The Lego Challenge team-building exercise: harness the power of play

13 August 2021

Who’d have thought that playing with Lego could teach communication, collaboration, and teamwork? 

If you’ve ever been involved in a corporate team building day it’s quite likely you’ve come across the Lego Challenge. This simple and elegant Lego team building activity is considered to be a quick and easy way to develop teamwork, making it a popular choice for facilitators.

There are limitations to the task though which we’ll explore here, along with recommendations on how to develop team skills more effectively.

Here’s what you’ll find in this blog post:

Download your FREE Lego Challenge resources 👇

What is the Lego Challenge? 

The Lego Challenge is the most common name for the Lego team-building exercise designed to improve communication and build better teams. 

The goal of the Lego Challenge is to build a model as close to a provided diagram as possible, with the exciting twist that only one member of the team has seen the diagram. And they’re not allowed to touch any bricks or be anywhere near the building process!

It’s important to note here that this challenge is not the same as Lego Serious Play (LSP). LSP lets users bring ideas to life by building them in 3D and using them as a basis to test out different scenarios. We’ve written more about LSP here – check it out to learn more.

Facilitators often use a chicken as the target model in this activity, mainly thanks to the popular version of the activity published by the guys over at Get Me Coding. You have free reign over what to build though, so let your creativity run wild.

Lego team building activities for adults are popular because most people have a few bricks laying around (or know someone who does) meaning a low-cost barrier for the task.

There’s a little more information about the challenge below, but if you want to jump straight to the instructions you can click here.

How to use the Lego Challenge for team building

By keeping the team member who’s seen the diagram separate from the rest of the team, this team building Lego activity forces communication and collaboration, both of which are crucial aspects of team building.

By describing the model and attempting to provide instructions the person with knowledge of the diagram must communicate clearly and concisely – a skill they may find surprisingly difficult!

Then, once the mediator returns to the builders and relays the instructions again, another opportunity for confusion arises. How well were they listening? How well can they not only visualise the instructions they were given but communicate them to the rest of the team?

Participants quickly realise that clear communication is harder than it looks, and effective facilitation helps them to explore this realisation. With the right follow-up questions and an opportunity to repeat the task, valuable and lasting change can be achieved.

How does the Lego Challenge help with teamwork?

To summarise, the Lego Challenge helps with teamwork in the following ways:

  • It improves collaboration by forcing team members to work together to achieve an end result.
  • It also improves communication by strengthening an individual’s ability to work within a team.
  • A further benefit is improved problem-solving skills, as team members begin to explore solutions for themselves.

There are some limitations however, which we discuss later.

The Lego Challenge instructions

Here’s how to do the Lego Challenge in nine simple steps:

  1. Download your resources!
  2. Gather the things you’ll need
  3. Brief participants and split them out into roles
  4. Separate Lead Designers from their teams, give them each a schematic
  5. Let Builders get their Lego
  6. Retrieve the schematics from the Lead Designers
  7. Begin the activity
  8. Score the models
  9. Optional: Repeat the activity

Full instructions below:

Step 1: Download your resources

You can run the activity without them, but we highly recommend downloading your Lego Challenge resources here.

Step 2: Gather the things you’ll need

This challenge doesn’t need much equipment, and if you’ve got kids (or you’re a Lego fan yourself) it should all be fairly easy to get hold of.

Here’s what you need:

  • Lego: at least 30 pieces per team
  • A diagram of the model your teams will be building: enough copies for one per team
  • A timer
  • Some space on a flat surface: table, floor, or worktop will do the trick

Step 3: Brief participants and split them out into roles

For best results, you’ll have teams of 5, although the challenge works with as little as 3.

Each team needs the following roles:

  • One Lead Designer: CAN see the schematic, CAN talk to the Lead Developer, CANNOT talk to the Builders, CANNOT touch Lego
  • One Lead Builder: CANNOT see the schematic, CAN talk to the Lead Designer, CAN talk to the Builders, CANNOT touch Lego
  • Additional Builders: CANNOT see the schematic, CANNOT talk to the Lead Designer, CAN talk to the Lead Developer, CAN touch Lego

Step 4: Separate Lead Designers from their teams, give them each a schematic

Each Lead Designer has 30 seconds to look at the schematic and memorise it in as much detail as possible. They MAY NOT draw anything or take any photos.

Lead Designers stay in their own location, referred to as the HQ.

Step 5: Let Builders get their Lego

Builders can choose 18 bricks from the central Lego store, also called the Warehouse. The Lead builder CAN be present in the initial phase, but CANNOT touch Lego.

Step 6: Retrieve the schematics from the Lead Designers

After 30 seconds, collect the schematics from the Lead Designers. 

Step 7: Begin the activity

Set a 20-minute timer. During the activity, the Lead Builder may move between the HQ (where the Lead Designer is) and the Factory (where the Builders are). 

  • The Lead Builder can talk to the Lead Designer as many times as necessary without incurring a penalty
  • The Lead Designer must remain in the HQ
  • The Lead Designer may request to view the schematic again: each 30 second viewing incurs a one point penalty
  • The Builders may visit the Warehouse as many times as they like and swap as many Lego pieces as they like each time. Each visit incurs a one point penalty

Step 8: Score the models

Once the 20-minute timer runs down, all teams must stop building. At this point you review the completed models and decide the winner.

The closest model to the schematic receives 2 points. The next closest receives 4 points, and so on.

Add penalty points for any extra views of the schematics or visits to the Warehouse.

After scoring and penalty points have been awarded, the lowest scoring team wins.

Step 9 (optional): Repeat the activity

To tap into the experiential learning methodology, participants should be given an opportunity to repeat the task after their initial experience and structured reflection. This allows them to refine and develop their ideas and increases the likelihood of lasting change.

We recommend using a different model for repeat tasks because the need for effective communication will be greatly reduced if everyone already knows what the model should look like!

Downloads to help you run the Lego Challenge

We’ve put together detailed resources to help you to run the Lego challenge as effectively as possible. The presentation will help you to set the task up, the facilitation document will give you everything you need to run an effective session which leaves participants with real learning and the reflection sheets will help all participants to think critically about what they’re learning from the marshmallow challenge.

Download your FREE Lego Challenge resources 👇

How do you build a team chicken?

If you decide to go with a chicken, as per the popular version of this challenge, there are many ways to get there. This is one example of what a simple Lego chicken can look like, just six bricks for the left model or nine for the right:

A simple Lego chicken model
Source: Pinterest

We’d recommend avoiding anything overly complicated like the chicken below, for a few reasons. Firstly, sourcing enough bricks is likely to be prohibitively expensive. And secondly, any expectation to effectively communicate such complex instructions is unrealistic, and the resulting stress will interfere with participants’ ability to benefit from the task.

Still, it is an impressive model:

A more elaborate Lego chicken model
Source: everydaybricks.com

Limitations of the Lego Challenge

While there’s no denying that the Lego Challenge is fun and useful, it does have several drawbacks that greatly limit its value as a tool for developing team-building.

These limitations centre around the fact that the activity claims to be more useful than it is in practice. Here’s why:

  • The likely range of behaviours is very narrow: for example, while there is a need to communicate, there is no cue to make decisions or create plans.
  • The design of the activity means that the “learning points” are largely predetermined, and remove the need for participants to use enough detail in their communication.
  • There’s not actually that much team skill involved: it’s more about 1:1 or 1:many communication.
  • It’s implied that the learning occurs while doing the activity, which is a very common mistake that facilitators make. Just running an activity isn’t enough to instil the claimed benefits, and while step 9 above offers an opportunity to review and repeat, the development opportunities are still limited if the activity itself has inherent limitations.

Overall, the situation in the task deviates from what will be useful in the real world, particularly in the workplace. In situations with unclear expectations for example, rather than having to recreate a simple Lego model, very different skills will be required to function effectively as a team.

There’s also one significant logistical drawback, in that the creation of the instructional diagrams for the Lego models you’ll use in the challenge is quite difficult. 

Building a Lego model is easy enough, but tools for creating printable instructions are few and far between. Several online tools are now defunct, and the ones that are still live are very complicated.

Using pre-existing kits isn’t really an option because they involve far too many bricks, and the resulting instructions would be challenging for the lead designer to memorise, let alone communicate!

The four best Lego Challenge alternatives 

The Lego Challenge is great, but as we’ve seen, it’s by far from the best team building activity. Here we’ve rounded up a handful of alternative activities to foster teamwork and collaboration in your teams.

MTa Insights

This comprehensive experiential learning kit contains 53 high impact experiential learning activities and is designed to develop team skills, communication, problem-solving, and more.

With an expansive range of activities and full facilitator guidance materials, this kit is able to create lasting behavioural change amongst participants. Unlike the Lego Challenge which has limited applicability in professional settings, each of these activities has been designed and refined to put the learner at the centre of the process.

Learn more about MTa Insights here.

Back to Back  

In this MTa Insights activity, participants must work together to build a large assembly that consists of four sub-assemblies. Pairs within the larger group work together to build each sub-assembly, with one person having a picture of what needs building and the other person having the required materials.

This activity achieves what the Lego Challenge claims to achieve, in that effective two-way verbal communication is required, along with other crucial team-building skills like appreciating and working with others’ restrictions, giving and receiving clear instructions, and appreciation of the bigger picture.

The Culprit 

In The Culprit, participants take on the role of detectives on a tough murder case. Pressure is high, and in order to solve the case, effective collaboration is required. Participants collect and evaluate clues, all while exploring and improving their ability to work in a team.

We offer The Culprit as a physical experiential learning kit, or if you’re looking for virtual team building activities, it’s also available via MTa Immersion

The Egg Drop Competition

While the Team Kit and The Culprit are both indoor team building activities, sometimes it’s good to have a bank of outdoor team building activities. Moving things outside when the weather allows is a nice way to shift the dynamic, and this game is the perfect example.

If you’re not familiar, the objective of the Egg Drop Competition is to drop an egg from a roof, safely contained in a contraption designed and built by you and your team. Generally, any team whose egg survives the fall is crowned winner, but it’s not uncommon for no eggs to survive. In this circumstance the victor can be determined by least damage, best design, or one of several other criteria.

It’s up to you to decide which building materials are available, how long teams have to build, how high the drop is, and many other factors that shift the difficulty of this task. The Egg Drop Competition is reliably fun and is a great way to get people psyched up about working together.

Further reading

Kolb, D., A. (1984). Experiential Learning : Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall.

Wheeler, S., Passmore, J. & Gold, R. All to play for: LEGO SERIOUS PLAY and its impact on team cohesion, collaboration and psychological safety in organisational settings using a coaching approach. Journal of Work-Applied Management, 12(2).