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Team Tangrams

Teaching Team Execution

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Learning Objectives

As a result of participating in this activity, learners will:

  1. Construct predetermined designs by incorporating seven pieces from a Tangram puzzle utilizing team skills found in TeamSTEPPS.
  2. Manage team processes to collaboratively problem-solve a simple puzzle.
  3. Resolving dilemmas presented by puzzles, evaluate skills and strategies used by the team for their efficacy and effectiveness based, at least in part, on the resolution of the challenge in allotted time frames.


  1. Assemble students into teams of 5-6 using some method to ensure diversity/interprofessionalism on each team.
  2. Provide student teams with Tangrams, which can be assembled on a shared, flat surface (please download related handout for more information about the Tangram puzzle).


Tangrams are easily available through national online suppliers for a very reasonable cost.  Our experience has been that plastic puzzles work best.


Small Group, Medium Group


Minimal Equipment - Tangram puzzles, pre-printed leadership sheets


One Hour



Tangrams done in rounds


Round 1: Learners are presented with simple tasks that allow them to become familiar with how Tangram pieces relate to one another geometrically utilizing the seven pieces to create separate images of a square and a rectangle, both of which are presented in a graphic image that does not identify individual pieces but rather simply demonstrates the overall shape as a whole.

Following this activity, reveal the potential solutions, possibly through PPT.

Round 2: Provide a more complex series of puzzles for teams to collaboratively resolve using just seven Tangram pieces. These may be timed or may be competitive in inter-team interactions.

Again, following this activity, reveal the potential solutions.

Round 3: Let only one team member see the target shape, again in the solid black format, and lead his/her team to construct the image without being directly (they must hold their hands behind their back) involved in the construction.

At the end of the activity, the leader shares with the team the image they were to have captured. If they failed to do so in the allotted time, permit them to construct the figure before moving forward.

Debrief Questions

Each round required you to work as a team to find solutions to the given puzzle. In some cases the challenge was greater than others:

  1. How did you and your team communicate regarding potential solutions to the Tangram puzzles?
  2. What tools to resolve disagreements or potential conflicts did your utilize? What TeamSTEPPS skills were involved?
  3. Tangrams involved the possibility that a piece of the puzzle might need to be completely reoriented (turned over) from its original presentation. In your team. Were there some people with stronger skills at recognizing that than others? How did you keep people who were less skilled engaged in providing input?
  4. In Round 3, only one person was permitted to see the image of the final product. This “leader” was constrained, however, from physically participating in finding a solution. How is that similar on a healthcare team to challenges presented by telemedicine? What are the possibilities that someone may see a solution to a challenge in healthcare even though it exceeds their legal scope of practice? How does team leadership invite or prevent that kind of participation?

Clinical Application

  1. Just as there are multiple solutions to the Tangrams puzzles, there are often multiple solutions to patient issues. For example, a diabetic patient with multiple co-morbidities. How does the team decide on the correct solution to the patient problem? What if that decision not correct? Whose fault is it? (answer to last question - The team)
  2. In the Tangrams puzzle, there are different sizes and shapes of pieces. How does this represent the healthcare team? Does this represent a hierarchy? What barriers do hierarchies cause to patients? Providers?
  3. Often, individual providers identify different problems for the same patient but cannot solve these individually. What is the best solution?

Bloom's Taxonomy


TeamSTEPPS domain


IPEC Competency

CC 1, 4 & 5
TT 1, 5 & 8


Tangrams are a puzzle made up of geometric shapes as you see in the illustration above. They consist of seven pieces which can be combined to create a (typically) 4” square. Additionally, however, those seven pieces can be combined to form other geometric designs, as well.


For more information about how to utilize games, low-fidelity simulation, and interactive learning to teach concepts of teamwork and collaboration, contact

Related Tags

choice, collaboration, communication, conflict, feedback, inexpensive, leadership, low barrier, low resource, mutual support, plan, puzzles, shared mental model, tangram, team function, team membership, teams and teamwork, urgency