Reflections on constructing LEGO® models for 4 days

First published on LinkedIn 17th June 2019

Last week I took part in training to become a facilitator of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method and materials. I decided to do the course after hearing good things about the method as well as reading up on the background. My initial scepticism faded away when I learned about the method's impressive academic basis and extensive validation across the globe as well as the promise of creatively tapping into the unconscious, and the underlying egalitarian premise that "leaders do not have all the answers" was an additional bonus.

Building models, telling stories and making connections

The LSP method in a nutshell

In case you are not familiar with it, here is a quick explanation of what LSP is all about:

"The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method is a facilitated meeting, communication and problem-solving process in which participants are led through a series of questions, probing deeper and deeper into the subject. Each participant builds his or her own 3D LEGO® model in response to the facilitator´s questions using specially selected LEGO® elements. These 3D models serve as a basis for group discussion, knowledge sharing, problem solving and decision making."

In short, it is group problem method that has a wide range of applications from team building to business strategy, innovation and design thinking (and many more). The hands-on nature of the method helps participants learn, listen and give them a voice that might be missing in a traditional meeting where 20% of the participants speak 80% of the time - LSP sessions are 100% meetings with nowhere to hide! Workshops using the LSP method help people explore relationships and connections as well as exploring various hypothetical scenarios to understand what guides our behaviour. The method itself is simple:

"During the facilitated meeting, you will be building landscape models with LEGO elements, giving them meaning through story-making, and playing out various possible scenarios – a process which deepens understanding, sharpens insight, and socially “bonds” together the group as it “plays” together."

And here is a video showing more about how it works:

Having experienced the method as a participant, I can say that it truly does foster such a safe environment even among people who are strangers that by the end we were sharing deeply personal aspects of ourselves - all through our LEGO models - and saw each other differently than when we started. I also felt that this method could have been much more impactful for my own team a couple of years ago, especially compared to other workshops and team building exercises we experimented with.

Models representing aspects of our teamwork on the course

Combining the training with my existing experience

The course was the most practical and hands-on I have ever experienced, and as such it is very intense. It was probably the first course I've done that actually prepares you to perform your learned skills the very next day after you get your certificate because you meticulously learn every step of running a workshop, design one as a part of the training and also walk away with a manual so well documented there is an answer to almost any question you might have.

The four days certainly challenged my previous experience as a (qualitative) researcher but as the days progressed, I also increasingly saw synergies with the skillset I already have.

The most fundamental challenge for me was that the role of a facilitator is different from that of a moderator or an interviewer. While the latter wants to uncover answers to questions on behalf of their client, the job of a facilitator (especially working with the LSP method) is to help people discover the answers for themselves – the participants own their answers, and the knowledge they build together, whereas in research knowledge is typically created after the fieldwork is completed and research participants are long gone. Another big difference is in the level of motivation participants might have: in most LSP sessions, participants will be much more motivated to work together. (Having said that, this applies to the most typical LSP applications within the business world – it’s not to say that the method can’t be applied to consumer research as well!)

As we worked through the practical steps of designing and running a workshop, as well as experiencing it as a participant, I realised that my past experience and existing knowledge was an advantage compared to some of the other participants coming from diverse backgrounds:

  • I am experienced in interpreting client briefs to extract their needs and transforming them into specific questions that meet the brief
  • I know how to formulate questions that are open enough to go below the obvious surface, yet clear and unambiguous so that the question is interpreted consistently by participants
  • I understand group dynamics, human attention spans and how to manage the energy in a session
  • I am aware of the importance of meticulous planning and scheduling of group sessions
  • I’m experienced in active listening and know how to immerse myself in people’s answers

Reflecting on my experience

My 3D "doodling" during day 2

The course definitely took me out of my comfort zone – before last Tuesday I had never played with LEGOs before but in some ways that is lucky. It means that I understand how a participant new to LEGO might feel and how to make them at ease, and I also feel confident that if I was able to become comfortable with it, then I know the method can definitely work for anyone. I'm also now completely in love with the idea of fiddling with bricks and filling up my online basket on LEGO.com as we speak.

The course has also energised me to think about how to combine the method with my previous experience and over the next month or so I am planning to design an approach or two for behaviour change projects and other consumer research. Stay tuned!

P.S. Huge thanks to our trainers Per Kristiansen and Michel Cloosterman who are, quite simply, amazing teachers - and also to everyone in my group whose honesty and vulnerability was inspiring.

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About Elina Halonen

  • Amsterdam