Everything I Needed to Know About Team-Building, I Learned in Kindergarten

Noelle Ihli

Three Leadership Lessons From Kindergarten

Culture Code Author Daniel Coyle Shares What Young Children Can Teach Leaders About Strong Teams

In 2014, engineer Peter Skillman challenged a group of MBA students to compete with a group of kindergarteners. Their task? To build the tallest possible structure from tape, string, spaghetti, and a marshmallow during a set time.

As you might have guessed from the title of this article, the kids schooled the MBA students. As a result, their final structure was two feet tall—-while the MBA students barely managed twelve inches. 

The experiment revealed fascinating lessons about teamwork that many leaders (and adults in general) would do well to remember. What were those lessons? Read on.

Lesson 1: Prioritize Collaboration vs. Skill Sets

The MBA students in Skillman’s experiment worked together methodically but separately, dividing tasks and handing out assignments based on skills. The kindergarteners worked together closely, iterating and learning from each other’s successes and mistakes in real-time. 

The children’s style of team interaction kept everyone fully engaged in solving the core problem, while the MBA students stayed siloed, relying on their individual skills. As a result, the children’s results provide a powerful lesson on synergy and collaboration.

Lesson 2: Embrace Good Ideas Vs. Hierarchy

The natural leaders in the group of MBA students quickly assumed the role of handing out assignments and dividing tasks. Their approach was organized and systematic. 

The kindergartners took a very different approach. They watched each other closely, shouting new ideas and seizing on strategies that worked. Their method appeared more chaotic and disorganized, but it ultimately yielded success. 

Lesson 3: Encourage Belonging Vs. Competition

Traditional corporate culture celebrates the concept of cut-throat competition and the belief that “the cream always rises.” But in Skillman’s experiment, a hyper-focus on the “best ideas” hurt the MBA team. And some MBA students disengaged from the process entirely when others in the group dismissed their contributions.

The kindergarteners didn’t waste any time competing for status. Instead, they welcomed all ideas and work. As a result, each team member continued to share with enthusiasm throughout the experiment. 

Apply These Lessons to Your Team

While a chaotic free-for-all won’t fly in most business settings, leaders would do well to shift the focus away from chain-of-command to social collaboration when it comes to seeking ideas, input, and feedback. In organizations with many layers and departments, fresh perspectives and input can be game-changing.

If you’re in a leadership position, look for ways to prioritize collaboration, ditch the hierarchies, and encourage shared ownership of projects.

Could your team take on the kindergarteners in Skillman’s challenge? Tell us on Twitter using #CultureCode

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

Stay Up to Date

Your go-to resource for avid readers! Discover a wealth of information on
non-fiction business books aimed at boosting your professional development.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.