Don’t Drop The Client…All Systems Go…Customer Service Assembly Line…

Teamwork Exercise


This game is a way to teach employees and teammates how each team member’s contribution affects the way a customer, product or process moves through your organization. It also illustrates the complexity and links in a business process ultimately showing your team that communication and following the process are the keys to success.

“Ah ha” Moments…”This is what it is like to do business with us”

  1. Affect absenteeism has on performance
  2. Affect attitude has on performance
  3. Teamwork
  4. Continuous learning
  5. Working under pressure
  6. Ability to succeed with limited resources and limited people
  7. Process improvement
  8. Ability to adapt to change
  9. Importance of training
  10. Planning

Items needed:

1. 20 feet of yellow rope or string

2. 16 feet of 1” white PVC pipe

3. Hack saw to cut pipe into:

a. (2) 24” Pieces representing the longest process

b. (2) 18” Pieces representing a long process

c. (3) 16” Pieces representing a medium process

d. (3) 12” Pieces representing a short process

e. (2) 6” Pieces representing a resource limitation

f. (4) 3” Pieces representing a employee problems

4. 6 to12 marbles representing your customer, product or service

5. Plastic bucket or paint can representing a happy customer or completed product.

6. (5) Index cards that can be used if help is needed in transferring marbles between pipe sections.

7. Candy bars or treats for team members as a participation reward


Lay the rope on the ground with one end acting as the start of your business process than curve the rope in several ”S” patterns to illustrate the different parts of the process you are demonstrating. Put the second end of the rope in the bucket to illustrate a satisfied customer or your finished product etc. Pass out all of the PVC pipes except the (4) three-inch sections and the (2) six-inch sections.

Explain to the group that the rope represents XYZ process and the marbles represent our customer or our procedures and the pipe sections represent the company’s departments, people, or processes and the bucket represents a happy customer or finished product. Use your creativity to correlate the yellow rope, pipe sections, marbles, and the bucket in the minds of your participants to a process, product line or service for you company. It always works well to have the group help you suggest the product line, process, departments or people that need to be holding the pipes on the yellow line.

Pick participants or get volunteers from the group that represent the different departments like accounting, customer service, sales, reception, operations and management that are in involved in the business situation your are trying to illustrate.

Explain that the marble must begin a the first pipe and always more forward towards the bucket and dropping the marble represents a dropped call, dropped customer, bad service, product defect or any issue you are working to improve in your operation. Let the group know that the marbles must go through every participant’s pipe and end up in the bucket. If they drop the marble, they must start back at the beginning of the process. Let them know the only tools they have at their disposal are themselves, the pipe sections and the index cards. Instruct the group that they cannot:

  1. Touch or connect the pipes together in any fashion
  2. Hold each others pipes while transferring the marble from on section to the other
  3. Touch the marble with there bare hands to transfer the marble from pipe to pipe
  4. Exchange pipe sections with another participant
  5. Move the rope or bucket
  6. Move their feet once the marble has been transferred to their pipe section.

Separate the participants from the rest of the group and give them five minutes for planning.

Heckling…Working under pressure:

While the participants are out of the room…

Explain to the rest of the group they will be the hecklers for this exercise. Pick six more volunteers. Hand out the (2) six inch pipes explaining that the pipes represent moderate issues like an employee who is not fully trained, “My computer is broken, I can’t work”, or “I have a bad attitude” etc. Hand out the (4) 3 inch pipes and explain that these represent big issue like “I am sick and cannot come in today” or “I quit, I did not want to work here anyway” or “I got “down sized” due to lack of sales” etc. Explain that as the participants are trying to move the marble through the tubes they should go up and take the participants larger tube from them and replace it with one of the short tubes and yell out “I am sick and cannot come in today” etc.

Explain to the group that they really need to apply the pressure every time a marble is dropped yelling out “Mr. Smith hates to be put on hold” or “Mr. Jones just cancelled his order because we messed it up” or Mrs. Smiles will tell ten of her friends not to buy from us” etc.

As the game gets going you can whisper in the persons ear that exchanged the long pipe with the short pipe to go up the person in the game with the short pipe and say “You can’t get it done I’ll just do it for you, go sit down” etc.

The game works well indoors or outdoors. You may have to police the participants from touching each others pipes, touching the marbles, and moving their feet while the marble in their pipe.

Group Discussion Questions:

  1. How did you plan your strategy?
  2. How effective was your plan?
  3. If you were to do the exercise again what would you change?
  4. What stopped customers or products from flowing smoothly?
  5. How did you feel about the resource limitations?
  6. How did you feel about the people limitations?
  7. How did you fell about the breakdowns (dropped marbles)?
  8. What was most frustrating about the exercise?
  9. What did it take for your team to succeed?
  10. How is this experience similar to work?
  11. Where does our current process break down?
  12. How do we find solutions to our problems?
  13. Do we have any repetitive breakdowns in our company?
  14. What actions can we take to stop breakdowns from happening?
  15. How can we communicate better when we see a breakdown on the horizon?

Adapted and changed from a similar activity found at called Customer Connections.

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