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Intervention is a Business Mirror that examines the way that small errors in business processes can quickly escalate into major performance problems.

Participants work in a group of between 4 and 10. The activity is focused on four sections with separate playing boards that are unfolded over the course of 4 rounds, each lasting approximately 10 minutes. Each section shows a differently arranged pattern of 100 squares that must be progressively covered by placing jigsaw pieces on top of them. The aim is to cover as many of the squares as possible with as little error and wastage as can be managed. The sequence of placing the jigsaw pieces is controlled by a shuffled pack of cards. Each group member in turn takes a card from the top of the pack, each card shows a different jigsaw piece and it is that piece that the group member must place on the playing board. The total area of the jigsaw pieces is 100 squares so great care must be exercised in choosing where each piece is placed.

Inevitably there will be an 'overspill' of jigsaw pieces onto the penalty area that surrounds the board. At the end of each round the total number of penalty squares covered by the jigsaw pieces is counted. This number of squares is deducted from the available playing area for the next round, thus giving a cumulative error that rapidly and negatively affects the performance of the group.

Between rounds two and three there is a ten minute 'intervention' period during which the group is asked to devise and commit to changes in their method of operation which will deliver performance improvements. Participants recognise the rapidly mounting cumulative error and the need to decide on a set of ground rules to follow in the remaining rounds in order to stem the accumulation of penalties in the next two rounds. The rules set out by the facilitator at the beginning of the task may be questioned, however not all rules can be set aside. Once they have a new set of ground rules written on their flip chart, these rules must be adhered to through the following two rounds.

Learning Outcomes

The review of the exercise should be focused on the way in which minor errors escalate into poor overall performance and the way in which a clear and agreed set of process guidelines helps to reduce these errors. This can be illustrated by a rough graph of the cumulative error across the four rounds, showing a steeply climbing trend for the first two rounds and a downward deflection after round two. The extent of this deflection is an indication of the effectiveness of their ground rules in delivering performance improvement.

At this point there is a direct path back to the participants' workplace situation and the transferable learning may be clearly defined.

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