LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®: A Unique Approach to Building High-Performance Teams
/ by Darwin Antipolo / 11/6/2022
Teambuilding activities come in all shapes and sizes, but one of the most innovative and interactive options is the application of the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method in an engaging workshop, meeting, or corporate event.
Developed in the 1990s by the Lego company with an external consultant, the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® approach leverages simple Lego bricks and elements in thoughtful exercises that aim to enhance team communication, problem-solving, and creativity.
So what makes LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® unlike any other teambuilding approach? Here are some of its unique factors:
Hands-On Tactile Experience
Unlike stuffy meetings or boring icebreakers, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® gets participants out of their chairs and interacting in a dynamic, hands-on environment. The act of building Lego models generates playful engagement and fun-filled team dynamics. The tangible, tactile experience of snapping Lego bricks together appeals to visual and kinesthetic learners who retain information more readily by doing and touching. There is something magical when your hands do the thinking in response to external stimuli, like a well-meaning question.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® utilizes guided imagination techniques. As the facilitator, I lead the group through a series of carefully structured exercises where participants build Lego models in response to thought-provoking questions or challenge statements. This process takes participants out of their heads and taps into a more imaginative mindset that silences inner critics and activates innovative thinking. What is the story behind your Lego model? It allows the participants to tap into their creative potential in a focused way by blending individual imagination, group storytelling, the use of metaphors, and skilled facilitation.
Metaphors and Storytelling
Because Lego-created models are abstract representations rather than realistic models, they serve as metaphors for deeper messages and stories. I always maintain that the stories in any LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®-infused workshop are the key. Lego models serve as concrete artifacts that symbolize abstract ideas. The act of constructing these tangible representations drives understanding. Participants use their Lego builds as vehicles for explaining concepts, sharing outlooks, and framing problems and solutions. This storytelling element helps improve perspective-taking and empathy.
Quick Iterations and Adaptations
Unlike drawing or writing, which can induce perfectionism, Lego bricks allow quick iteration. Models can be easily deconstructed, adapted, and rebuilt. I sometimes spotlight learning moments when models crumble while being held up. Everything is fair game in a play experience. This encourages out-of-the-box thinking, feedback integration, and agile problem solving. New ideas can be quickly incorporated because nothing is permanent. Adept facilitators of the method usually feed into the emerging dynamics to adapt conversation and learning pathways.
Creates a Level Playing Field
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® tends to level the playing field. It gives natural introverts a voice through the Lego models, rather than forced public speaking. And it engages less strategic thinkers with the hands-on creative approach. Since no specialized artistic or building skills are required, all participants can contribute fully. The play table invites everyone to a safe space of conversation and dialogue around inanimate models that are infused with meaning.
Generates Rich Visual Artifacts
The Lego models serve as vivid visual reminders of the workshop experience that can be used long after the event itself. Many facilitators document the Lego creations and participants’ stories through photos and videos. These artifacts continue to spark insights and conversations back in the workplace. Recreating the models or layouts can also be a powerful way to follow up. I've observed the persistence of stories that a team has collectively created, which have served as a powerful motivator and reminder for the team.
Building with Lego involves sight, sound, touch, and motion. These sensorial elements reinforce ideas or themes and increase engagement from all participants. For many who have played with Lego as children, there is satisfaction in hearing the sound of the bricks being mixed and the satisfying snap of Lego bricks connecting. I always encourage participants to listen with their eyes. The stories being told around the models are, in fact, the heroes of the method. And, when participants start standing up, moving around their tables, and reaching out for that specific Lego brick to complete the model, this stimulates creative flow.
In many instances, I get a minimum of 2 hours of teambuilding activity within their “serious” packed event! I know. It does afford me a lead-in to have a dialogue with the stakeholder to explore reframing the intent of gathering. Yes, many want it quick, fast, and cheap. Applying LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® provides fast takeaways. The hands-on activities model real scenarios and challenges from the workplace. Participants gain insights from the Lego builds themselves plus follow-up reflection. These aha moments offer immediate, applicable lessons.
While following key principles, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops can adapt to many goals and contexts. As a facilitator that utilizes the method, I tend to adapt the process and customize it according to the specific team stages and needs: leadership alignment, improved strategy execution, enhancing innovation skills, onboarding new hires, and more. The flexibility allows for a tailored experience. Thus, I fully encourage the team leader or teambuilding sponsor to have a wider conversation to dig deeper and explore the needs of the team. To build the team into what? why? Let’s make the time to gather more intentional.
Memorable and Fun
Unlike stuffy meetings, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops tend to feel fresh and invigorating. I always smile when I see the faces of participants when they enter the room, revealing a playful space with LEGO elements on top of their tables instead of papers and pens. Participants describe the experience as energizing and joyful. Interactive playfulness releases feel-good endorphins and emotions that bond teams together in a shared, memorable experience. It’s hard not to smile and unleash your inner child. Play can indeed be serious, with tangible plans or actions.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® offers an expansive toolset for pushing teams in new directions, elevating them to high performers. The multi-sensory, metaphorical, and structured imagination aspects create a workshop unlike any other teambuilding approach. While results depend on skilled facilitation, the methodology lends itself to impactful outcomes and unified teams.
In the end, Lego and the developed method become more than just a game. It is a potent play experience that can be applied to many team-based developmental programs.