“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” Brian Sutton-Smith, Play Theorist

Are there problems your team doesn’t know how to solve? Are you optimizing all of your organization’s resources? Does your team need to hold a constructive and inclusive discussion? LEGO Serious Play (LSP) has the answer.

In a world regulated by deadlines, processes, and procedures, we tend to forget that innovation does not result from following the rules. As organizations seek to increase collaboration and creativity, their own processes and procedures deny this progress. As business leaders, we need to rethink how we naturally create ideas and return to tools that built castles out of our imaginations as kids. 

Take Play Seriously

LSP is a method of design thinking, through which participants use physical metaphors, built out of LEGO bricks, to solve complex problems. The word “play” however is not whimsical or silly like in childhood, but instead, as Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, points out, it “is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom.”

As a break from your everyday processes and procedures, LSP allows “hands-on, minds-off” activities to generate surprising discoveries, form stronger teams, and solve complex problems by establishing deeper understandings of the world and its possibilities.

This method, however, is not free play. Michael Tarnowski, the blogger behind Play In Business, defines LSP as a “facilitated workshop method for strategic decision making and problem resolution in business environments.” Each participant designs a solution to a more approachable representation of an obstacle encountered by your organization, encouraging everyone to express their ideas. 

Wanna Play?

In any LSP session, the fundamental procedure is always the same. 

The facilitator guides the process by presenting several challenges, each with its own unique time frame. The time frame for each build should be long enough to accomplish the task, without providing extra time to have a meeting with themselves or to design their answers.

Each participant builds one model in response to each challenge. Regardless of the final product, the model represents what the maker claims without judgment from the other participants. The models may be as simple or complex as the maker desires, and the time frame allows.

At the end of each challenge, all participants must share how their model solves this round’s objective. These responses invite reflections and evoke empathy, improving interpersonal communication among the team. 

Building Intentional Solutions

There are several different techniques that a LSP Facilitator can use depending on the complexity of the topic and the desired outcomes, including: 

Individual models

Intending to allow each person to share their personal knowledge, each participant builds their own individual model to address the challenge. These solutions best address self-reflective challenges, such as “what skills do I contribute to my team” or “how do I best receive feedback.” 

When the given time frame ends, each maker presents the model they built that round and explains how it solves the challenge. Their solutions do not have to be literal and will likely be a metaphorical representation.

Shared Models

Shared models intend to create a collaborative understanding and consensus about the problems the workshop is based on. A larger model is created by adding parts of or entire individual models to a communal model to deliver new and surprising insights. 

Frank de Graeve, contributor to the Reference, makes the point that the individual pieces of the “shared model will encompass the aspects that are important to each individual participant,” while developing a collaborative end solution. 

Landscapes

Landscapes are another method which intend to create a collaborative understanding and consensus. However, unlike shared models, each participant must first build and share their individual model before contributing to the larger shared model. These contributions are not necessarily physical connections but can be presented as a parallel or perpendicular relationship. 

By viewing models individually and collectively, you will begin to notice patterns and differences in perspectives, character and opinions. Note these patterns because they can often provide insight into your team’s chemistry and dynamic. 

3 Changes To The Rules

These rule changes allow participants to extract guiding principles that transfer to the workplace. Participants are encouraged to make decisions concerning several possible circumstances and test limits without sacrificing their actual performance. 

NEW RULE 1: Require Physical Links In a Landscape Build

These links may be created using LEGO® bricks, chains, tubes, or by making direct connections. These links may be strong, weak, or flexible depending on the group’s understanding of how the connecting models relate, and the strength of their physical connection. By requiring physical links, your session helps identify synergies and conflicts between your team member’s individual models and their meanings. 

NEW RULE 2: Don’t Build A Model, Build A System

Similar to a landscape, systems are composed of multiple models, connected to flow linearly from one to the next. Often, the end build resembles a process or series of events moving toward a final resolution. Regardless of the end results, a system provides an opportunity to focus on the connections, rather than the models. A system also invites further discussion and the opportunity to rework the connections to create deeper understandings.

NEW RULE 3: Explore All Your “What If” Alternatives

Start by recognizing inserting assumptions and formulating “what-if” scenarios, playing through your possible decisions and developments. By exploring the “what if” scenarios, participants examine the consequences of possible decisions based on how they affect the system or landscape model, and consider new responses to dynamic changes or events that are introduced into the model.

Play Works

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung, founder of Analytic Psychology

LSP sessions provide a space for teams to work together, grow, have fun, and solve complex problems. They work at any level in any organization because they immerse participants in the presented challenges. 

However, for this to happen, workshops must be challenging enough to maintain engagement, without causing frustration. This is done by balancing the challenging participants with building their confidence that they can overcome the obstacle. 

A session’s effectiveness is determined by the quality of the questions. An effective facilitator brings a thorough understanding of the presented challenge, and constructively guides participants through the build. Inviting a certified facilitator to host your LSP session encourages your team to answer honestly and freely interact with the challenges, making your session more impactful.

Are you ready to play your way to stronger solutions?

 

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