Build a Better Team with Legos

“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation”  –Plato

We perceive and understand the world through mental models. A paper on Thinking with Mental Models published by the World Bank states that when we think, “we generally use concepts that we have not invented ourselves but that reflect the shared understandings of our community.”

The paper goes on to say that “without mental models, it would be impossible for people to make most decisions in daily life. And without shared mental models, it would be impossible in many cases for people to develop institutions, solve collective action problems, feel a sense of belonging and solidarity, or even understand one another.”

In other words, our perceptions derive from the frame, or mental model, through which we interpret the world around us. The construction of mental models is an essential tool for complex problem solving, building organizational structure, and team building.

With the vast increase in computing power over the past few decades, the value of 3D virtual modeling is now widely adopted. But there is another powerful modeling technique requiring no computer or high-tech wizardry to function. It is as old as the hills yet can model solutions to some of the most complex human problems: play.

When Playtime Gets Serious

It takes more than just “human capital” to drive a thriving, profitable, socially aware business. What it takes, instead, is a team.

A cohesive group of people with a unique collection of experiences, knowledge, skills, and a particular way of thinking about things that create a whole larger than its parts. After all, it takes more than a quarterback to win a Superbowl.

Team building, however, requires, well, teamwork. But how? Imagining and modeling the process of team building through an innovative approach known as Legos Serious Play is a powerful tool in any business’ toolkit.

The Legos Serious Play Methodology was designed in the mid-1990s by Johan Roos and Bart Victor who, at the time, were both professors at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. Built around concepts such as “constructivism, constructionism, complex adaptive system theory, autopoietic corporate epistemology,” the theory doesn’t require understanding these principles to acquire benefit from the process.

Extensive research over the years demonstrates how, through active “minds-on” learning using tactile 3D modeling with specialized Lego blocks, the method cultivates a “deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities.”

In a paper entitled The Engineering of Lego Serious Play Method,” authors Mateus Panizzon and Mario Dubois characterize Legos Serious Play as a “worldwide  methodology  used  by  consultants  and academics  to  address  creative  thinking  and  problem  solving-technique  for  groups.” Panizzon and Dubois point to team building as a prime example of its effectiveness.

Build a Better Team

Legos Serious Play is an open-source, facilitated meeting process that leads participants through a series of questions that probe ever deeper into the challenge at hand, much like a decision tree drills down into a series of more specific questions and answers to arrive at a solution.

What sets Serious Play apart from the mental modeling of a decision tree is how each member builds a physical model of their idea with the Lego blocks. In many ways this is no different than when a child uses his imagination to build his “dream world” with Lego blocks; except with Serious Play the idea is not to create a dream world, but a better understanding of reality.

Through the process, participants gain confidence and clarity in their ideas, become more open to new ideas and uncover possibilities not considered through more conventional thinking models. Just as significant is how the technique creates a shared experience, fosters deeper discussions, and builds greater trust among participants.

Change the World

For students of business and project management, these are important concepts to learn. The world faces many challenges in the coming decades. Business has an essential role to play in meeting them head-on.

There will always be trailblazers who chart a visionary path to the future. But making that vision a reality requires the exquisite interplay of a team inspired by a common mission. As Radu Munteanu, Ph.D., the Director of the School of Business and Management at Touro University Worldwide says, “Dream big, be bold and be ready to be challenged and learn in order to become a skilled business professional.”

Adopting innovative methods like Lego Serious Play is one way to dream big, build a committed team, and change the world.

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