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Warp Speed Exercise

This exercise requires a team of eight to 16 people and a tennis ball.  Everyone stands in a circle.  The coach explains that “during this exercise we will use the tennis ball to establish a process.  The process starts with one team member receiving the ball from the coach (facilitator) and then tossing it across the circle to another team member.  The receiving team member then tosses the ball to another team member and so on until each team member has caught the ball one time.  The last team member  then tosses the ball back to the starting team member, thus completing the process. “  To facilitate establishing the process, team members are asked to hold out their hands in a ready to catch position until they have caught the ball one time.  Team members who have already caught the ball, drop their hands to their sides so everyone can tell who has yet to catch the ball.  Each team member is instructed to remember the person who threw them the ball and who they threw the ball to.  Team members are told that if they drop the ball, just pick it up and continue to process.  Once the process is established, the coach explains that he or she will now time the exercise with a stop watch and will announce the time the team took to complete the process (usually around 35 to 45 seconds).

The coach reminds the team that the process only requires that the ball start and end with the same person, that everyone must touch the ball, and that the order of touching the ball must remain the same.  The coach then explains to the team that their customer needs a substantial decrease in the speed at which the process is being executed.  In fact the customer would be pleased if the team could cut the time in half.  The coach then asks the team if they think they can cut the time in half.  As the team begins to discuss the request, the coach interrupts and asks the team how much time they need to discuss how to achieve the customer request.  The coach agrees to anything under two minutes.  Longer requests are met with “I can’t give you that much time- you may have two minutes.”  At the end of the discussion period, the coach hands the tennis ball to the starting team member and starts timing the exercise.  When the ball returns to the starting team member, the coach stops the watch and announces the time achieved.  Invariably teams will improve the time to execute the process by about half,  sometimes slightly better.  However they will have to have made some change in order to achieve the objective –perhaps moving closer together.

The coach again asks the team if they can cut the time in half, reminds the team that the process only requires that the ball start and stop with the same person, that everyone must touch the ball, and that the order of touching the ball must remain the same.  Again the coach asks how much time is needed to discuss the solution, provides up to two minutes, hands the ball to the starting team member, starts the stop watch, and announces the result at the end of the effort.   This process is repeated three or four times or until the team gets under two to four seconds.  In some instances teams will go sub-second, using a process that involves having the team members sort themselves into the perfect order of flow, that is, a straight flow in one direction, the starting/ending team member then swipes the ball across the outstretched hands or fingers of his fellow team members.  The coach then leads the team in celebrating the team’s success. Perhaps with a cheer: “1, 2, 3, YES!”

Whether the team achieves sub-second is not important.  What is important is what they learned from doing the exercise.  The coach helps the team members to process the experience by asking the following questions:  “How many of you thought it wasn’t possible to cut the speed in half the fires time?  How about after you had achieved one success, did you think you could repeat it the second time?  What had to change in order for you to achieve success each time?”  The Coach points out that the team managed to get from 40 plus seconds to under two.  “So what if you had been asked to achieve sub-second performance right off the bat?  Would you have been able to see the ultimate solution?”  Probably not.  “So what happened that allowed you to ultimately get to such a superior level of performance? (The team built on previous successful experiences).  “What can be taken away and used on your work team


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