Byron's Babbles

Jenga Masters Leadership

CUVwHA_WcAAOyU2This has seemed to be the year of Jenga for our school as we build our leadership capacity. You know, the great balancing game with the rectangular blocks. The metaphor of the game of Jenga continues to pop up everywhere in our school’s leadership journey. Click here to watch a video of Jill Landers and I playing a wicked game of Jenga recently – we are the Jenga Masters! We used Jenga as a way to represent our vision and mission earlier in the school year as a way to make sure everyone understood the parts of our vision and mission. Then, we decided to completely redo our vision and mission and add core values as a project of our 2015-11-04-03-42-43Focused Leader Academy. To do this we started by using a “Design Thinking” model. I cut 18” pieces of tongue and groove lumber and the teams built models of the ideal vision, mission, and core values. The exercise made learning visible. As the project progressed our Focused Leader Academy members were learning how to develop a vision, mission, and core value.

To understand the illustration of the Jenga metaphor, you need to get on board with a few ideas:

  • Imagine the whole of the tower is the total sum of your entire organization, including leadership capacity.
  • Imagine each block is some sort of capital (leadership, a moment/shared experience/word/deed, student, family, teacher, leader, curriculum, technology, et cetera) that is part of entire organization, school, or business.
  • A block-in would be an organization building action while a block-out would be a situation whereby the organization would be weakened or damaged.
  • When using the Jenga model, one must assume all capital mentioned in the second bullet point are equally important.CUVwHAyXIAAArnE

Click here to watch a video of our journey building our own Jenga models when creating a new vision, mission, and set of core values for Hoosier Academies Network of Schools.

Here are some thoughts on why Jenga makes such a great model to use for leadership training, creation, and “Design Thinking:”

  • Strong leadership everywhere in the organization equals well-built Foundations. The potential height of the tower depends a great deal on how well you build the foundation and how many blocks you commit to it. The stronger the shape, the more intentional the design and placement and the more blocks you have, the higher you can build.
  • Removing just one block weakens the structure. When you remove one of the blocks, the entire structure becomes more unstable. So when you don’t have strong leadership developed in every individual in the organization, everything gets a bit more shaky. Each subsequent move not only feels more risky, but actually does put the organization at risk.
  • We have to be careful of “piling on” too many initiatives or tasks for our teams and organizations to do. If the structure is weakening or is weak, it does not help to pile on the top.
  • When leadership capacity needs to be developed, the bench needs to be developed at the individual level, not somewhere else. I call this hyper-personalization of developing the team professionally. Otherwise, new attempts at building the leadership bench can seem out of place and lead to destabilization instead of continual improvement.
  • No matter what, if we remove enough blocks it results in eventual collapse. The tower can only handle a certain amount of pieces being removed. We learn how to work around it, even though it hurts the overall strength and potential of the organization. But eventually, our schools, businesses, and organization cannot hold under the pressure of “weak links” so to speak; whether individuals, teams, supporting organizations, or departments. Eventually, the entire organization will falter and this can be disastrous – just as when the entire Jenga model falls.CURwnnRVAAA90vC

As you can see, there is a lot to be learned from Jenga. It has certainly been a great model for us to use as we rethink our school and use “Design Thinking.” If you were consider your organization as a Jenga model, how stable is your structure?


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  1. […] about the powerful metaphor Jenga® is as a leadership model. I have blogged about it before in Jenga Masters Leadership. Click here to read the post. This time as I was viewing the tower I thought of a new aspect. I […]


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