Building a team with Lego bricks

TL;DR — A team activity with Lego bricks can be fun, quick and can get people to work together in interesting ways. Here’s how to recreate an activity I facilitated recently.

When I was a child adults told me this would be impossible. I was small and gullible when they said I couldn’t get paid to play with Lego. “Better start thinking about what you want to do”, they said.

I have proven them all wrong; this week I was paid to play with my favourite childhood thing.

More specifically: I work in a team that makes software and I wanted to facilitate a fun activity that had some team-building value. Since we all enjoy building stuff, a toy brick activity seemed like a winner.

Using a child’s toy for engaging with adults seemed like a gamble. Many parents have traumatic memories of stepping on sharp bricks. Some drivers probably shout “Lego!” when they get cut off in traffic. I don’t want to be accused of using a four-letter-word so I will refer to the popular toy as “bricks” from now on. There are also other brands of toy brick you could use.

Some reasons you might want to facilitate this quick team activity

Using toy bricks for a team activity works because:

  • team activities are best when they are not too serious
  • it’s accessible and most people can get involved easily
  • playing with bricks puts people in a situation where they don’t usually find themselves
  • people who are usually more hands-off are involved in building too
  • there are obvious opportunities to impress your colleagues with puns

This brick challenge allowed people to build something with zero utility, unlike the very-serious software my team makes daily, and was a good way to brighten the mood in our team.

Here’s real footage of grown adults playing with a child’s toy:

This video needs a David Attenborough voice-over to explain the strange habits of software developers after they have delivered a major checkpoint. But you get the idea; they had fun.

A recipe for brick-induced happiness

The activity I facilitated was a modified version of this original post. Tops to the person who wrote that because it was a great idea. That challenge sounded a bit too much for my needs so the description below is for a much shorter challenge.

These are some details for you to hold onto during the challenge, since you’re the Brick Lord (or Brick Queen, Sir Brick-a-lot, or whatever makes you feel superior):

  • You should acquire some bricks of various colours, shapes and sizes.
  • The whole challenge should take around 20 minutes or so.
  • There should be a board to use as the foundation to build on. If it’s too big use some flat bricks to make a boundary around the build area.
  • If there is no board, use an extra rule card (below) to define the structure’s requirements for a foundation.
  • There should be two rounds.
  • In the first round, no body is allowed to talk or show each other their objective cards.
  • In the second round, the team is left to complete the task any way they wish. They can share cards and create a Kanban board if it makes them happy.
  • You don’t need to tell them there will be a second round. They might even achieve their goals the first round, so you might not need a second round.
  • Two cards/goals per person seemed good for a group of 6 people. A group of 4 people might be able to handle more cards per person.
  • Keep group sizes smaller. The maximum should be 6 people.

Note: Before I did this challenge, I built the structure myself according to all objective cards. This gave me confidence to say all peoples’ goals could be achieved together. Your reputation as Brick Lord is at stake so you should make sure you have enough bricks, enough variety of colours, etc.

Explain this to the people in the activity:

  • Your goal is to build a structure, but each of you has specific instructions on how to build parts of it.
  • The structure will have layers, and each layer should be the standard brick height. Many flat bricks can be a standard brick equivalent.
  • Each person in your team has one or more objectives. Don’t communicate those objectives to each other (first round).
  • No talking to each other, but you are allowed to ask me for clarifications about the rules for this challenge.
  • All people’s objectives can be achieved, but the objectives will cause people to do things that do not help the others (more relevant to the first round).
  • You are allowed to remove bricks that anyone has placed, but people may try and stop you. Find a way to work together without talking.
  • You are allowed to remove bricks on previous levels and change the general structure’s shape.
  • You can stockpile colours and other kinds of bricks but you can’t stop others taking those bricks.
  • Feel free to take your time to plan — there will be enough time to build the structure.

These are the objective cards I used to hand out to people, in groups of importance. You might want to shuffle and deal these cards in separate groups:

Most important cards, at most one per person:

  • At least one side of the structure is not flat (1 side across all levels)
  • At least one side of the structure is flat (round bricks OK, 1 side flat across all levels)
  • Stop anyone from creating level 7. Level 6 is the top level

Deal as many of these as you need:

  • Any red blocks that appear on level 1 must be a continuous shape
  • Any black blocks that appear on level 5 must be a continuous shape
  • Any blue blocks that appear on level 3 must be a continuous shape
  • The outer perimeter wall on level 3 is yellow
  • The outer perimeter wall on level 5 is green
  • Level 2 has no bricks next to same colours (including below and above levels)
  • Level 4 has no bricks next to same colours (including below and above levels)
  • Level 6 has no bricks next to same colours (including below and above levels)

Once above cards dealt, deal as many of these as you need:

  • No yellow blocks on level 1
  • No white blocks on levels 1, 2, 3
  • No orange blocks on levels 1, 3, 5
  • No green blocks on level 2
  • No pink blocks on levels 2, 4, 6
  • No red blocks on level 4
  • No brown blocks on levels 4, 5, 6
  • No blue blocks on level 5

It will be mayhem the first round…

My team is a pretty smart bunch but most people did not achieve their goals during the first round. Some achieved one of their goals. I think that comes down to people not being able to talk to each other.

The first round ended with the my colleagues delivering something that looked like a wheelbarrow in a Salvador Dali painting; it wasn’t what the customer had in mind.

…But it gets better!

The team did better the second round. They basically had another go by prioritising the cards in terms of milestones: level 1, level 2, etc. When they were able to plan and prioritise, the team achieved all of its goals together. They did this prioritisation by themselves and it was interesting to see that occur naturally.

It can be a fun and rewarding experience to facilitate team activities like this, since it helps colleagues to get along and brightens the mood in the group. This is a relatively simple team activity to do if you’re new to this and I think you should give it a try.