William Murray, our Group Director of Strategy, describes how the world’s most famous toy is aiding our strategic process.
Last year, I spent four 12-hour days in a windowless room in Bloomsbury learning to use LEGO® as a facilitation tool. That’s right. LEGO®. As a tool.
An increasing amount of our work starts with an extensive strategic process, so it made sense to me that I needed to draw upon as many tools as possible. I experienced LEGO® in a strategy session a while ago and was not entirely convinced as to its effectiveness. It wasn’t until a friend told me about LEGO® Serious Play, a method developed by LEGO® in the 1970s and 80s, that I thought it might be a viable tool for us to use.
The programme was devised by professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor, and the then LEGO® Group CEO and owner, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, as a way of helping the company to develop strategies to maintain competitiveness in an increasingly complex toy and games market.
Over the next 30 years, Kristiansen and his team defined an official process for the use of LEGO® to improve communication and strategic thinking, and to develop loyalty and consensus to new ideas.
Having now done the course – it bloody works!
The first idea is based on the concepts of constructionism and constructivism. Broadly speaking, it describes how humans have built their understanding of the world through experience, facilitated by the hand-brain connection that developed over millions of years of evolution. As a result, what humans build with their hands they also build in their brains. Once you combine this visceral connection between building and memory with our natural ability to play, you can create a powerful tool for thinking. By moving the focus of your meetings and workshops from individuals to collective model making, you can ensure that opinions are more easily shared, knowledge is more easily accessed and everyone is heard.
The course itself was surprisingly exhausting, occasionally difficult, but also a lot of fun. By the end of the week, I was stuffed full of learning, sick to death of LEGO® and very embarrassed that I’d spent more time in the preceding four days playing LEGO® with strangers than I had with my children in the preceding two years. Bad Dad.
I was now fully convinced that this was something I could use to aid our strategy workshops with clients, and, when a client unexpectedly brought forward an upcoming workshop, I decided to jump in at the deep-end and to try and use what I had learned.
Putting it into practice
I planned a workshop around creating a brand strategy for the client’s new high-end residential building in London’s West End. I was under no illusion that it would be easy, and with the assistance of the members of the training group, Robert Rasmussen (one of the creators of LEGO® Serious Play) and our trainer, I spent the rest of the week honing, re-writing and testing.
I spent £1,000 on LEGO Serious Play sets, booked a room in a smart London hotel, and hatched my escape plans – that didn’t mean running away – but an alternative workshop if it all went wrong.
The start time of 10am came and went with only one attendee. The rest of the group arrived at 10.30am, and the boss immediately announced that he had to step out for 30 mins. Impending disaster meant that ‘Plan B’ was immediately deployed, and we began with a competitor audit out of sequence. It proved to be really useful and we got plenty of value out of the discussion.
The boss returned 45 minutes later, and I was finally able to begin the LEGO® introduction. However, I soon noticed that he wasn’t paying attention, and was struggling with the first exercise. “I’m losing him”, I thought. We persevered and we got past the first exercise, but his frustration began to show to the rest of the group.
We completed the second exercise – discussing the benefits of the project – and at the end of a fun and animated discussion, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the group had discovered and shared some genuinely unique insights that I’m certain we wouldn’t have captured without the LEGO®. By the end of the workshop, we had captured everyone’s views accurately and they’d all talked openly. It proved a success, with everyone agreeing that the whole process was engaging and enjoyable, particularly the boss.
So, was it worth using LEGO® in the workshop? Yes, definitely. 100%.
Could I use it for every workshop? Absolutely not. Firstly, it is very time consuming, and you have to begin with a skills building workshop that takes at least 90 minutes. Secondly, it doesn’t cater for every question you want to answer, especially if the discussion centers on our areas of expertise. However, the big plus points are that you do get to hear from everybody in the room, and it is great for building consensus.
Was it worth doing the training? LEGO® Serious Play requires serious commitment, and it commands a desire to deploy it with reasonable regularity. I’m really pleased that I did the training, as a lot of the thinking focuses on people’s comfort level in meetings and workshops. It also touched on the way some characters can dominate an entire meeting, and the approach for how to mitigate that was incredibly insightful. Finally, to have another tool in the arsenal when leading these types of sessions is a huge relief.
What next? The next time I use it will be for internal strategy sessions, where I can see it being invaluable for the client services and creative teams, and I look forward to the next opportunity to unbox the LEGO® Serious Play for a client.
Words by William Murray.
Posted on 7th March 2017 in Blog