I’m not a big fan of trite team building activities, but I have been known to use an exercise or two to change things up and add a little levity to what can be challenging discussions around team effectiveness.

One exercise I pull out every now and again is called “Pass the Problem.” In this quick and simple exercise, you have a chance to get some ideas and input from your teammates on a problem you’re facing.


  1. Each team member takes out a full-size piece of paper.
  2. On the top line, each person writes one problem that they are having that they would love some help with.
  3. After giving everyone 2 minutes to think up a problem, the timekeeper asks them to “pass the problem,” at which point each person passes their sheet of paper to the right.
  4. Upon receiving the problem from the left, each person reads the issue and then has 60 seconds to add an idea, tip, or insight.
  5. Once the 60 seconds are up, pass the problem again.
  6. Repeat this process, adding a little bit more time so problem solvers can read the ideas, until everyone has had a chance to add a little gem.


Here’s an example of the kind of problem that might be amenable to “Pass the Problem” along with some potential answers.

Problem: I can’t get my customer at ACME Inc. to return my calls

  • Try email, some people are notoriously bad with phone calls but highly responsive to email or text
  • Is it Frank? I know Frank and would be happy to give him a call to reestablish the connection
  • Press *0 when his voicemail engages and ask to speak directly to his admin assistant and get a time on the calendar
  • Send along our new piece of research on the Food industry to build credibility

Benefits of This Approach

There are several great things about this approach. First, we tend to belabor problems so the pithy suggestions can get things moving and inject new life in about 15 minutes. Second, it’s a great device for finding out what your teammates are struggling with, which helps teams plug in to each other’s issues and also to develop some empathy for one another’s plights. Third, in all the times I’ve used this exercise, I’m always amazed how each person gets at least one pearl of wisdom they can implement right away.

I’m sure you don’t go to work expecting things to be smooth sailing and problem-free. But it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. When this happens to you, try a round of pass the problem—you’ll get some ideas you can use, not to mention some good perspective that shows you’re not alone!

Further Reading

What’s Wrong with Team Building?

You Get the Team you Deserve

The Secret of Effective Teamwork