind-mapping tool.


When all or most of the groups have finished, call time and discuss the experience. In summarizing, the teacher may wish to review behaviors listed at the beginning. S/he may also want to ask whether the game relates to the way the class works from day to day. Ask such questions as:
  • How did you feel when someone held a piece and did not see the solution?
  • What was your reaction when someone finished her/his square and then sat back without seeing whether her/his solution prevented others from solving the problem?
  • What were your feelings if you finished your square and then began to realize that you would have to break it up and give away a piece?
  • How did you feel about the person who was slow at seeing the solution?
  • If you were that person, how did you feel?
  • Was there a climate that helped or hindered?
  • Other observations, comments, learning?

Adapted from The Handbook of Staff Development and Human Relations Training: Materials For Use in Africa by D. Nyles, J.P. Mitchell and A. Stout © 2003 Page 1/1