This is Part 1 in a series on Instant Challenge for Team Managers.
Part 2 discusses the various types of Instant Challenges.

When a Destination ImagiNation team begins to work on their Team Challenge, it can be very tempting to postpone any work on Instant Challenge. This gives the team more time to devote to their Team Challenge.

I think this can be a big mistake. In this two-part series, I’ll discuss ways in which Team Managers can help their kids to become Instant Challenge experts. The bonus is that the skills they learn through Instant Challenge practice will also help them to solve their Team Challenge!

What does your team need to learn in order to succeed in Instant Challenge? Here are the educational goals that I believe you should have in mind as your team practices IC:

  • Improve time management skills.
  • Learn to analyze resources and use materials in new ways.
  • Develop creative problem solving abilities, performance techniques, and improv skills.
  • Learn to recognize team and individual strengths, and make the most of them.

Now, look at this list again. Would the skills that I’ve mentioned also make it possible for your team to work more effectively on their Team Challenge? Yes, of course they would. Your team may not realize it at the time, but learning how to solve Instant Challenges will also help them succeed in their chosen Team Challenge.

Let’s Make Mistakes!

If you have a new DI team, the kids will need to learn right away that they must learn to work together to solve a problem in a very short time.

I like to introduce teams to Instant Challenge by giving them an IC that is easy to understand, but very difficult to finish in the available time unless the kids all work together. I’ve written an Instant Challenge that I think would be a good choice, and posted it in the NH-DI Team Manager Corner.

You can substitute any other task-based IC that you’d like, but don’t pick an easy one! We’re trying to teach the team a lesson about the importance of teamwork and time management. The kids are much more likely to remember this lesson if they run into trouble at first.

When you watch a new team as they work on their first IC, you’ll probably notice one or more of the following problems:

  1. Team members work by themselves, and make no attempt to communicate with the rest of the team.
  2. Someone suggests an idea, but the rest of the team ignores it.
  3. No one pays attention to the time. The clock runs out long before they’re finished.
  4. No one spots a key requirement in the IC until it’s too late.
  5. Did you select an IC with time for planning and construction, followed by a separate time period during which the team must perform a task? If so, the team might not think of testing and/or practicing their solution during the planning period.

If this is their first IC, the team is likely to run out of time before they’re done. Let them know that the clock has stopped, but give them a few extra minutes to finish up. You can remind them later that they would have received a very low score if this had been the real thing, and they had run out of time. This was a difficult Instant Challenge for the team, and they’ll feel better about this experience if you allow them to finish their solution.

Teachable Moments

If your team encounters most of the common problems that I have listed in the last section, congratulations! No, you didn’t read that wrong. Have you heard of teachable moments? This is the notion that there are certain moments when an ideal opportunity arises for students to learn something new.

Your team’s failure to solve a practice IC will always create a teachable moment. The kids will be very unhappy that they didn’t succeed. This will make them especially receptive when you suggest that they think of ways in which they could have done better.

Remind the team that this was only practice. Tell them that it’s very important for them to fail occasionally, because they’ll learn much more by analyzing failures than celebrating successes. That’s why you picked an IC that you thought might be a little bit harder for them to solve. If they can figure out exactly what went wrong, they’ll do much, much better when faced with a similar problem in the future.

Evaluating IC Performances

It’s important for the team to discuss each IC performance. You can facilitate this discussion by asking questions like:

  1. What did you find especially difficult?
  2. Why do you think you had trouble with this part of the IC?
  3. What would you do differently?

You may find it helpful to use the list of “Ten Important Questions to Ask,” which you’ll find in the Instant Challenge Practice Set that’s included in the program materials.

Once the team has rated their own performance, tell the team how you would have scored each of the items that were listed in the Instant Challenge.

Did the IC include a score for teamwork or creativity that reflects your opinion of the team’s performance? This is a subjective score, and an average performance should receive only about half of the available points.

Please let your kids know that 50% isn’t a failing grade in DI. In order for Appraisers to be able to reward an outstanding performance by giving it a much higher score, they can’t give most of the available points to the average teams. (Team Challenges also include subjective scores. You are likely to see the same thing when your team receives their raw scores at the Tournament.)

Be honest with the kids, and don’t spare their feelings by giving the team a higher score than they deserved. You’re not doing them a favor when you do this. Instead, you’re likely to leave the impression that there is little room for improvement.

The team will probably want you to explain the reasons for any low scores. This is a good opportunity to mention any problems you noticed while they were working. There is no need for you to propose solutions.

Don’t forget that the kids also deserve praise when they get it right! Did a team member notice that someone was having trouble, and offer to help? That’s a sign of good teamwork, so I might thank the team member who thought of this.

Incidentally, you should NEVER offer to score their Team Challenge solution in this way. Telling the team how you think they could improve their Team Challenge solution would be Interference. You’d be telling the kids how you’d like them to solve their Team Challenge, and that’s not allowed!

Instant Challenge is different. It’s nearly impossible for a Team Manager to interfere during IC practice, because the team will receive a completely different Instant Challenge at their Tournament. An exception would be a suggestion during IC practice that hints at a way for the team to improve their Team Challenge solution, but I know you wouldn’t do that.

Remember, the goal here is to teach your team to always try to think of what is likely to impress their audience. In this case, that audience will be the adult Appraisers in the IC room. After a few practice sessions, they’ll learn what the Appraisers are likely to be looking for, and the kids should be able to evaluate their own performance. Once this happens, there will be no need for you to continue to provide detailed feedback. You don’t want them to get into the habit of always looking to you for help!

Getting Better

The next step is to help the team figure out how they might improve their performance. Attribute Listing might be a good CPS tool to use for this purpose, because you could begin by breaking down the IC into the various elements that were scored. How did the team score on each item? How could they have changed their solution to obtain a better score for that specific item?

If the list is a lengthy one, it might be helpful to narrow it down first by using a focusing method such as Hits and Hot Spots. Write the problems down on a large sheet of paper, and give each team member 5 or 6 small round color-coding labels, which you can find at any office supply store. Ask them to use these labels to vote for the items that they think are most important. It’s OK for them to give more than one vote to an item if they feel it’s especially important. Once they’ve finished voting, the most important problems will be the ones with many dots.

By the way, your team can use the same CPS techniques to determine how they might improve their Team Challenge solution. You can’t score the Team Challenge solution, but the team can score themselves. The highest-scoring teams are usually the ones that have done their best to achieve the highest possible score for every item that’s listed in their Team Challenge.

Try, Try, Try Again!

Now that your team has discussed their performance, identified the problems, and discussed some possible solutions, it’s time for them to try it again!

Try to make sure that your team successfully solves every IC, even if it takes several attempts for them to do it. Once they’ve had enough practice, they’ll learn how to do a good job the first time. However, it’s important for the team to believe that given enough time, they can solve whatever challenge is thrown at them. They’ll forget about all of the failures, as long as these are followed by a successful solution.

If they’re still stumped after a couple of tries, put the IC aside, and try it again at another team meeting.

Even when the team does a great job with a practice IC, it can be useful for them to try it a second time. For example, you could ask them to see if they can solve the same IC using a completely different approach. Can they use the same materials in different or unusual ways?

Explore what might happen if you were to alter the rules slightly, or substitute different materials for those specified in the IC. How would they modify their solution if the points for each item were to change dramatically? What could they have done if you had substituted cardboard for newspaper, or given them marshmallows instead of mailing labels? Try it and find out!

Practice Counts

Instant Challenge is a great way for your DI team to learn about teamwork, time management, and the creative use of materials. They will also have an opportunity to work on their performance skills. However, this won’t happen unless they practice IC on a regular basis.

You should start as soon as possible, and include IC practice during each regular team meeting. If you do this, most teams will look forward to this part of the meeting.

I like to store each Instant Challenge in a large plastic zip-lock bag. Include all of the materials, and two copies of the IC (one for you to read, and another for the team). Keep these bags in a large box or crate, so you can grab one whenever you think it’s a good time for a practice IC. If you’re always prepared when the team needs a break, it’s much more likely that your kids will get the Instant Challenge practice that they need.

When a practice IC includes materials the team is allowed to alter, it’s helpful to have two sets of materials in separate inner bags. This saves time when you want to give the team a second chance to try the same IC.

This was Part 1 of a two-part series on Instant Challenge for Team Managers. In Part 2, I’ll discuss the different types of Instant Challenges.