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Acid Pour - Group Initiative

Acid pour is a game (group initiative) to investigate styles of leadership such as: command-and-control versus self-organizational teams, styles of communication and behavior of groups.

I have used this game to teach teams the difference between Agile and using a command-and-control style of leadership.  In this scenario the group elects a CEO that appoints 4 managers, the rest of the group is assigned the role of worker.  Restrictions are place on the worker such that only communication is allow to flow from the top.  For example: when the workers approach the containment area they must put on the protective suits (blindfolds), however only the 4 manager suits have intercom systems, therefore the workers will not be able to talk, nor see.  The managers will instruct them (control).  The CEO will direct the action via planning with the managers for 5 minutes, and then by announcing new directions as needed.

This scenario is very restricted, typically fails to succeed, so I allow them to try multiple times, switching roles among the group.  Then we change the paradigm.  We become an Agile company, and allow the team to make suggestions for company improvements.  Typically someone wishes we would buy better protective gear that had intercoms and that had better vision - done - retool - invest.  Remove the blindfold restriction.  Remove the CEO as controller - allow the whole team to plan - not just managers.  Allow another attempt or several (it is fun and success is desired).

Debrief (if you don’t have time to debrief - do NOT do the initiative).

Acid Pour (aka: Toxic Waste, Nuclear Meltdown)

  • boundary markers (rope works well - you’ll need 2 ropes)
  • bicycle inner tube
  • strings (1/4” line - one per participant - approx. 10’ long)
  • plastic container (office trash can)
  • small metal container (large coffee can)
  • aggregate (water, stones, packing peanuts, or other)

Set Up
  • Place the aggregate in the smaller metal container (not to heavy).
  • Fill the plastic container 1/3 - 1/2 full of water.
  • Set both containers side-by-side inside a small marked off area (5’ dia.).
  • Make a larger boundary area with a width longer than 1 string length (15’ dia.).
  • Leave inner tube and strings set outside of boundary area.

Group Task

To empty the contents of the smaller metal container into the larger plastic container, without entering the containment field (denoted by the markers).

  • Your group must neutralize this highly toxic and volatile chemical (in the plastic bucket) by pouring the agent in the can into the bucket.
  • You may use only the materials provided (strings and rubber tube).
  • You may not enter the outside containment area.
  • Neither container can leave the inside containment area.

Safety Considerations
  • Monitor blind participants (if using that option).

Common Stories

  • Meltdown in a nuclear power plant and the metal container has the water to cool the reactor.
  • Toxic waste or a volatile acid must be neutralized by adding another chemical.
  • The Toxin or acid is eating through its old container and must be put into a new, stronger container.

Options & Variations
  • Only allowing each participant a limited amount of time to speak, as if they were in protection suits with a limited amount of air.
  • Having the group elect a foreman to supervise the transfer of materials and only allowing the foreman to speak.
  • Blindfold half the group before they see the task; only blindfolded participants can touch resources. Describe the task to the sighted participants so that the blindfolded ones can’t hear it. Sighted folks must direct the others to perform the task. This is very difficult, so often good to allow them to regain sight at the end, if success is important for the group developmental stage.
  • Strings can be already tied to the tube (best for blindfolded version) or separated.

Common Issues

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Follow-ship
  • Creative problem solving

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