Iterations are repeated processes that allow you to move forward in thinking or designing or problem solving of some sort. Sometimes iterations lead to baby steps forward; sometimes to leaps. Most fruitfully, these are collaborative processes where one person’s idea creates a starting point for the next idea.

This was vividly illustrated in an energetic group exercise I facilitated in the Fall. The group was newly formed—bringing together a number of different departments into a larger whole. In three separate groups, they set out to solve a task using marbles, pipes and a race course. The three groups ably accomplished the task by using different methodologies within widely different time frames. Some followed the rules; some worked around the rules. You could see the various personalities at work.

Then we ran the exercise a second time, only they had to do it as one whole group—and they couldn’t use the same methodologies as they had in the first iteration of the exercise. This is where the marvelous came in. Rather than being stuck and taking much longer, this ignited the larger group. Animated discussions ensued.

New ideas, drawn from the first iteration, were launched, considered, dismissed or accepted. Once a new idea was accepted, it was immediately vetted by the group and new suggestions or improvements were made in rapid-fire fashion. In a substantially shorter period of time, the group as a whole came up with yet another very creative solution to the problem and executed it successfully.

There was a good deal of dancing and triumphant arm-raising at the end because collectively they beat their individual times. Everyone won.

This was a powerful experience to take back into the workplace. We saw and felt that everyone had something to add; that working collaboratively and openly, we can come to remarkably better solutions; and that the energy of a well-functioning group can be much greater than the sum of its individual parts.