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Paper Airplane Challenge

This is a fun activity with lots of points for great debriefing and application in leadership. 

  1. Give your leadership team each a piece of paper and instruct them to make a paper airplane using only the piece of paper provided. 
  2. Set up an area or start on one side of the room and have a contest to see who has the airplane that travels the farthest. 
  3. For the second round put the leaders together in groups, depending on the size this can be groups of 2-6, and instruct them to come up with one paper airplane for their team using only the paper provided. Again, hold a contest between groups to see which airplane travels the farthest. Typically, we see a huge struggle here with even getting airplanes to fly in the desired direction, which is the point, and it is funny. 
  4. Now provide the group with resources. Give them handouts with instructions on how to make a good paper airplane that is effective for flying. Give them 10 minutes to construct a new airplane. 
  5. Then conduct a third round of test flying. Most likely, these airplanes will be so much better than their individual or group attempts.

Debrief: Why is providing the right tools and training important for our staff? As leaders, we are responsible to give them the tools, resources, and support, not just the instructions and to see if they can “figure it out”. Relate this to the desired support you want your leadership team to focus on. It isn’t enough if we have one person who has an airplane that can fly, that won’t make our team successful. How do we make everyone successful?!

Added twist: At the end of the debrief…grab a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it across the room – always landing way farther than they did by airplane. They laugh and this is usually eye-opening for them. You can start talking about thinking outside the box to get the objective done. We all make assumptions and look at things through our own lenses/filters, but you should easily get your piece of paper across the area the farthest and the fastest by doing the crumple and throw. 

Remind them, there are many ways to meet the same objective. The question is are we focused on the objective or are we focused on the details of how to get there – the details may slow us down and create unnecessary restrictions or added conflict or challenges that really don’t need to be there. Something for them to think about.


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CMAA Leadership airplane tool
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