What’s all this fuss about Lego Serious Play?

Lego Serious Play® – an unorthodox training philosophy, explored and evaluated
Being fairly new to the Learning & Development industry, I’ve been doing plenty of online research to gen up on some of the key trends and methodologies around.  (No doubt I’ll be writing about many of them in the coming months, so watch this space).  But one which really got me excited was the concept of Lego Serious Play®, also known as LSP.
First impressions
Almost instantly, several very positive associations with the Lego brand sprang to mind:

  • Fun!
  • Hands-on: immersive and memorable
  • Creativity: building things and roleplay
  • Nostalgia: carefree memories of playing, with no goal or deadline

And then further thoughts occurred to me, such as:

  • Innovation: isn’t it clever to use a kid’s toy for adults in professional environments?
  • Brand envy: ‘Serious Play’ is a brilliant name; it sounds both engaging and worthy
  • Guilt: I should encourage my kids to play with Lego more; they love building stuff, but somehow we’ve forgotten about Lego recently

So I decided to find out more and, preferably, give LSP a try.
What is LSP all about?
There is lots of material on Lego Serious Play online.  In a way, it’s easy to research.  But there are no negative reviews about it.  It is said to be used in organisations as prominent and diverse as Oxford University, google, NASA, FedEx, Stanford Business School and the UN.  Everyone seems to love it.
There’s a lot of hype out there: different LSP qualified facilitators make very different claims about exactly what they can offer and what your company can achieve by using it.  But there are many specific uses and benefits for which there is a general consensus.
Because Lego is physical, it’s useful for modelling processes, customer experience journeys or even inter-departmental interaction.  As it is 3D and brightly coloured it is also particularly visual, and the possible combinations are almost endless. This makes it a great tool to encourage creativity or to use for visualisation of potential future scenarios.  Finally, it is agreed to be a tool to facilitate discussion and to allow self-expression, because the structures built are metaphorical and so difficult themes can be explored in a non-confrontational way.
If you want to try LSP, you need a trained facilitator.  There are quite a few to be found on the internet, several of whom offer Facilitator Training in the method.
Fortunately, if you want a little free-of-charge taster session, accredited facilitator Michael Fearne offers a Free ‘Quick Start Guide’ on his website.  I downloaded it, read the guide and followed the three simplified steps:

  • Question
  • Build
  • Share

Choosing the guinea pigs was easy; I was already determined to get my kids back into the world of Lego.  Choosing the right question, given that I had no training, was another matter.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to express feelings through metaphor.  I also hoped to resolve an issue with my 8 year old.  He’s rejected the opportunity to go to a new gym club, which I suspect is due to a fear of failure or anxiety about fitting in, rather than a genuine lack of interest in gymnastics, which he has always enjoyed. So we sat down as a family (two adults, two kids) around a table full of lego with the task of building our answer out of lego… the question was, ‘How did you feel on your first day at school/of a new job?’
The four structures we built were quite dissimilar, but when we came to share our thoughts, there was a great deal of commonality in our thinking.  We had all experienced mixed emotions, largely positive, but with definite undertones of anxiety in facing the unknown.  It was an interesting experience seeing everyone’s differences and similarities and we all enjoyed the process.
The key benefits of using the LSP method are broadly cited as:

  • Inclusive: it fits all kinds of communication styles and is particularly strong at enabling less outgoing individuals to make their contribution. My experience reflected this, with my (sometimes deliberately mute) 4 year old really enjoying having her turn at explaining her work of art.  Okay, she didn’t really know why some of the pieces were there, but she did a good job of relating it back to her first day at school and how that felt.
  • Visual: it’s possible to see at a glance that everyone has different perspectives and the methodology enables further explanation and discussion. Impressively, my outgoing 8 year old was so intrigued by everyone else’s designs that he Actually Listened to each of us elaborating on the story behind our structures.  That doesn’t happen every day.
  • Engagement: everybody enjoys ‘playing’ with Lego and having a chance to express themselves, especially because there is no wrong answer. Of course, you would expect young kids to be uninhibited about getting stuck in with Lego.  But would some adults feel awkward about it?  We both certainly felt happy to build and discuss without fear of being judged, but would this apply to colleagues in a work environment?  Anecdotal evidence online is that everyone gets caught up in the novelty of such an unusual method; I would guess that the facilitator also has a role to play here in setting the ground rules appropriately and encouraging a positive and open environment.

By and large my mini-experiment with Lego Serious Play corroborates the main claims made about it.  Okay, it wasn’t very scientific; we didn’t use a trained facilitator and we only tried it once.  But I saw evidence that there is plenty of merit in the methodology, and surely potential for a variety of applications with adults in business or organisational situations.  If you wanted to summarise these uses, they all boil down to LSP being a great tool for creating a shared vision.
The value of this?  A shared vision will help you progress as an organisation as you strive to understand each others’ perspectives better, or to implement change cohesively.  The next logical step in the process would be to align to this shared vision by running effective learning activities which develop co-operative team skills, positive attitudes and beneficial behaviours.
Gemma Nightingale, MTa Learning
Postscript: after our experiment with Lego Serious Play, my eight year old did eventually come to the conclusion that starting new things is scary – like his first day at school was – but still worthwhile and exciting.  He decided to give the new gym club a try… and loved it.