Why (and How) LEGOs Changed My Life

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

Why (and How) LEGOs Changed My Life
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Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, for an older person (in quotes because even though I’m getting up there, most people will tell you that I have the mentality of about a 16-year-old), I would say that LEGOs have opened a new way to think about my business and personal strategies. I’d like to tell you what LEGO® Serious Play® is, why it’s a fabulous method for tackling many things, and how my life is a little better for having immersed myself in it. And, why even I had to get over the feeling that it wasn’t just another hokey Agile fad that has supposedly mature adults play with toys at work.

But first, let me explain what LEGO® Serious Play® isn’t.

  • It’s not just another Agile trick.
  • It’s not just for fun (even when it is fun).
  • It’s not just for team-building exercises.
  • It’s not a waste of time (on the contrary!).
  • It’s not just for kids or people who have played with LEGOs before.
  • It’s not just for one-time usage.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

So… what is it?

The LSP methodology came from the LEGO® building system. In the mid-1990s, the LEGO® Group was looking for a way to improve innovation within the company.  The CEO/Owner of LEGO Group, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen along with two IMD professors – Johan Roos and Bart Victor, were testing out strategic planning methods and tools. They asked Robert Rasmussen to help.

Rasmussen, a former math teacher and school principal, had been leading product development for LEGO’s education division, which at the time focused solely on children. He started out on the project in his spare time, but he soon became the architect of the LEGO® Serious Play® methodology. The methodology used the power of three-dimensional models to tackle business issues and challenges. And LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) was born. This unique methodology:

  • Allows for engagement of the participants 100% of the time in a session, at the same time building trust among participants.
  • Combines visual, auditory, and hands-on learning styles into one for a very powerful, and sometimes moving, approach.
  • Unifies team with a shared vision.
  • Quickly brings out ideas.
  • Involves thinking with not only our brains, but our hands. Even introverts communicate better through their hands and 3-dimensional models within LSP, because they can express themselves without spoken word.
  • Leads to better involvement in communication by everyone involved, and a result, better flow of information.  
  • Highlights that you don’t have to be an artist or known for innovation to be creative.
  • Encourages empathy and teamwork, in an environment where all are actively participating and solving problems together.
  • Allows you to test real business and team situations and scenarios.

Dipping My Toes

My experience with LSP began with our company, Netmind, and our 2019 annual kick-off meeting. Alfred Maseo, the first at Netmind to become a certified LSP facilitator, ran a half-day session with our entire company to help build our 2019 strategy.

(Our workshop results.)

It was an amazing experience. Roughly 60 people, all working together, everyone participating to tackle our most pressing problems and business opportunities. When I heard we were going to do this using LEGOs, I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. I had used LEGOs before at work (I’ll talk about that in a bit), but to solve OUR problems? I was dubious.  But here’s how it went:

  • We warmed up by building a small LEGO structure (always recommended to get people into LEGO mode).
  • We broke into six groups, about 10 people per group.
  • Each individual built a model to represent their view of Netmind’s current state.
  • Each group then put their individual models together to build a consolidated group model. This is where it starts to get interesting. I started to see that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts about the good/bad/ugly in our organization!
  • Every group presented their model and its meaning. All of the groups had slightly different models, but with the same underlying themes throughout: rapid growth and physical distance, along with a little bit of bottle-necking of decision-making had caused communication issues and messy processes, and therefore frustration among the employees.
  • Back at our group tables, each person built a model of our desired future state. Then we put the individual models together, just as with the current state models, and again the revelation that we all had the same basic thoughts for the future.
  • Once again, each group presented their consolidated models, and once again, a theme ran through the models. We all had visions of breaking down communications barriers in order to, as a team, build a future with a lot of exciting new clients and work, and everyone happy and prospering.
  • Now, here you might be thinking, well that’s what every company wants. What’s new here? To see it in a 3-dimensional model, metaphorically represented, is truly an amazing and inspiring picture!
  • We then arranged all six resulting models on two tables, one in front of the other. The current state models were placed on one table, the future states on another. Now, we had the past literally facing the future! Each group physically positioned the models with distance between the current and future states to represent how far apart we were as a company to accomplishing our goals.
  • Once we all had a chance to look at and think about our representations, we went back into our groups to brainstorm the actions we could take to get successfully from current state to future state.
  • Netmind ended up with a list of action items. Did we accomplish all that we set out to do in 2019 and are we perfect now? Well, no, of course not, but I think if we did this exercise again, you would see marked improvement in our vision of how things are going and our proximity to our desired future.

Taking The Plunge

This company exercise made me want to learn how to facilitate sessions with our clients, and luckily, I was able to see that through last summer. I had a great experience with Lucio Margulis, CEO at Juego Serio™ Strategy & Innovation, where I was accredited as a LEGO® Serious Play® Method Facilitator. An amazing week, with amazing folks, in an eye-opening training. There were tears, loads of laughter, some shock, but a lot of learning about not only how to facilitate using LEGOs, but how to pull emotions, feelings, and opinions out of people, sometimes without speaking at all.

(These people are awesome!)

I learned how to facilitate the use of LEGOs for:

  • Team development and collaboration
  • Innovation of products and services
  • Project management
  • Product development and marketing
  • Business start-ups / business plans
  • Coaching and leadership development
  • Organizational and communication strategy
  • Conflict management
  • Change management
  • Creative problem solving
  • Group decision making

My First Experience Facilitating

The week after I was certified, I jumped right into a session with a real client. The world’s leading children’s research hospital needed help in improving their internal service to their employees. The group I am working with is charged with attracting the world’s top doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers in order to find a cure for and treat cancer in children. What could be more important than this?

To start my work, I led an LSP session to build a picture of the employee customer journey in order to understand how to better serve them, and therefore make it more likely that:

  • They want to come to work at the hospital
  • They will stay!

In an hour session, the group I was helping learned more about the experience of their employees than they had discovered using more traditional techniques. They immediately jumped into solving some of the problems highlighted using LEGOs, and are getting good results.

Check out our full Success Case on my work with this client!

What’s Next

I’ve also use LEGOs while teaching a variety of topics from our Netmind catalog, mostly centering around business agility, building digital teams, and business analysis. My favorite LEGO activity teaches groups how to work together as a team while envisioning a new product, developing the scope of the project to build the product, and then building out a representation of that product iteratively and incrementally. Participants often leave that training with comments like “I finally get it!” and “That was the most fun, engaging, informative training I’ve ever had”. Hands on, interactive training will really make the topic, whatever that topic is, stick. And I think it makes you want to explore and learn more.

I now buy LEGOs for work and for fun. This past Halloween, I put out my LEGO Halloween characters and donned a LEGO Batman costume. I have a t-shirt that is a LEGO Freddie Mercury that says “I Want to Brick Free”. I get some strange looks for all of this, but mostly I get, “wait, you ‘do’ LEGOs for work? That is so cool!”.

Yes, that’s all cool, but LSP has, through using it and teaching it, made me more mindful of people’s thoughts, opinions, and emotions when I’m working with them. I have seen groups have those ‘aha’ moments using LEGOs that, perhaps, otherwise would never have come to light. I have seen the joy on people’s faces when they come to that moment. I think that’s how it’s changed my life, for the better.


Download our LSP infographic that is part of my colleague Alfred’s article How to Use LEGO® Serious Play® for Cultural Transformation. And, for more on scheduling a workshop, see our course outline.

Facilitating LEGO workshops is literally one of my favorite things to do… I’d love to help your team! Thank you,

Ali

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About the Author

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

Alison (Ali) Cox, Netmind Senior Instructor and General Manager, has experience since the mid-1980s in various areas, including business analysis, project methodology development and training, systems development (mainframe, client-server, and web), and telecommunications management. Alison began her career in the financial services area, and then moved into systems development for accounting systems. She has provided consulting and training in business analysis and project management for small companies to Fortune 500 corporations worldwide and speaks Spanish fluently. Alison is also a partner of TEMSS (Telecommunications Efficiency Management Strategies and Services), which provides telecommunications efficiency auditing and billing analysis services to clients in all areas of business across the United States. She completed her Master of Business Administration in MIS and Accounting from the University of Georgia. Connect with Ali on LinkedIn.

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