Broken Squares – The Game that Made us Whole

The game of Broken Squares amply demonstrates the value of giving.  I first played this game at a Team Training in 1997, conducted by Gagan Adlakha and Arjun Shekhar for the LSB Products team at Essex Farms.

The game goes like this…

The entire group, say 30 people, is split into teams of 5 each, and seated at their own round tables around the room.  Each team is handed five packets (one for each member) of plastic pieces cut from five squares.  When sorted out and put together correctly, they would make five squares that are identical in their dimensions.

Each member opens her/his packet and examines the pieces to see if they fit together to make a square.  The pieces have been distributed across different members so none of the packets complete a square, and people will need to exchange pieces to make their own squares.

The goal of the game:

Each team plays to complete the square with each team member in as little time as possible.  The team that completes all five squares for its team members first is the winner.

The rules of the game:

  1. No one can say anything or gesture in any way to communicate with fellow members.
  2. No one can take or pull a piece from another member, unless s/he gives it to them.
  3. You can give a piece to anyone you like.
  4. You cannot refuse any piece you are given.

The game is played with these rules once, and the timings of each team are shared with everyone.  The facilitator then debriefs the group, for them to share their experience, and what came in the way, what helped them to move faster.  Insights emerge from the teams that took less time to complete, as well as from the others.

Our team won! And as we talked about it during the debrief, it was because of a ‘breakthrough’ in thinking triggered by what one of us did.

To begin with, we were all looking at our own pieces and trying to see whether we ourselves had our perfect square or not.  Of course, none of us did.  So then we would look around our table at other people’s pieces and tried to imagine if they had complete squares (competition!).  Some of us imagined and tried to find those pieces in other people’s pieces that would complete ours.  As soon as we identified those, we would be blocked in doing anything to get those pieces by the rules of the game (Rule 2).  So while we waited for something to happen, we would also look at our pieces and imagine which of the  pieces did we NOT need, and tried to figure out who to give those to, for who they would complete their squares (charity?).  One or two giving of pieces happened where they certainly fit into the other’s jigsaw and the giver was sure they had no use for it, but in general, no one knew what to do.

Until one of us made a bold move!

Ruchika handed me a piece, which I had to take, but which I couldn’t fit into any configuration for my square.  I also observed she had actually broken her square and given a piece that actually she needed to complete her square.  I was wondering why she had given the piece to me when the rules of the game suddenly clicked, and I realized she was signaling to me to give!  I looked at the pieces I already had and gave one to another where it helped him make his square.  I also gave Ruchika’s piece back to her, and hers was as complete as it was before she handed me that piece.

The team quickly caught on to the convention.  Give, so that the other may give.  Give with the trust that if you really need something, it’ll come back to you for the other will give it to you.

As this convention crystallized and dawned on us around the table, we began to frantically give, watching more for what others needed and could benefit from, than trying to hold on to the incompleteness with our own pieces.  I suddenly realized I had four people caring for my completeness instead of just me being focused on myself alone.  In no time we had all five squares complete.

This became a turning point in the lives of many of us that day.

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One comment on “Broken Squares – The Game that Made us Whole

  1. Pradipta Bhaskar Singh says:

    This post is a wonderful insight into real and perceived success, the wisdom of oneness, and the collective strength.

    I think we learn to receive and give as we grow up. We receive affection from our parents; we extend affection towards our siblings. We receive knowledge from our teachers; we share knowledge with our friends. The nature gives us so much; we water the plants. Then, as we grow up, why does it happen that we learn to withhold rather than to give? How does fear overcome love? This does not seem natural to me. So what happens?

    If I withhold my breath, it comes back to me in abundance. We all know that if we share our strengths with each other, then we win collectively as well as individually. Even then, how come we do not learn to pass the ball? What keeps us back? Why? If you can please write from this perspective, then we will have the illumination of the insight that your example provides.

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