I tried Lego Serious Play for the first time — here’s what happened
What’s, why’s, how’s and lessons learned
More than a year ago I was looking up new ways I can spice up my work through introducing my colleagues to new ways of problem solving. Way too many brainstorming techniques and design thinking alternatives later, our paths have crossed on Google’s infinite pool of possibilities. And that was when I first read about Lego Serious Play, however, due to the serious time constraints at that time, I haven’t done much about it, apart from bookmarking their website.
More recently, drawn by the ‘play’ and ‘Lego’ components of this methodology, I found myself unable to dig out of all blogs, articles and studies about and around LSP. Anybody else addicted to workshop methodologies? I might be a first :)
By the time I figured there are both a certification required and a pretty big fee between me and making LSP an integral part of my job, it was too late to give up on it without experimenting with it at the very least. I got myself so excited about this methodology that for a couple of days I was actually considering impulse registering for the certification training, without even thinking about the circumstances (at that time we were in the early months of the pandemic) or the actual added value it could bring to my life. So for the other easily excitable people out there, I see you and I hear you! Eventually, I decided that reading more about it and having a try out would make more sense for a newbie like me. Don’t get me wrong, I put quite some efforts into getting myself equipped with the basic understanding of LSP before experimenting on humans :) I am mentioning all resources I used at the end of this article, for anybody that is interested.
What Lego Serious Play actually is
Before sharing my LSP experiment, I think clearing the air is a good first step. Lego Serious Play is NOT a workshop itself, but a workshop methodology. Meaning that if you expect LSP to provide you with content, you will be disappointed.
However, what you CAN use it for, is problem solving in different contexts such as: enterprise development, team development and personal development. What makes LSP special is its ability to
- Create leaning in (all participants are highly engaged)
- Unlock new knowledge (mostly because of the building component of it).
- Break habitual thinking
Due to the nature of my job, I have to put up mostly with abstract thinking, so each opportunity to think in a concrete way comes as a breath of fresh air. To differentiate between concrete vs abstract thinking, I will share with you an exercise I found in one of the books on LSP.
Essentially, it is easier to create and visualize a representation if it is presented to us in 3D, as “making 2 dimensional representations of things does not come natural to us”, humans. My take on this was that instead of obsessing over a problem that I am facing, I better be building its physical representation and start from there. It is a given the fact that we don’t know what we know, and using our hands for problem solving, is unlocking new knowledge that is stored deeply somewhere in our brains. It is worth mentioning that Lego Serious Play methodology is based on neuroscience elements, which to me is the most interesting part, but for the sake of keeping this written piece to the point, I might dedicate a separate post to this topic only.
One paramount aspect of them all is to have a clear understanding about what you are solving for, in other words, what the goal of the workshop is. According to my (limited) experience, a vague goal is due to obtain vague outcomes…the example I will share below makes no exception.
Two colleagues of mine agreed to participate in a Lego Serious Play workshop facilitated by yours truly, and together we’ve decided to focus on a personal development goal: to put a stop to mental chaos and determine ways to prioritize where the energy is invested — easily said than done.
To reach the goal, LSP propose the following structure:
Phase 1: Skills building through different techniques
- Technical (focusing on the use of Lego bricks)
- Use of metaphors (explaining the meaning of a Lego model through metaphors)
An ‘Explain this’ exercise for example, is meant to form and train the skills mentioned above. Initially, the participants were encouraged to build random models, like the one below. Next, they were allocated three words that they had to explain to the rest of the participants by using the model previously created. Just as a reference, concepts such as leadership, government and the universe were explained through the use of the Lego model below.
Phase 2: Lego Serious Play Process
Step 1: Posing the question
Step 2: Construction
Step 4: Reflection
…and repeat depending on the number of questions addressed.
In the interest of time, during the test workshop I used three challenges that were meant to gradually lead towards putting some order into the mental chaos (in the context of work). The participants had to build models in response to the challenge at hand.
- Create a visual representation of the current state of your mind.
- Create a visual representation of a desired state of mind.
- Create a visual representation of a bridge between the current and the desired state of mind.
In this case, you are looking at the current task/work prioritization mental process of one of the participants. The white ladder represents the incoming tasks pipeline, the two human figurines are a metaphor for the life outside of work, the colorful construction stands for organizing incoming task/activities depending on their importance and effort required, while the brown rectangle represents a pile of activities and tasks that one should not invest time in. The grey tower is a metaphor for one’s consciousness, trying to look over all task and activities and observing the way the prioritization process is done.
The second model represents a perception of an ideal mental process. All elements are connected compared to the previous phase. We see the same tasks/activities pipeline (white ladder) that this time leads to a lake of options where the prioritization process happens in such a way that only a few can make it past the glass wall. The environment created behind the glass wall in this case is a metaphor for what the participant wants to achieve — becoming a highly skilled and knowledgeable individual.
The final model represents a transition between the current and ideal prioritization mental process. There are three core differences compared to the previous model (‘Desired state’). The various activities/tasks are going through a selection process (green bridge) rather than lingering around in the lake of options. The glass wall separating it from a rather unattainable goal has been removed, while the highly skilled and knowledgeable individual represented through the figurine wearing a hat, has been replaced by a different figurine (wearing a crown) — a metaphor for an individual that has a better understanding of what they want and need from the world.
Phase 5: Debrief — reserve some time at the end of the workshop to summarize the outcomes and create an action plan (follow-up actions).
Things you might want to consider
- Running a Lego Serious Play workshop is time-consuming as it requires a considerable amount of preparation time; if you are like me, and has never done this before, be ready to invest up to a week of effort. Depending on the number of participants and the topic chosen, the workshop will take at least two hours (including the skills building phase and reflection phase)
- The workshop facilitator is the most important player in this Serious Game, that’s why I encourage everybody to get certified if they have the chance. I will most certainly do so once the circumstances are more favorable. As an unexperienced facilitator, I can tell that things can easily run out of control and progress very fast in the wrong direction.
- I cannot stress how important it is to start the workshop with a goal that is clear and useful to everyone. A vague goal will only lead to even more vague results…and you do not want that after spending hours getting ready for this moment.
Other than this, I think Lego Serious Play is a fascinating methodology that I want to explore and experiment more with mostly because it pretty much forces your brain to think outside patterns. Another important learning for me was that abstract thinking (such as making sense of/visualizing a 2D representation of a Lego construction) does not come natural to us, so it will always be easier to seek for a solution when the problem lies (literally) in front of our eyes.
Resources available out there:
Building a better business using the Lego Serious Play method — P. Kristiansen & R.Rasmussen
How to facilitate meetings & workshops using the Lego Serious Play method — S. Blair, M. Rillo & Partners
Lego Serious Play starter kit — for up to 5 people