Houston, we have a problem...™ | Collaboration Training Activity

This challenging and popular activity encourages teams to cooperate rather than compete, to share information rather than hoard it and to work together for ultimate success. An out-of-world experience! But how much time is wasted in competing before the penny drops?

Learning Objectives

  • The opportunity to show and develop a range of team skills
  • Appreciating the implications of executing a task poorly
  • The need for communicating a situation clearly
  • The need for clear written and face-to-face communications
  • Addressing the issues of working under pressure
  • The importance of cooperation between groups, or departments, at work

Repeat Use Licence

This Northgate training activity comes with a licence for repeat use with up to 24 participants per training session within your organisation. Please ask for a discount for use with larger groups.

  • Participants

    12-24 (4 teams of 3-6 per team)

  • Timing

    1.5 hours + debrief

  • Uses a computer?

    Not required

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The Activity

Teams of lunar astronauts address the logistics of collecting rock samples, erecting a laser beacon and planting a flag. With limited amounts of oxygen and water between teams, cooperation is the only viable solution and the sooner teams realise, and everyone gets ‘on-board’, the better! Just when it looks like they’re on top of it all they’ll need to re-group to deal with an emergency communication from Mission Control in Houston. A malfunction in the life-dependent filter needs a quick fix. With the materials available can they do it? Will it work? Will they get back to Earth?

A great way to hammer home the importance of good relations and effective working strategies within teams – and also the difficult but crucially important factor of good relations between teams.

Trainer's Role

  • Introduce the activity
  • Issue Team Briefs
  • After 30 minutes, issue MESSAGE FROM HOUSTON and observe the effect on team performance
  • After a total of 70 minutes (from the start of the exercise) bring the filter parts together for testing (each team makes 25% of the filter)
  • Lead a Debrief to discuss the learning outcomes and key lessons
  • Relate the lessons to the workplace

Full Trainer’s Notes explain all and give discussion notes.

Pack Contents

  • Trainer's Notes
  • Team Briefs
  • Message from Houston
  • Messaging pads
  • Construction card
  • Scissors, rulers, tape and sticky tape
  • Ball
  • PDF Files of extra, optional forms (Key Points Handouts & Action Plan Forms)

I used 'Houston, we have a problem…' on the launch of Network Rail's Senior Leader Programme. It was stimulating, fun, entertaining, demanding, challenging, engaging and they succeeded in delivering an excellent product. The participants really enjoyed it and the review was simply amazing. So thank you very much for your tremendous help and support in coaching me through the process and reassuring me that it was the perfect exercise for these senior leaders. Well you were right again, so a big thank you.

Eversley Felix, MD, Eversley Felix Consulting Ltd

'Houston, we have a problem...' is a real winner! Very positive feedback from participants about the way the activity related to work.

Ted Hall, Director, TBT Associates

Very effective learning on teamwork and communication skills. No single team can achieve the objective - it has to be a joint solution. 'Houston, we have a problem...' is another very powerful Northgate activity.

Patrick Harlington, ANSA Business Development

We have now used 'Houston, we have a problem...' in 4 different countries and the messages delivered translate well and are relevant to different cultures. Wherever we have delivered this module it has been received well and the feedback has always been that it was fun and interesting.

Jonathan Aylwin, C2C Program Manager (Global Industrial), TE Connectivity

'Houston, we have a problem...' drove home a strong point about the need for more direct communication, and also how they need to work together rather in silo.

Hazel Sia, Certified Trainer, Comsolutions Sdn Bhd, Malaysia

We used 'Houston, we have a problem...' very successfully at a conference we held in January. I wanted an activity that entertained as well as highlighted communication issues. It was enjoyed thoroughly and led to some great discussions afterwards, primarily around trust and collaboration - job, very effectively, done.

Keith Clarke, VP Operations, ARM Holdings Plc

'Houston, we have a problem…' went down really well and the participants really enjoyed it although they did find it quite challenging. They didn’t manage to get the correct answer but they also didn’t really mind as they had managed to come up with a plan and had worked reasonably well together. They had great fun using the filter which just about worked! It was very interesting to see their reactions to the task and how they slowly came to understand what was required of them. We also had an inflatable solar system and rocket ships in the room to add to the atmosphere!

Sinéad O'Connor, HRD Business Partner, Almac Group

'Houston, we have a problem…' was very well received when used in a global conference with teams in Lisbon.

Rebecca Tisdale, EMEA Operations Training Senior Specialist, Equinix

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