Team Building Workshops with LEGO Serious Play
Some time ago we blogged about how we started to explore LEGO Serious Play as yet another activity we use in our agile retrospectives. Lately, we've been using LEGO Serious Play to conduct a few team building workshops as well. In this article I'd like to share how we approached this and what learnings we gathered...
When a new team is formed either due to organisational restructuring or by hiring people there might be a lot of uncertainty in room: What are the expectations of each team member towards the others and the teamwork in general? Is everybody aware of their own role in the team and does this match the expectations of the other team members?
Conducting a Team Building Workshop or a Project Kick-Off Meeting is usually a good start to get at least some of these questions sorted out right at the beginning. However, yet another meeting in front of an empty whiteboard equipped with a bunch of post-its and a pen might not create the most inspiring and creative environment to discuss the optimal collaboration of people that barely know each other.
LEGO Serious Play can help out here as it is:
- Not a plain pen and post-it method.
- Fun to play.
- Very metaphorical and prototyping.
Phase 1: Skills Building
A LEGO workshop should at least consist of two important parts: Skills Building and Identity. (You'll need the right sets of pieces and someone trained to do such a workshop - check out http://www.seriousplay.com/ to learn more.)
The Skills Building part will make everyone familiar with LEGO and should start with a very simple task like "build a bridge" or "build a vehicle". People will explore all the available pieces, play around with them and combine them to get the first task done. The second task is about constructing something based on a provided spec (like a little turtle, a car or something similar).
The third task usually is about transforming the model of the second part into a first prototype. Here it starts to get metaphorical. For instance you could be asked to transform your model of a turtle into the "ideal agile developer" or the "ideal team player". Due to the limited amount of pieces and a strict timebox, people might struggle with this task and have to learn to model their ideas with prototypes. After each task everybody has to present his/her model to the rest of the team explaining the meaning of the different parts and pieces of the model. You will most likely be very suprised to see how creative your team members can be and how many different aspects they build into their models (in one session, we gathered all mentioned aspects of the "optimal team player" on a flip chart as a kind of a documentation and for a later discussion, but that's totally optional).
Phase 2: Identity
After everybody is well trained and highly experienced with assembling LEGO into prototypes of different models now you can approach the second part of the workshop: The Identity.
The questions you try to answer in the Identity part of a Team Building Workshop should touch the heart of collaboration like: "How does the optimal teamwork look like?" or "Imaging the future: Your team has just been rewarded as the most innovative team of the company. What brought you there?". People will come up with very creative ideas and as these are presented after everybody is done building nobody can dominate the discussion. Everyone has their say and will be heard by the team; again, you could gather all ideas on a flip chart to discuss them in detail and derive some plans or something like a team contract, but that's totally optional.
From our experience, we can conclude that the method works pretty well for team building. You'll get a lot of insights and ideas about what is important for the individual team members. You'll get to know each other pretty well and the feedback we got from people attending these workshops was 100% positive.
Here's a short list of our key learnings:
- Preparing such a workshop takes time! The questions should be open to provide room for creative ideas
- Have some easy listening music playing while everybody is busy assembling the models. Turn it off during the presentation of the models
- Take photos of the models and the people while they're building them
- Organise base plates for the Identity part. It's much easier to assemble bigger models if parts can be easily plugged together on a base plate (one per workshop attendee)
- Provide enough space for everybody to build and spread the parts on the table (in the pictures below, you can see that it was pretty crammed in our case)
- Block at least 3 hours a Lego workshop! When people start talking about their models (and that's what you want) there should be enough time for everybody to present their models and answer questions