An introduction to Lego Serious Play

Everyone who attends a lot of meetings knows that they can quickly become dull and uninspiring. The challenge is that in order to get the best out of teams, we really need to get everyone to participate, share their views and get their voice heard. So, in an effort to make meetings more fun, more fair and deliver better results, I’ve been experimenting with Lego Serious Play.

Lego Serious Play (LSP) is a facilitation technique that encourages greater meeting participation from all attendees in an informal and collaborative atmosphere. It does this by helping everyone contribute and therefore everyone's voice is heard.

This prevents one or two people from dominating and steering a meeting according to their own agenda. When this happens, other attendees will start to sit back, disengage and stop participating. As a result, their voices aren’t heard and they don’t buy in to any of the decisions or outcomes of the meeting.

LSP is available under an Open Source community-based model. Its goal is to foster creative thinking through building metaphors of problems and experiences using Lego bricks. Depending on the maturity of the team, it may be a single or multi-stage process that includes the familiarisation and building of shared and individual models.

In stage one of the process, users become familiar with Lego bricks and the various connections you can make — some of them may not have used them for decades. Stage two is where participants practice using the bricks as metaphors and in stage three they start to use bricks to solve their problem.

In an LSP session, the facilitator will pose a question to the attendees — their answer to the question is built out of Lego. Everybody builds a response to the question individually and everybody participates. Participants then take turns describing their models to each other. When describing their model they must only reference parts of the model and nothing which is not represented on it. Other participants listen and are free to ask questions. Once everyone has presented, the facilitator may ask the group to build a single model as a team, or to combine their models into one to represent a collective understanding of the problem. Once everyone has the same understanding or a solution has been reached then actions and decisions can be agreed.

So how could we use this within ASOS?

Clarifying Roles

I facilitated a session with the ASOS Tech Office team to help them communicate their role to the rest of the business. Initially, we built models individually to represent what each team member understood to be Tech Office responsibilities and ways of working. This in turn drove out a lot of discussion about what those differences where and why they might exist.

Once everyone had presented their model, we decided to build a single, shared model by combining the individual parts that we all agreed on. We also took the opportunity to add new ideas, which had been born out of the discussion. We even took a video of the team walking through their model and explaining each facet.

How to use LSP to be a better Line Manager?

With team members who I line manage, I’ve used the technique to better understand what they look for in a line manager and what I think I am already giving them as a line manager. We then looked at the differences between the two and made some agreements about what we can expect from each other.

Improve team working agreements and behaviours

In one of my scrum teams, we built lots of models individually to represent behaviours and properties of high-performing teams. We then combined these models into a shared vision of what a high-performing team looked like. From our common understanding, we were able to make working agreements.

The model above was built during the session. The team are on wheels so they can go wherever they want and they have a steering wheel so they can change direction, although no one person is driving. There are bumpers to protect the team in the event of a collision and lights front and back both illuminate the way ahead and show where they’ve been. They have a big antenna so they can broadcast all of their good news. They also have a scorpion because….. well, scorpions are cool.

Sprint Retrospective

In a separate retrospective with my scrum team, we built models to represent our biggest individual challenges from the previous sprint. We then shared and discussed the models and revised them to reflect the solution to the challenge. Having built the solution, it was relatively straightforward to identify actions that the team members could complete to make their lives easier. An added advantage was that everyone had a really good understanding of the challenges the others had faced.

Where can I get more information?

For more information, check out the Serious Play Website, which has a ton of information and useful links. If you want to try the method in a small setting and aren’t able to ‘borrow’ some bricks from someone, I recommend the Lego Serious Play Starter Kit, which is suitable for one or two people to use. The Starter Kit provides a good variety of Lego bricks needed for a small workshop that goes beyond a basic introduction to the methodology. The kit is applicable for the introductory skills building as well as the deeper imagination and problem-solving aspects of the workshop.