A great activity for everyone

Tower of Cards

Take Your Team-Building to New Heights with Tower of Cards!

Tower of Cards
By Jon Zajac

What is Tower of Cards?

The Tower of Cards icebreaker activity is an engaging and dynamic exercise that promotes collaboration, problem-solving, and communication within a group. Its primary objective is to build the tallest possible tower using only playing cards (and optionally scissors) within a set time limit. This activity not only fosters fun but encourages strategic thinking, innovation, and effective role distribution among team members.

As an engaging facilitator, I would begin by dividing participants into small teams and providing them with the necessary materials: a deck of playing cards, a pair of scissors (if allowed), a tape measure, and a timer. After explaining the purpose of the exercise, I would allow a few minutes for strategic planning without touching the cards, encouraging teams to designate roles and brainstorm construction techniques.

During the construction phase, teams must adhere to certain rules, such as using only the provided materials, not leaning on external objects for support, and creating a freestanding tower by the end of the allocated time. The winning criterion is simple: the tallest tower that can stand on its own for at least 10 seconds post-construction phase.

The Tower of Cards icebreaker offers invaluable insights into teamwork dynamics, leadership styles, strategy evolution, adaptability, and cooperation under constraints. Wrapping up the activity, I would lead a debrief session where teams discuss challenges faced, individual roles, and strategies that led to success or failure, emphasizing the learning process and reinforcing key takeaways.

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Rules for Tower of Cards

  1. Each team must build the tallest possible tower using only a standard deck of playing cards and optionally, a pair of scissors.
  2. Teams are divided into small groups of 3-5 people to promote interaction and ensure that everyone has a role.
  3. During the planning time (3-5 minutes), team members discuss strategies without touching the cards, allocating roles, and brainstorming construction techniques.
  4. The construction phase lasts for 15-30 minutes, depending on the desired complexity level.
  5. Only the provided materials can be used for building the tower.
  6. No external support or adhesive from sources other than the provided scissors are allowed.
  7. If scissors are provided, cards can be cut or altered but not destroyed or rendered unusable.
  8. The tower must be freestanding by the end of the allocated construction time.
  9. The tallest tower that can stand on its own for at least 10 seconds post-construction phase is considered the winner.
  10. Teams must measure and check each tower’s stability at the end of the construction phase.
  11. Discuss challenges, roles, strategies, and lessons learned during the debrief session after measuring the towers.

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Materials needed for Tower of Cards

  • Standard deck of 52 playing cards per team: These will be used to build the towers. Make sure to avoid decks with damaged or bent cards as they can interfere with the structures’ integrity.
  • One pair of scissors per team (optional): This optional material allows teams to cut or alter the cards, adding another layer of complexity to the activity.
  • Tape measure: This tool is necessary for measuring the completed towers accurately and ensuring fairness during the judgment phase.
  • Timer: A timer will help track the duration of the construction phase and create a sense of urgency among the teams.

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Setting up for Tower of Cards

To set up for the Tower of Cards icebreaker activity, follow these steps:

  1. Select a Suitable Location: Choose a spacious area with enough tables or flat surfaces to accommodate all teams comfortably during both the planning and construction phases. Make sure there is adequate room around each team’s workspace to prevent accidental collisions or disruptions between groups.
  2. Prepare Tables or Flat Surfaces: Cover the tables with a protective layer such as newspaper, craft paper, or tablecloths to minimize damage from potential spills or marks during the activity. This setup also facilitates easy cleanup after the event.
  3. Divide Participants into Teams: Based on the number of participants, create small teams of about 3-5 people. Assign each team a unique color, symbol, or number to help differentiate their construction areas and materials.
  4. Set Up Team Workspaces: At each designated workspace, place a stack of cards (one standard deck per team) and a pair of scissors (optional). Position the tape measure within reach of the facilitator or assistant to ensure quick and fair measurement once the construction phase ends.
  5. Prepare Timer: Set up a visible timer that can be easily monitored by both the facilitator and participants. This will help maintain consistency in time management across all teams during the planning and construction phases.
  6. Position Chairs or Seating: Arrange chairs around each table or workspace to ensure that all team members have a comfortable seating arrangement during the planning phase. Encourage participants to stand and move freely during the construction phase to promote active engagement in the building process.
  7. Prepare Debriefing Area: Designate a separate space for the debriefing session, where teams can gather after the construction phase to share their experiences, challenges, and insights gained throughout the Tower of Cards activity. This area should be quiet enough to facilitate focused group discussions and reflections.

By following these setup steps, you will create an engaging and efficient environment for the Tower of Cards icebreaker activity, ensuring a positive experience for all participants while promoting teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills.

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How to play Tower of Cards

1. Divide Participants into Teams: Divide the participants into small groups of about 3-5 people to encourage interaction and ensure everyone has a role in building the tower.

2. Provide Materials: Give each team one standard deck of 52 playing cards, one pair of scissors (optional), a tape measure, and a timer.

3. Explain the Purpose: Briefly explain that the objective is to build the tallest freestanding tower using only the provided materials within the allocated time.

4. Allow Planning Time: Give teams 3-5 minutes to discuss strategies, roles, and construction techniques without touching the cards. Encourage them to designate roles like builder, strategist, card-folder, or timer watcher.

5. Start the Construction Phase: Set a time limit (15-30 minutes) for building the tower. During this phase, teams can only use the materials provided, and no external support is allowed. If scissors are provided, cards can be cut but not destroyed or rendered unusable.

6. Establish Evaluation Criteria: Before starting, clarify that the tallest tower that stands on its own for at least 10 seconds after construction wins.

7. Measure Towers and Announce Winners: At the end of the allocated time, check each tower’s stability and measure using a tape measure. The tower must remain standing during measurement to qualify. Announce the winner based on the tallest freestanding structure.

8. Facilitate Debrief: Gather all participants and encourage teams to discuss challenges faced, roles played by individuals, and what strategies led to success or failure. This reflection phase is essential for learning about teamwork dynamics, leadership styles, innovation processes, adaptability, and cooperation under constraints.

Potential Variations:

  • Material Variation: Incorporate other items such as rubber bands, paper clips, or sturdier elements like sticks or straws to diversify required construction strategies and techniques.

  • Communication Challenge: Add complexity by imposing rules on communication (e.g., no talking or only non-verbal communication allowed) to stress the importance of non-verbal teamwork skills.

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Benefits of Tower of Cards

  • Fosters Collaboration: By working together to build the tallest tower possible, team members learn to collaborate effectively, understand each other’s strengths, and contribute towards a common goal.
  • Encourages Strategic Thinking: The Tower of Cards activity prompts participants to think strategically about how they can best use their resources to create a stable structure that stands out from the competition.
  • Promotes Problem-Solving Skills: Team members need to troubleshoot issues as they arise during construction, which helps improve problem-solving skills and encourages innovative thinking.
  • Boosts Communication and Coordination: Clear communication and coordination are essential for success in this activity, enabling team members to practice active listening, clear expression of ideas, and effective task management.
  • Develops Leadership Skills: By observing how different individuals step up as leaders during various stages of the activity, participants can identify potential leadership qualities within themselves and others, fostering personal growth and self-awareness.
  • Enhances Time Management Awareness: With a limited timeframe to construct their towers, teams must prioritize tasks, allocate resources wisely, and work efficiently under pressure – all valuable skills in many professional settings.
  • Increases Adaptability and Resilience: As plans may not always go as expected, this activity encourages participants to be flexible, learn from setbacks, and persevere until they achieve their goal, building resilience and adaptability.

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Skills built with Tower of Cards

  • Communication: The Tower of Cards icebreaker highlights the significance of clear and effective communication within a team. Team members must collaborate, discuss strategies, and allocate roles effectively to succeed in building the tallest tower possible. This activity underscores the importance of active listening, conveying ideas clearly, and negotiating different opinions.
  • Leadership: As participants work together to build their towers, natural leaders often emerge, taking charge of planning, delegation, and decision-making. The Tower of Cards icebreaker offers insights into individual leadership styles, demonstrating how various approaches can impact team performance.
  • Planning and Strategy: Before the construction phase begins, teams engage in strategic planning to determine the best approach for building their towers. This process requires critical thinking, problem-solving, and foresight as participants consider factors such as material limitations, time constraints, and potential challenges. By promoting proactive planning, this activity encourages a forward-thinking mindset that can be applied in various real-life situations.
  • Innovation: The Tower of Cards icebreaker challenges participants to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions when faced with limitations on materials and resources. This experience fosters an environment where out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged, pushing team members to explore unique construction techniques and approaches.
  • Collaboration: By working together towards a common goal, participants learn the value of collaboration in achieving success. The Tower of Cards icebreaker emphasizes the importance of synergy within teams, as individual strengths are combined to build the tallest tower possible. This cooperative experience helps to strengthen relationships and build trust among team members.
  • Problem-solving: Throughout the planning and construction phases, participants encounter various obstacles that require quick thinking and effective problem-solving skills. By addressing these challenges as a team, individuals develop resilience and adaptability, learning how to pivot strategies when necessary and maintain composure under pressure.
  • Role Allocation and Task Management: The Tower of Cards icebreaker encourages participants to assign specific roles and tasks based on individual strengths and skillsets. By doing so, teams can maximize efficiency and ensure that each member has a clear understanding of their responsibilities during the planning and construction phases. This process also fosters a sense of accountability among team members, as they recognize the impact of their contributions on overall success.
  • Adaptability: As plans may not always translate perfectly into execution, this activity emphasizes the importance of adaptability in the face of unexpected challenges or setbacks. Teams must be willing to adjust strategies and techniques as needed, demonstrating flexibility and resilience during the construction phase. This experience reinforces the idea that adapting quickly to changing circumstances is crucial for success in both personal and professional settings.
  • Reflection: The debriefing session following the Tower of Cards icebreaker provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on their experiences, analyze team dynamics, and identify areas for improvement. By engaging in thoughtful reflection, individuals can better understand their own strengths and weaknesses while also learning valuable lessons about collaboration, leadership, and problem-solving that can be applied in various aspects of life.

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Why I like Tower of Cards

As someone who enjoys team-building activities, I find the Tower of Cards icebreaker to be a particularly engaging and insightful exercise. Here are a few reasons why I like it:

  1. Promotes Collaboration: The activity encourages participants to work together towards a common goal, providing them with an opportunity to practice collaboration and learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a fun, low-stress environment.

  2. Enhances Problem-Solving Skills: By challenging teams to build the tallest tower possible using limited resources, this icebreaker stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. It demonstrates how different strategies can lead to success or failure, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and innovation in achieving desired outcomes.

  3. Fosters Communication: Effective communication is vital for a team’s success during this activity. Whether it’s through verbal discussions during the planning phase or non-verbal cues during construction, participants learn to express their ideas clearly and listen actively to others—skills that are transferable to real-life professional settings.

  4. Reveals Leadership Styles: The Tower of Cards icebreaker often brings natural leaders to the forefront, allowing observers to identify various leadership styles and observe how they influence team dynamics. These insights can serve as a foundation for further discussions on leadership qualities and effective team management.

  5. Highlights Role Allocation: Assigning roles based on individual strengths is crucial for success in this activity, which reinforces the importance of role allocation within teams. By practicing these skills during an icebreaker, participants can become more adept at recognizing and utilizing each other’s talents in a professional setting.

  6. Encourages Reflection: The debriefing session following the Tower of Cards activity provides a valuable opportunity for participants to reflect on their performance as a team and identify areas for improvement. This self-awareness is essential for continuous learning and growth within any group.

  7. Easily Customizable: With various potential variations, this icebreaker can be tailored to suit different groups and contexts. Incorporating additional materials or communication constraints adds complexity and challenges participants to think outside the box, further enhancing their problem-solving and teamwork abilities.

In conclusion, I find the Tower of Cards icebreaker to be an enjoyable and educational activity that fosters collaboration, problem-solving, communication, leadership, role allocation, and self-reflection among participants. Its customizable nature makes it suitable for various groups and contexts, making it a versatile tool for team building and development.

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Tips for making Tower of Cards more inclusive

  • Tip: Provide visual aids during the planning phase. To accommodate team members with different learning styles or language barriers, consider using visual aids like diagrams or sketches during the planning phase so everyone can understand and contribute to the strategy discussion effectively.
  • Tip: Use larger print cards for visually impaired participants. If any participant has vision impairment, use playing cards with larger print or create enlarged versions of the cards using paper and tape to ensure they can easily participate in the activity.
  • Tip: Allow additional planning time as needed. For participants who may need more time to process information or communicate their ideas, consider adding extra planning time to make sure everyone feels included in the strategy formulation process.
  • Tip: Offer seating options for participants with mobility limitations. If any participant has mobility limitations, ensure they have a comfortable and stable seating arrangement that allows them to fully participate in both the planning and construction phases of the activity.
  • Tip: Use clear and simple language when explaining instructions. To make sure all participants understand the rules and objectives, communicate the instructions using clear, concise, and simple language, avoiding jargon or complex phrasing.
  • Tip: Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas. Foster an inclusive environment by emphasizing the importance of every individual’s contribution, encouraging quieter team members to speak up, and actively listening to and valuing each person’s input in the planning and construction process.
  • Tip: Offer additional support during the activity as needed. Be prepared to offer extra help or guidance to participants who may require assistance due to physical, cognitive, or linguistic challenges, ensuring they can fully engage in and benefit from the Tower of Cards icebreaker.

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Reflection questions for Tower of Cards

  1. How did your team approach the problem-solving process during the planning phase? Understanding your team’s strategic thinking and decision-making processes can provide insights into their ability to work together and tackle complex challenges.
  2. What roles did you take on within your team, and how do you think they contributed to your group’s performance? Examining individual contributions can help teams identify strengths and areas for improvement in collaboration and role allocation during future activities or projects.
  3. What were some of the challenges your team faced while building the tower, and how did you overcome them? Recognizing obstacles and discussing potential solutions will help participants develop resilience and critical thinking skills, as well as improve their ability to adapt under pressure.
  4. How did communication impact your team’s performance during the construction phase? Analyzing communication patterns can reveal whether teams effectively utilized non-verbal cues or struggled with misunderstandings, allowing them to refine their collaboration and problem-solving skills.
  5. What lessons have you learned from this activity that you could apply in a real-world work setting? Reflecting on the practical applications of the Tower of Cards exercise can help participants understand how they might translate the skills and insights gained into professional growth and improved teamwork.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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