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Maximise engagement with fun and compelling table-top team activities.
Complex problem-solving tasks for developing  


Collaborative group work around a table. Braintoffee training activities for leadership development

For Participants

  • engaging, unique and awesomely exciting scenario to resolve.
  • powerful, memorable individual and group learning.
  • authentic feel, so participants are drawn in quickly.
  • challenging, cerebral stretch through complex scenarios.
  • inclusive (for English speakers)
  • safe non work related to learn, experiment and enjoy.

“loved it - best problem solving activity I’ve ever done”

Claire, participant.
Facilitator running VUCA training activity. Braintoffee easy to run activities.

For Facilitators

  • large amount of powerful learning generated for debrief.
  • groups engage quickly.
  • straightforward to deliver.
  • no role-playing or intervention required.
  • can be run as single group of 6-10 people or multiples, to share learning as part of the debrief.
  • debrief ideas available in our blog.

“ always delivers a great result… gets highest scores in our feedback”

Bethany, Training Associate on roll out programme
Leadership and Development Manager designing experiential programme for corporate learning academy.

For Programme Designers

  • can be dropped in timetable place holder to support many concepts including managing complexity, collaboration, VUCA, emotional intelligence, leadership, 2.0 working, adaptive leadership.
  • suitable for any training room with a table and space to write e.g. flipchart or white board.
  • simple to run for experienced facilitators (no additional training required).
  • available for single use for one off events, or multiple use for repeat programmes.
  • can be used to highlight a wide range of concepts.

“the complexity in each exercise provides a deep learning experience…that is hard to replicate in any other way”

Martin, Dir Consulting Organisation


All Braintoffee activities :

  • consist of an intriguing story embedded in documents (maps, itineraries, photographs, reports, receipts, brochures, emails, menus, directories, newsletters).
  • are paper based, and so ideal for an indoor training environment with tables and board space.
  • have a clear deliverable, and a correct/incorrect answer, so that debriefs can focus on process without the potential distraction of an ambiguous task ending.
  • for small groups of 6 -10 people, one activity is for a double group of 12 - 18 people.
  • are complex and cerebrally challenging with several threads to manage and apply different thinking styles.
  • are non linear, and require a high level of collaboration.
  • consist of 2-4 envelope based 'drops' of information for teams to collect after their start envelope has been handed to them.
Collaborative problem solving and collective intelligence using a Braintoffee problem solving activity.


Braintoffee activities are designed to immerse a group in uncertainty and ambiguity. The need to collaborate and work through discomfort is highlighted as the group experience feeling over whelmed by apparently shapeless data.

From the outset, the activity is completely unstructured – there is no “your objective is…..”. The group’s tasks are embedded, either as a job to be done or from data to be woven together to create a clear objective. Most activities contain both forms of task as this highlights the different skills and behaviours required in the different situations.

The first part of an activity involves the gathering together and management of data, requiring the group to communicate with each other in seeking connections and relationships. The majority of time is then spent working through ideas, evidence seeking, proposing, synthesising, accepting challenges to viewpoints and supporting others in their opinions, letting go of hypotheses that don’t have legs, and getting critically, but fully, behind those ideas that seem worth pursuing.
The activity scenarios are contemporary, often with global reach and participants become excited and completely caught up in activity itself.  With emotions and thinking fully engaged, groups experience a compelling sense of urgency to resolve the situation, despite both the scenario and the way ahead being unclear.

Participants find themselves drawing deep on their resources to do what it takes to successfully identify and resolve a scenario. The task has to be gripped and wrestled with in a demanding context that can be characterised as uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and needing the full commitment of a group working well together.

The group is given a complex problem solving activity with an unclear objective and path.  The learning is often around the recognition of what happens at an individual and group level in these situations.


Braintoffee Experiential Learning Activities Timeline image
Braintoffee Experiential Learning Activities Timeline image 1
Braintoffee Experiential Learning Activities Timeline 2
Instructions in the activity pack will indicate that the facilitator should leave a clue envelope at a reception desk or similar, and place another clue in a similar easy to identify location. The start envelope is handed over to the group.

The group then spend the duration of the activity time (50 mins - 3 hours depending on the activity) managing themselves, including retrieving any envelopes placed by the facilitator, and will work best if they can share a table and are able to write up ideas and data for everyone to see, e.g. on flip charts or white boards.

At the end of the activity, the group submit their answer on a form. The facilitator has instructions explaining which one of two endings, in the form of a ‘what happened next’ news article for example, to hand to the group as task feedback. This can be followed by a debrief.
Collaborative group work resolving a complex scenario from Braintoffee training activities.


The person behind the design of these tasks is Judith Cantrell, author of Teams for our Time. She has extensive experience in a wide range of training and development organisations both in the UK and overseas and is known for her creativity and ability to handle complicated ideas.

Throughout her career she has taken a passionate interest in designing training activities and the structuring of programmes. She has an M.A in Experiential Education from Colorado University and now specialises in designing complex problem solving activities that are used successfully by other facilitators in a wide range of learning settings. Typically the activities are used to develop collaboration, adaptive leadership, critical thinking and enhanced performance in uncertainty & ambiguity.

If you think a Braintoffee activity could contribute to your programmes, please get in touch.

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Part 4: What can leaders do to support remote collaboration?

Summary: The skill of leading a remote team demand more of the leadership skills we may already possess, but may also require a new mindset and greater awareness of how leaders can best communicate - when, using what channel and for what reason. Collaboration will be enhanced by creating an environment that is seen as psychologically safe, where people can contribute, ask questions, and share thoughts and feelings without fear of recrimination. Since not all problems demand the same treatment, considering their nature and what this requires will help allocate time and people more effectively.  By keeping an eye on the ‘long win’ through investing in relationships and ways of working, your team will be ready to work together when the moment comes. And in the ‘collaborative moment’, ​leader’s behaviour can model what they want in terms of contributions, and also indicate confidence in the team and readiness to hear what they have to say.

Read More

Part 3. Online Teams collaborate differently online to when they are round the table

You may remember from the introduction that this multi part article started as a way of making sense of the differences in behaviour that became evident as team problem - solving activities moved to video conferncing online. Comparisons from pre-pandemic training events indicate that ‘round the table’ groups start to make decisions about how to approach a task and then complete it sooner than online groups. Video conferencing groups seem to be more hindered by difficulties in recognising what needs doing, dividing up tasks and re-structuring the group into sub groups. In addition this organisation of the team into sub groups is not always controlled by the group themselves.

Additionally, it seems that document sharing although wonderfully enabled by file sharing software does not provide the same exploratory experience as handling a piece of paper!

In turn, these things seem to impede on the degree and quality of collaborative discussion, particularly important as problems become more complex, some of which was covered in Part two.

Differences fall into the following areas:

1) how groups organise themselves and the workload.
2) how groups work with the information available.
3) how groups use their individual capabilities, including emotional responses and critical thinking abilities.

Read More

Part 2 - Interacting with others on screen: how video call communication shapes participation differently compared to a group around a table.

Just as round a table, participation online varies according to how many people are present, and how well they know each other. We can be the equivalent distance of across the table from someone when we are having an on screen conversation, usually less! but the gulf between us can often feel much wider. Aside from that, there are also some distinctions in how and what we communicate. In complex problem solving team activities, there is evidence for:

  • reduction in challenge and support of ideas.
  • fewer contributions and participation overall.
  • less insight or break through ideas.
  • more generalisations and rush to make connections without evidence.
  • more risk averse options.

Read More

Pt 1 of Does a successful team have to be in the same room, or can they perform just as well online?

How successful is online collaboration? With a major shift to working via screens, managers and leaders maybe witnessing a decline in our capacity to apply critical thinking and work collaboratively especially when faced with complex scenarios.

At best, people will perform as well as ever but at physiological and psychological cost to themselves. At worst, we are in danger of losing, and not developing both the skills of critical thinking, and the ability to work well with others we have not met face to face.

Critical thinking and collaborative working are far-reaching capabilities that are closely linked to our capacity for creativity and challenge, both essential for generating innovation and change in behaviour, putting these aspects of organisational life under threat if leaders do not respond to demands of working online.

This is Part One of a five part series.

Read More
  • Bloom's Taxonomy Critical Thinking Skills

How Do We Think Our Way Out Of A Problem?

We know when we have a problem – Those pounds around the waist need to go before taking to the beach, but they’re not shifting. If only all the staff saw things from the commercial perspective, but they don’t.

Read More
  • 4Box Problem Solving Model indicating the place of Braintoffee complex problem solving activities for teams facing with challenging problems.

Problem Solving For World 2.0?

Are you sure you’re setting out to solve your problems the right way?  The 4Box Problem solving Model suggests you need to analyse the type of problem you’ve got before you can even begin to solve it.

Read More

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  • Exciting for participants.
  • Easy and cost effective to set up.
  • Supported by experienced design and used in many types of programme.
  • For groups of 6-10 around a table.
  • Ideal for lasting and powerful learning memories.

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