This month's instructional puzzle, doublets, does not directly lend itself to training purposes. Recently, however, I embedded this puzzle into a simulation game that produced some intense learning insights about the nature of teamwork and exclusion.


To examine the impact of reducing the size of a work team on both the downsized members and the survivors.


7 or more


15 - 20 minutes of play. 15-30 minutes of debriefing.

Supplies and Equipment

  • Paper and pencil
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Explain how to solve doublets puzzles. Use information and examples from the previous article. Demonstrate the procedure by solving a couple of doublets.

Organize teams. Divide the participants into an even number of teams, each with 3-5 members. In each pair of teams, identify one team as the work team and the other as the management team. Explain that the workers will solve doublets puzzles while the managers will observe the activity and identify the contribution of different team members.

Begin the first round. Announce a 2-minute time limit for solving the first puzzle. If the team solves the puzzle before 2 minutes are up, team members should discover alternative solutions to the same puzzle. Ask the work teams to transform DOWN to SIZE. Remind the managers to silently observe the performance of individual workers.

Conclude the first round. At the end of 2 minutes, blow the whistle and ask work teams to stop.

Downsize the work teams. Ask each member of the management team to write the name of the least contributing worker on a piece of paper and fold it. Managers should not consult each other and should base their decision on earlier observation. Ask one member of the management team to collect all pieces of paper, mix them up, and read the names. The worker whose name is mentioned the most times is downsized.

Resolve ties. In case of a tie, ask one management team member to close his or her eyes and pick one of the pieces of papers with the names of the tied workers. This person gets downsized.

Begin the second round. Ask the downsized person to leave the team, come to the front of the room, and drop out of all further activities. For the next round, ask work teams to transform TEACH to LEARN. (This puzzle is probably unsolvable, but it should enable the managers to observe how different workers function under frustrating conditions.)

Repeat the procedure. Ask the managers to downsize another worker using the same approach as before. Continue with more rounds until only one person remains in each work team. Here are the doublets for use in the subsequent rounds: BLACK to WHITE, FOUR to FIVE, and WORK to PLAY.

Debrief participants. To maximize insights from this activity, be sure to conduct a debriefing discussion. Here are some suggested questions for discussion:

  • As a worker who was downsized during the first round, how did you feel toward the managers? Toward your ex-teammates?
  • As a survivor during the first round, how did you feel toward the managers? Toward the downsized worker?
  • As a worker who was downsized during a later round, how did you feel?
  • As the single final survivor, how did you feel?
  • As a manager, how did you feel about your responsibility? About the downsized people?
  • Did the presence of the managers influence the way you worked as a work team member? If so in what way?
  • What criteria did the managers use to identify the least contributing team member? Which of these criteria are related to the ability for solving puzzles? Which ones are related tomaintaining and supporting the team?
  • What did you learn from this activity?
  • Did the removal of team members decrease the productivity of the remaining workers? Did it decrease the morale of the remaining team members?
  • What could we have done to reduce the pain on the worker who is downsized? On the surviving workers? On the managers?
  • How does this activity relate to downsizing in the real-world?
  • What if the managers talked among themselves and came up with a consensus choice of the worker to be downsized?
  • What if the final survivor received a cash prize of $10? A prize of a million dollars?
  • What if there were no managers and the team members themselves decided who to downsize at the end of each round?
  • What if there were no managers, and at the end of each round, one worker was selected at random to be downsized (for example, by dealing playing cards face up to each worker and eliminating the first person to receive an ace)?
  • What if the downsized person were permitted to stay around and watch the team in action?
  • What if each round of the game lasted for 5 minutes?
  • What if the work team had to produce graphic posters instead of solving doublets puzzles?
  • If you were to play this game again, how would you change your behavior as a worker? As a manag er?