Over the past two days I’ve participated in the foundations training for LEGO SeriousPlay™ facilitation techniques. I am constantly searching for new ways of designing workshop formats that help people to describe challenges, explain obstacles and sketch options. For the past years I’ve been working with creativity and coaching techniques, supported/structured brainstormings and prototyping. I can’t actually say that I am unhappy or that participants weren’t able to find new ways of expressing themselves. However, the biggest challenge in workshops still stays to get people out of there usual way of thinking and expressing themselves. To support them in that process I am continuously trying out new things…
Changing perspective and getting your hands on it and letting go.
What I really like about the idea behind LEGO SeriousPlay™ is the fact that your creating physical objects that stand for situations, relationships, systems (as in systemic coaching) and timelines. This is changing the perspective of the participant on the subject of the exercise. Simply because one is suddenly able to build, touch, change and explain (while pointing at it) something non-physical.
It’s probably the first time that someone will be able to create a landscape of people systems and walk around it to explore different perspectives on it. Already that nurtures a different kind of thinking.
Challenge: Framing the participants the right way is essential here. It has to be crystal clear by the design challenge that no objects will be created. You never build “a person that is doing something” but “relationships and the current situation a person is in”.
“Letting go” is crucial in LEGO SeriousPlay™. Firstly the method isn’t meant for prototyping objects. It’s about creating metaphors. Secondly it’s about constantly creating “stuff” without describing it first or drawing a plan. THAT will be something the facilitator really has to take care of. The beauty lies within the way a participant can dive into bricks and start “formulating” a non-physical thing…alter it…re-formulate…and at the end explain it to the others. The process of putting the model together is some kind of an inner dialogue. The fact that an object as to derive from the process requires the participant to be concrete. “Blurry” doesn’t look very appealing in bricks 😉
Challenge: “Letting go” won’t happen automatically. As soon as people have overcome their hesitance and have started digging into the bricks they cannot get their hands of it anymore. However, you will notice that a lot of the time they will move back into the old scheme of discussing things verbally (or even starting to take notes) in order to prepare the modelling. As a moderator/facilitator you have to really avoid that.
Surfacing complexity and putting fingers into wounds.
The method is definitely good for two key things:
- Surface complexity and show relationships/dependencies that aren’t obvious at first sight.
- “Building” something that no participant dares to put into direct words.
The first bullet it pretty obvious. So I won’t elaborate on it. The second one can be very powerful but contains a substantial potential for “crisis” that requires moderation. Due to the method participants are building stuff first and then they add their description/explanation. So in some cases it’s likely that they will surface constraints, problems and relationships that they wouldn’t write on a flip chart. In the form of a model it’s easier to express an issue and address it (e.g. the manager sitting on a rock that cannot even be reached by employees because there’s a river with sharks around it…ey…you’d never write that on a whiteboard, would you?).
Facilitators have to be prepared that the methodology will move people out of the comfort zone. People that build stuff and people that are affected by (or even protagonists of) the model. You might want to have some skills in crisis management and de-escalation before you facilitate a workshop to corporate culture challenges…
Playing to approach solutions for business challenges. Like seriously?
You will stumble across this mindset very often. If people have been in touch with LEGO before (most likely as kids) some will have the challenge to understand that playing is not just for kids. If people haven’t been in touch with LEGO before there will be hesitation and “this isn’t for me – didn’t like it as a kid either“. There is actually only one way to overcome both scenarios: get their hands on the bricks and make them fiddle, play and build.
You might want to keep in mind one thing as well (I liked this particular footnote of our trainer) : if they are concerned about the method…they care about the challenge that is supposed to be addressed. If they don’t hesitate for one single second it might be an indicator that the problem isn’t that important to them. This doesn’t count for all participants though but most likely for the majority of them.
Awesome method. Tremendous potential. Something I will definitely pursue further. However: facilitators have to be fully aware that their role is the one of a coach. I tend to say that a formal coaching training would even be beneficial. The method isn’t a training or a seminar. Facilitators never(!) judge or prompt ideas and they will destroy everything if they do. Facilitators are there for “framing”, keeping people in the bricks and a little bit our of their comfort zone. Content and solutions are down to the participants and ONLY to the participants.