Have you heard of the marshmallow challenge? No, not “how many marshmallows can you fit in your mouth at once?” (not recommended, safety hazard) but “in eighteen minutes, with limited materials, what’s the tallest structure you can build?”
Earlier this year some of the Stellar team attended a three-day workshop with Agile Leadership coach Mike Richardson. He had many real-life applications of agility, but the marshmallow challenge was the example that really resonated with me.
Teams are given some dry spaghetti, some string, some tape, and a single marshmallow. They have eighteen minutes to build a structure – the tallest possible – with the marshmallow sitting at the top.
Spoiler alert, but the group that’s best at this turn out to be kindergartners. They don’t overthink it, they don’t have in-fights about who gets to be the boss and who gets stuck taking notes, they don’t sketch out schematics. They just get stuck into playing and testing and learning as they go. Plus, there’s the other vital part – they start with the marshmallow. They take the most important element and they work backwards. They build prototypes, they learn, and when the time is up, there’s no panic to balance a marshmallow on a barely stable structure.
To me, this is the perfect description of agile practices, and not just because I’m a massive marshmallow fan. If the end result is having a marshmallow held aloft, don’t wait until the last second to scramble for it and hope it works.
Stellar’s been having twice-yearly “huddles” for years, and it’s one way I feel like this company really lives & breathes agility. We carve out space and time to get on the same page, make sure we’re on the right path to achieve our 2020 vision, and then return to work to hit the ground running. Essentially, we stop to focus on our marshmallow.
This year for our ‘half-time huddle’ we went to Etihad Stadium, where our incredible Events Manager had managed to get the Stellar logo up on the score board. I gotta tell you, as a Marketing Manager, this was definitely a highlight.
Each table had a mix of corporate staff from across Australia, the Philippines, and the USA. We all kept our phones on silent so we could concentrate on the six months that have been – and the six months ahead. We heard from Operations about their successes and their struggles, we heard about the new technology about to be launched through the Projects & IT teams, and we had a half-day session with our Strategy Manager Jonathon Little on understanding new ways of looking at mindsets and disruption. We even invited clients in for some presentations, opening up the floor to frank questions about how we can all work better together.
All of it was exhausting and educational and inspiring. But for me, my favourite activity was held on Wednesday night. Jenny Angus from our Operations team led us in an exercise of really exploring our Open Book Management culture and what it means to each of us, inviting artist Sarah Firth to join us. Tears were shed, nibbles were had, and Sarah somehow managed to draw and write everything down without skipping a beat or ever asking us to repeat ourselves.
The finished piece is so great – anything that combines lego, greenhouses and burgers has my vote – and I can’t wait to see it on display in our Melbourne office.
(Click to open the full image)