LEGO SERIOUS PLAY
If you are ever dealing with issues around change management, aligning teams, managing people after a merger and/or acquisition, solving complex business issues or even how to eek more creativity out of a well-established workforce…then read on.
There are some very well-established strategies for all the above, but how might you overcome issues of potential confrontation, employee embarrassment and even tune-out? For my customers, it is a case of getting out the LEGO bricks. Seriously, we explore these issues through the metaphor of play. It is a methodology called LEGO SERIOUS PLAY and it delivers amazing results on real business issues.
Meetings, Workshops and ‘Brainstorming’
When these challenges present themselves, why not just get everyone in a room with a flipchart and some slides for a presentation, meeting, workshop or brainstorming session? I’m certainly not against a traditional boardroom style meeting. I just believe there is an increasingly wider toolkit at organisations’ disposal.
One of the first issues that arises in the traditional style meeting is the balance of power. The content is often delivered by someone senior in the business who is usually both ‘an authority’ and ‘the authority’. In other words, employees are often being counselled, educated and communicated with by someone both more knowledgeable and more senior than them.
The issue here in my experience, is that even in a professionally facilitated boardroom session, not everyone contributes equally. Some people will naturally fear being wrong and making mistakes. Others will naturally dominate. Consequently, it is not unusual to get an 80/20 split among attendees; with 20 per cent of participants leading and contributing and 80 per cent not speaking up much at all. That is a huge volume of missed creativity, innovation and participation.
We are all familiar with the importance of employee engagement with regards to attracting and retaining talent, as well as productive employee outcomes. So, why work with systems that result in up to 80 per cent of your valuable human capital leaning back or zoning out altogether? Indeed, in 2007, Canon in Europe carried out a study in 18 European countries to identify what triggers anger and stress among office employees. Long futile meetings topped the list in all countries.
There is a delicate balance to strike between boredom and anxiety. If you want your message to be heard, it is important to think carefully about this balance.
The Flow Model modified from work done by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in 1991
The boardroom style meeting can very easily kill creativity. When you are working with what you already “know that you know”, deeper insights are very limited. In fact, all brainstorming studies since the 1950s show that groups which brainstorm together produce far fewer ideas than when the same number of people work alone and pool their ideas — and the bigger the group the greater the difference.
Since the 1970s, researchers have known that people vastly prefer to use visual and spatial approaches to solving problems. When we use this way of thinking, we are more creative than when we use words and concepts. When we can play with combining images and physical objects, we find it easier and are faster at coming up with ideas which are surprising and different and have unexpected qualities.
Enter LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. A facilitated thinking, communication and problem solving technique, it is used by teams, individuals and organisations to solve real business issues. It is particularly effective for unleashing creative insights, bonding teams and tackling problems that are particularly complex.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburg & Carnegie Mellon have found that when people mentally prepare for a task and play with the available decision options, they activate the part of their brain which makes non-routine decisions. If you have played with ideas regarding what you will do if a given situation arises, your decision making will be better and faster than if you have not played through the various scenarios and options in advance.
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY does just that. Based on the concept of hand knowledge it draws on extensive research from the fields of business, organisation development, psychology and learning. After all, 70-80 per cent of the nerve endings in our brains are connected to our hands.
It works so effectively because teams are free to explore issues, relationships, ideas and challenges through metaphor. They tell stories and reflect. Workshops can run from between just 2-3 hours right up to a whole day, depending on the complexity of the issue and the time available. A certified facilitator like myself will consult with a business on the challenge and design a bespoke programme of activity.
Most of the workshops feature between three and 15 people. That said, I have also run a LEGO SERIOUS PLAY ‘experience’ session for 35 people. At that larger size however, insights are not usually quite as deep for practical reasons.
The format starts with a warm-up or skills building session. This proves to everyone that they are capable of building with bricks. The workshop then goes on to pose some very carefully crafted questions to which participants build their answer. Everyone then shares and reflects.
In the longer, more sophisticated workshops, everyone’s models are added to a ‘landscape’. The core of the matter might sit in the middle of a large table, and the group decides where the models get situated in relation to it and each other. The more critical the model, the closer the proximity. In some cases, we will even connect related models in order to understand how everything interrelates and how one factor can be impacted by another.
I have experienced some truly amazing outcomes, because in LEGO SERIOUS PLAY the bricks serve as a common language that everyone can use, regardless of their education, position or culture. This ensures that everyone’s knowledge and insights are surfaced.
The starting focus in LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is on each individual and not the group. This means that the structure of the process requires everyone to be actively involved in the decision process, which increases the probability that all parties will honour the decisions, ideas and agreements after the meeting. People become genuinely emotionally committed to the things they build and/or build together. We usually demonstrate this early in the workshop by asking participants to dismantle their first build. It usually results in a round of “ohs!”.
More concrete ideas and results are produced, because everyone has time to build his/her answers and input before conversation and knowledge sharing begins. It also ensures faster and better communication and understanding because it uses 3D visualisation, metaphors and stories. This also leads to fewer misunderstandings.
Meetings, workshops and brainstorming sessions facilitated by LEGO SERIOUS PLAY stay on topic because the focus is on the bricks — not on the person. This also allows the discussion to become very intense without creating personal conflicts.
Importantly, because EVERYONE builds all of the time, there is 100 per cent participation, 100 per cent of the time.
Donald Schön (1971) argued that metaphors can actually generate radically new ways of understanding things. This is certainly the case for many of my clients. For example, a workshop for a firm of solicitors that wanted to understand their five-year success plan among fee earners, revealed an urgent need for partner succession planning. A hospitality business helped its leadership team understand each other’s core personal values and work more cohesively.
As Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”