Lego® Serious Play® workshops

Interacting with complex systems brings many challenges. We can feel frustrated and overwhelmed when confronted with a level of complexity that we feel unable to comprehend, leaving us incapable to make decisions. We often struggle to see that our differing opinions on how to act are based on the fact that we all see the same situation from slightly different viewpoints and therefore come to different conclusions. This can lead to conflict, arguing about whose conclusion is right, while unable to see that everyone's conclusions contain valuable pieces of the puzzle. It can be difficult to access the information from stakeholders, which is necessary to gain a full picture of the system.

In order to overcome these challenges, I organise workshops using the Lego ® Serious Play ® method, which:

  • allow anyone to explore complexity with confidence
  • help to accept and combine differing perspectives and honour our own responsibility within the system
  • make it possible to access a wide range of information

On the left you see the overview I created to summarises the benefits I experienced while using the Lego ® Serious Play® method.

I explain all the components of the overview in this article: How bricks can help us to tackle complexity

Origins of Lego® Serious Play®

Looking for a tool to unlock innovation within the company, the Lego® Group realized that a solution might be found in the Lego® System itself: just as the Lego® Group had been telling children to ‘build their dreams’ for decades, so perhaps adults could be asked to build their visions for future strategy. Building upon the inclusive and participatory nature of the Lego® System, Lego® Serious Play® rejects the idea that external ‘experts’ must be brought in to identify problems, and to propose solutions. Instead Lego® Serious Play® begins with the assumption that the answers are ‘already in the room’, and invites participants to ‘think with their hands’ to build their understandings. Every member of the team participates, and everyone has a voice.

Think with the body

The idea that we need to ‘think with the body’ has gained support from a convergence of new evidence from psychology and neuroscience. These theories emphasize that cognitive processes such as learning and memory are strongly influenced by the way we use our bodies to interact with the physical world.  Our mental work is helped by being able to build visual reminders of different significant aspects of a problem. Neuroscientific researchers have called this ‘reduction of workload’ – reducing the number of things the brain has to deal with at once by off-loading the meanings into visible and tangible objects.

Build metaphors

Lego® bricks  make it easy for participants to put together satisfying models which represent something that they wish to communicate. They do not need significant technical skills. Most people find it quite easy to build meaningful constructions, even if they have not used Lego® bricks before. The bricks come in many shapes and colours and provide inspiration for metaphors.

The four basic phases

  1. The building challenge is posed to the participants, the building time is made clear, and the facilitator asks participants to build a model with their Lego® bricks that expresses their response to the building challenge.
  2. While building their models, participants assign meaning and narrative to their models by means of metaphors, figures of speech, and narratives. During construction of the model, the individual participant undergoes a reflective process through which they gain a clearer and more detailed conception of and insight into their own reflections and thoughts. The building process both inspires and supports the reflective process, and participants are given a chance to think with their hands. The fact that participants use their hands to build concrete, three-dimensional models of their reflections and ideas, gives them easier access to the knowledge and experience that is stored in their minds and it catalyses new trains of thought.
  3. Participants share their stories and assigned meanings about their models with each other. The sharing is in itself a reflection process. When they share their models, participants explore their own expressions more closely. Those listening also have an opportunity to explore in more detail what the narrator expresses through the model.
  4. The participants reflect on the answers and identify key insights, guided by the facilitator.

Shared models

The process typically begins with participants building individual models. They might then be asked to build additions to models they have already built, and to build connections between models already built. Connections are built between two or more models, and they can be shown with placement – by placing the models at a certain distance and in a certain direction towards each other – or by physically building the relation between two models in a manner which represents the kind of relationship. Using this approach, models of entire systems can be built by combining and integrating individual models. These models can then be used to play through scenarios.

Applications

Lego® Serious Play® is a tool which can be used in a wide range of contexts. At its heart, it is a method for the facilitation of dialogue and constructive communication within groups of people. It is based on the belief that everyone can contribute to the discussion, the decisions and the outcome. Lego® Serious Play® has been used at companies worldwide for a broad range of purposes, including:

  • Strategy development and exploration – Examining and evaluating relations to external partners and clients.
  • Organizational development – For management, teams and individual employees.
  • Innovation and product development – Unleashing creative thinking and transforming ideas into concrete concepts.
  • Change management – Facilitating and implementing structural changes and mergers.

This information is based on the document "Introduction to Lego® Serious Play®"