How Does LEGO Serious Play Work?

The simple answer to this question is easy.  The process of a basic LEGO Serious Play (LSP) workshop follows the same pattern.  A group is first asked an open ended question by a trained facilitator. Then each person responds by building a model that represents their answer, the blocks are used in metaphors and contributes to their story.  Once the build is complete (usually 7-8 minutes), each person is given time to tell their story, their interpretation to the original question.  The final stage is all about clarification and seeking to understand, ensuring everyone’s perspective is heard.

That is it, pretty simple right?

A better question might be - Why does LSP work so well?

Humans are interesting creatures.  More so when we begin to interact with each other.  There are all sorts of rules, body language, social cues that go on when we gather as a group.  I am not an expert in this area, but I appreciate it enough to be aware that these challenges multiply when these interactions occur in a work setting.  This introduces an additional set of ‘rules’. Power dynamics really kick in, experience, seniority, politics - all of these have the ability to bias the interactions, the discussions, the outcomes.

In this context, let’s reflect on a typical meeting in a business.  A room filled with whiteboards, post it notes, written agendas and maybe a resemblance of structure about how people are going to interact.  Typically it becomes a ‘survival of the fittest’.  The ideas from the strongest wins.  We see ideas in the form of words stuck up on a wall.  These are generally the cliche answers, people saying what they think they should be saying.  Conforming to all those social norms.  New ideas, if they make it to the table can easily be put aside if people are not given the opportunity to explain them in detail.  

In all of this, well we have become all too serious (yes pun intended).

The above scenario might be a bit generalised, but we all can recognise the situation.  Unfortunately as adults, we have structured out our creativity, how we learned, explored as a child.  We have created this artificial world of behavioural norms in a business setting.

The first element of why LSP works is in the title - play.  When teams sit down to an LSP session, we don’t go straight into the main question.  There is the warm up.  Why? As a facilitator, you want to create an environment that is relaxed and safe.  This creates a space that supports creativity and idea formation.  The same type of situation is why we get all our good ideas in the shower or mowing the lawns.

We are already changing the typical meeting process, this results in a greater change to achieve a different, more creative outcome.

As children, we learned through play.  The New Zealand curriculum and pedagogy is focused on learning through play.  This is because it enables better performance on thinking, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. As a trained Occupational Therapist, I spent my undergraduate years understanding the power of occupation and using activity to gain or regain skills and independence. It is a focus on doing. Building on this knowledge, Solutions Based Therapy is a process that is focused on exploring what is working, looking for the positives rather than reflecting on historical issues and problems.

LSP takes this knowledge and uses a well designed process to incorporate these ideals in a business setting.  If we can explore, seek what works, and be active in this process, there is a greater chance we will achieve a wider range of ideas and solutions to the problem being focused on.  In this way, LSP improves the group dynamics - using auditory (user stories), visual (individual builds) and kinesthetic skills.  All of a sudden, everyone has a voice.

So the positive psychology stacks up through Constructivism, Constructionism and Flow Theory.  It also is supported from a neurology aspect. When viewing the body representation on the primary motor cortex, the hand is overrepresented when compared to the rest of the body as seen in the Cortical Homunculus (the weird picture below).  So why wouldn’t you use your hands to explore and learn?

Yes LSP is fun, it does use Lego and it utilises play to create a safe environment.  Yet there is a very serious side to why it works, why it is a powerful tool for individuals and teams to explore issues facing them.

A chance to think differently, have better conversations and create clarity as a team.  That is how LSP works.


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