Myriam Hadnes runs the Workshops Work Podcast, and in episode 136 she interviewed SeriousWork founder Sean Blair, in her LinkedIn post Myriam said:
"Three (soon to be four) books on the subject, decades of experience facilitating workshops, and experience of training facilitators in it… Sean Blair is a #LEGO #SeriousPlay oracle! I was hoping to uncover some new insights and ideas from our conversation, but I actually found a great deal more.
Sean is such a captivating person - open and reflective - that we ended up discussing the limits of LEGO Serious Play as much as its merits.
We disagreed, we provoked, we learned. It was one of my favourite interviews to date! There’s something for everyone in this episode, so I really hope you take the time to listen. You won’t regret it"
It was great to be interviewed by Myriam, she is a gifted questioner and brilliant interviewer!
Or watch the YouTube video of both parts here.
01:02 When did you start calling yourself a facilitator?
02:11 How have you changed from being a “bossy” facilitator and what have you become instead?
05:05 How do you train other facilitators – especially in the art of dialling up and down their presence in the room?
09:50 What does it take to create a learning space that encourages and values mistakes?
13:54 How does speaking with your own voice play out in facilitation?
18:28 What makes a workshop fail?
20:55 How would you start a workshop for a group in which you know there is conflict and politics?
25:13 What is the power in using LEGO to help us talk about difficult topics?
28:11 Do you use ‘minifigures’ (avatars or representations of people) in your LEGO Serious Play workshops?
32:01 How do you negotiate the risks of a representation being misinterpreted between participants and creating misalignment?
Well this is exciting news, our first book SERIOUSWORK, first published in English in 2016, will soon be available for readers in China.
This translation been the work of Vicky Qu and Xiaotsing Ma who have also bought Cheers Publishing onboard as our publisher in China. We are incredibly grateful to Vicky and Xiaotsing for all their hard work in bringing these ideas to readers in China.
We'll update you on where it can be bought in the days and weeks ahead!
A (wonderful) graduate story by Liam Isaac - Head of Digital Learning at UWC South East Asia.
From the moment I heard about LEGO Serious Play, I knew that it was something that I wanted to learn more about and - thanks to a fantastic online course run by Sean Blair - last February, whilst on a ‘cruise to nowhere’, I was lucky enough to complete the LEGO Serious Play Online Build Level 1 and 2 workshop.
Whilst I instantly knew that this method had the potential to be transformative within our secondary school context, I perhaps underestimated just how significant an impact it could have, along with the range of contexts within which it could prove effective.
In one school term alone, we have used LEGO Serious Play to facilitate shared vision building workshops with educator teams, explore our Middle School students’ relationship with Social Media and challenge learners in class to use this process to enhance their learning of key concepts within different subject areas.
In the coming months, we have plans for how the process can inform our approaches; notably the engagement of our wider-school parent and alumni community as well as formally embedding the process into schemes of work, effectively making LEGO Serious Play a mainstream strategy within the ‘teacher’s toolkit’.
Here are our big takeaways regarding how and why the process has proved successful within our specific school context.
What Went Well: Reasons Why LEGO Serious Play Has Proved Successful
It is a democratic process
In the context of education, this one is HUGE. As Sean stated during training, in LEGO Serious Play, ‘everybody builds, everybody shares’. This equitable engagement can be very difficult to achieve in a ‘typical’ classroom or meeting environment for a whole host of reasons; established hierarchies, different languages, cultural norms and learning needs, as well as the behavioural chasm between introvert and extrovert personalities to mention just a few.
Regardless of whether participants have been students or staff, the feedback from our sessions have always highlighted the democratic nature of this process as a significant positive. This was perhaps best epitomised by a member of our Outdoor Education team’s administration staff who valued the process as “providing opportunities for all individuals to actively participate”. This was particularly validating as the department’s backroom staff had not always been engaged in the co-creation of department visioning.
It is a safe space for idea sharing
The beauty of communicating through models - in our experience - is that it distances participants from the ideas they are sharing. We have observed that, by allowing the model - rather than the individual - to take centre stage in this manner, participants are less guarded about sharing potentially controversial ideas. This has been particularly powerful for workshops where students have been exploring socially sensitive issues; something that can be incredibly challenging for status-aware teenagers to do; especially when this process is facilitated by very “uncool” authority figures such as their teachers.
For example, in a workshop where Middle School students explored their relationship with Social Media - very much a ‘powder-keg’ issue - participants were able to use their models to frame their own ideas as the views of both themselves and their peers, without worrying that their ideas would directly reflect upon themselves as individuals, offering us, as school leaders, a more authentic less-filtered reflection of how our student-body really felt about social media.
This ‘veil of anonymity’ that LEGO Serious Play offers participants throughout the process is a significant positive case for its’ use within schools.
It promotes tolerance
As a large international school, UWCSEA is the proverbial melting pot. With such a diverse student, staff and community population, our school mission makes explicit our aim to ‘use education as a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace’. A fundamental foundation for peace is tolerance; tolerance for the opinions, beliefs and values of those who do not necessarily share the same opinions, beliefs and values as you.
Having observed how students and staff within our school community behave during the workshops and sessions that we have facilitated, I have become a huge advocate for the extent to which tolerance is inherently built into the LEGO Serious Play process.
The focus on active listening and the need to recap and summarise the ideas of others ensures that participants must truly listen, hear and understand the stories that their peers choose to share. In our educational context, this is not always the case, with students often eager to share their own ideas whilst not fully appreciating those of their peers. This process challenges this default to myopia. As one student put it in her workshop feedback:
“I felt that it made us listen more carefully and through paraphrasing, allowed us to understand each other's thoughts and concepts better”
In our experience, the shared model build is where the processes capacity for fostering tolerance truly comes to the fore. In one student workshop, when it came to constructing their shared response to the build question, not a single student chose one of their own ‘disaggregated parts’ to contribute to the shared build; instead preferring to select elements of their peers’ individual builds.
The significance of this is that, through the process, our students evidenced that they not only heard and appreciated the diversity of ideas that emerged, they validated these different ideas by choosing to contribute these to the group response over their own.
If this is not an outstanding analogy and blueprint for peace, then I do not know what is!
Challenges we encountered
These are just some of the reasons why we continue to advocate for the use of LEGO Serious Play within our specific school context, and why we will continue to explore where it can enhance our learning program.
It is also worth acknowledging that, through our exploration, we have experienced challenges when it comes to using this process. In the interests of transparency, here are the major ones that we have faced:
Time: In schools, timetables are constraining at the best of times and, therefore, finding the often extended periods of time required to facilitate powerful and meaningful workshops with students and staff alike has been sometimes difficult
Quality Control: Running workshops with larger student numbers has proved challenging; particularly where facilitator to participant ratios are such that multiple build groups are in play. In particular, it has sometimes proved difficult to impress upon students the significance of recapping where the facilitator has not been ‘at the table’ to explicitly do so.
Focus: Working with children is an amazing experience. They tend to bring considerably less ‘baggage’ to the table than we adults do. The pay off for this enthusiasm is that it can be challenging to maintain focus. As with any learning experience, keeping learners on task, whilst maintaining the levels of creative freedom necessary for the LEGO Serious Play process to be effective has been a balancing act.
Moving forward, we are excited to see the potential positive influence that this process can have upon our school community. Significantly, we would be very excited to share our experiences with other educators to build a professional community and learn from each other's successes and challenges.
Contact Liam via LinkedIn
Note from SeriousWork founder Sean Blair: Liam, thanks so much for sharing your brilliant story, to see such a wide range of uses in such a short time since training is truly impressive. Thank you for attending out online class from Singapore, and working so late into the night to learn these skills you have evidently mastered so well.
This is a (brilliant) guest blog post from SeriousWork graduate Stella Kasdagli, Co-Founder Women On Top
In my SeriousWork two day Online LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) facilitation training course, Sean asked us to facilitate a shared model to show the key benefits of using LEGO Serious Play. Little did I know then how much this model would expand (in my own mind at least) as soon as I started putting the LSP tools in practice, in my own work (and, as you will see, even beyond that).
When our training ended, Sean advised us to start facilitating LSP groups, however small, within a week of our first training. Hearing that, I felt my heart sank. I didn’t feel I had the technical skills to run an online workshop so soon and, due to COVID restrictions, a large in-person working group was out of the question. I almost gave in then to the idea that I would let things slide and resume this amazing work as soon as our circumstances changed.
Thankfully, I already had a very real challenge that needed solving and, as it turned out, LSP was an amazing tool for me to tackle it. My 11-year old daughter had been struggling for some time with motivation and time management issues: she felt pressured to do things she didn’t love doing, she felt that she didn’t have enough free time to devote to leisure, plus, when she did have the time, she couldn’t think of what she really wanted to do with it (this is puberty, for those of you who are lucky enough not to have come across it, as bystanders during your adult lives). Conversation alone hadn’t been very successful in moving this issue in any helpful direction -but could perhaps LEGO do it? I decided to give it not one but two shots.
Ultimately, I wanted to do an LSP values workshop with her, but for that I would need some help from a dear coach friend who happened to be out of town for the weekend (stay tuned for this second part of the experiment). So, I chose to do some individual rich model building with her around the question of :
“What would you do if you had all the free time in the world”
It goes without saying, I would be building along with her. Our first building round offered some great insights (gardening, hanging out with friends and ceiling gazing) and some vague ideas with builds representing “adventures” and “various activities”. So, we decided to go with a second 3-minute building round and then a third, a fourth and a fifth. Every round started with a specific question of “what do you mean by that” and it helped us unpack for her both “adventures” and “activities” but also “art”, “travel” and “sports”. What she ended up with was an amazing building board full of ideas, not only to fill her free time, but honestly, to live her life to the full.
After finishing this first part of the experiment with her, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much richer those LSP benefits seem, now that I have really started seeing other people work with bricks. These benefits are not just for children but looking at my daughter unpacking issues that were hard for her to approach before, made me appreciate this work in a host of other ways. Here’s what I found:
Putting our ideas, dreams, feelings into concrete shapes somehow helps us detach ourselves from the responsibility of owning and expressing these thoughts. It is as if we become less critical of our inner selves when we can present them not in our own words but in shapes that are not us anymore.
Sharing your models with other people forces you to create a coherent story -and we know how much stories help us put our chaos in order and make sense of our own selves and the world around us.
Those few minutes of individual building are like a silent space that we give ourselves to really think before we blurt out whatever we would have blurted out if someone asked us the same question we are building around. By giving ourselves the time to process our ideas we arrive at a much more thought-out conclusion than the one we would have reached if we had just talked about it.
Because building takes time (more time than talk), we end up building only the things that are important to us and this selection and investment process help us become more truthful around what desires and thoughts are essential to what we want to say/achieve/share.
Because we are using our body to give shape to our ideas, we end up with an imprint of the thought process we went through on our hands and eyes -to say the least. This is probably the most valuable dimension of every learning process: the chance to leave our learning spaces with a physical sensation of how our new ideas feel when we get them out in the world. And this is something that my daughter is now going to carry with her while she’s navigating the treachery waters of puberty, adolescence and beyond.
*Stay tuned to learn about the results of our values LSP workshop with my pre-teen.
Stella Kasdagli is a writer, facilitator and the co-founder of Women On Top, a non-profit organization working for the professional empowerment of women and for equality and inclusion in the workplace.
We love designing and testing ideas before we launch new techniques or trainings. The idea of prototyping is second nature to design trained SeriousWork founder Sean Blair.
In March 2021 we ran our second pilot of our online build level 3 – systems models class. Below you can read a detailed write up from LSPConnect co-founder Guy Stephens.
Some thoughts on Systems Build with SeriousWork, by Guy Stephens
In my opinion, over the last year there has only really been one player in the online space who has set out to share their journey of exploration into the world of online LEGO Serious Play with others.
And when I think about online LSP, I’m not thinking about it in terms of – let’s just do the same thing online as we would face-to-face. What I’m talking about is someone who has really considered what that online experience could be. Explored what the possibilities might be. Someone who has treated online in its own right, taking into account the characteristics, dynamics, idiosyncrasies and richness of the online experience from the different perspectives of the process, the facilitator and importantly the participant.
Whether LEGO Serious Play can be done online or not is a somewhat pointless question in my mind, a distraction. To those who decry the authenticity of online LSP, my response to you is very simple: Ok, Boomer, move on!
If a facilitator thinks it can be done online, then the challenge is to find a way for it to be done, whilst trying to remain as true as possible to the principles and philosophy of LSP. Only then, through trial and error can the question of online be answered. And through that trial and error, can the online experience become more and more effective.
And so over the last year, Sean Blair, Jens Droege and Helen Batt at SeriousWork have gone on that journey on our behalf. They have put in the long hours of research and pilots, and arrived at approaches that enable online LSP to come to life – individual models, shared models, ‘magic hands’ and now System Build.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in one of SeriousWork’s early System Build pilots. A few days before the pilot, I received instructions about how many Exploration Bags I needed, the extra bricks I could bring in to play, and the different connections that would be needed. I also received a link to MURAL where a Systems Build canvas had already been created. I was also asked to prepare in advance a specific type of connection, and a short description of that connection; I’ll come back to this later.
Everyone has the same set of bricks
- Would the limited number or choice of bricks and connections be a constraint on creativity and imagination?
- Would the fact that everyone has the same bricks and connections end up in neutral, bland models, resulting in stories that lack richness and depth?
- Would I get bored with the bricks and connections?
Let me be very clear: At no time did I feel as if my options during model building were limited. At no time did I find that the limited choice of bricks were a constraint on the stories that emerged. The stories did not lack for anything apart from bighlighting my inability to adequately tell the story of the model I built.
Whilst having the choice to use a Duplo elephant, ladder, skeleton or shark might enhance model-building, I am also a strong believer, that because any brick can represent any object, entity or concept, nothing is really lost in having a smaller selection of pieces. And if a participant has never done LSP before, then they are in effect, none the wiser.
As a further test of my imagination and creativity, unbeknownst to the facilitator and other participants, I challenged myself to only use one Window Exploration bag to build all the models required for the Systems Build. I would only allow myself to move onto the second Windows Exploration bag once I had finished using all the bricks from the first. As it was, I only ever used one bag.
Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t or can’t have more bricks and connections, but what is important is that facilitators do not place any perceived limitations of creativity or process on these inanimate bricks. The onus lies with the facilitator not only to draw out that streak of creative output from each participant, but also with regards to the efficacy of the workshop experience in which LSP is the chosen approach.
One thing I am going to explore in future online workshops, is what difference it makes if participants have different bricks. For me, I’m not so sure it matters. At the end of the day, the bricks are a catalyst for the stories that they represent. As long as there are no impediments to a participant creating that story, then choice of bricks is a moot point.
I do take into account that if one adopts the ‘magic hands’ approach, having the same bricks makes complete sense. One could also equally propose that once a picture of the model, agent or shared model is done and now exists in the online space, then that is all that is required, as it is he story that now takes precedence.
Connections need to be nurtured
It became apparent to me by the time I reached the end of the Systems Build pilot that connections are somewhat overlooked, and spending a bit of time on them is well worth it.
Before the pilot began I received instructions on which connections I needed, as well as a short description of the nature of each of the connections we could use. I was also asked to build a specific connection type, and prepare a short description of it, which I would share with the other participants at the appropriate time in the pilot.
When I came to build my connection, I spent a bit of time considering the different characteristics of each of the connections I could use. I didn’t want to just join them in a cursory way, but really think about what was unique about each, how they differed, and how meaning could be attached to them in different ways to illustrate different types of connections.
When we got to the relevant part of the pilot, each of the participants shared their particular connection. It was a kind of connections ‘skill build’. What this did was to actually raise the level of understanding of what a connection was, some of the different ways in which the connections could be joined together, how they could be used, and also how we could actually talk about them. Suddenly a very rich narrative emerged.
What it meant was that by the time we actually started to connect the agents to the shared model, it was obvious that everyone was very considered and thoughtful in the type of connection they choose, where they wanted it connected, and the words they used to describe the relationship between the connected elements.
Interestingly, spending time on the connections, did nothing to stop that sense of surprise (and excitement) when it came time to actually understand the impact the connected agent had on the shared model, and the other agents around it. Pushing it, pulling it, still resulted in unexpected consequences.
The goal is the Systems Build
If you are doing a Systems Build, don’t lose sight of this. Try to get to the Systems Build part as quickly as possible. Not everyone will agree with me on this. But my thinking is this: once you get to the Systems Build and start to play it out with the different connections, you can, if needed, always update existing or old knowledge with the knowledge that has just been uncovered. Dwelling on the individual or shared model builds serves little purpose, as these are simply the catalyst to uncovering this new knowledge. I’m certainly not saying – Systems Model and be damned – just be sure not to over-index your time on getting there.
Agent ‘playtime’ in a virtual space
This was a revelation for me! Once the agents have been built they are then brought into a virtual space. Each agent is photographed and then the image uploaded to a platform such as MURAL.
The virtual space allows the participants to familiarise themselves with the agents and affords the opportunity for further discussion and sharing of insights to take place. What it also does is enable the participants to ‘play’ around with the placement of agents in relation to each other, as well as the shared model. It becomes obvious very quickly where physical gaps or conversely clustering of agents takes place, highlighting the possible importance of certain agents or parts of a shared model that may not be as relevant as had initially been thought. Once this ‘play’ has taken place, the facilitator can then move the agent to its final place in the physical model that is being built.
This was an unexpected moment for me, and one that I would definitely like to explore further in future online System Builds.
For those who have not used online collaboration tools like MURAL or Miro, I encourage you to try them out. One word of caution, however, is that these are great tools and lend themselves well to online LSP. However, a facilitator must be careful to ensure that they do not become a convenient replacement for thinking through carefully the flow and purpose of your workshop with due care.
Two baseplates are better than one
I remember when I first saw the set-up used by the facilitator that there were two baseplates in use. A slightly smaller one on top of a larger one. The larger one was dark grey, with the smaller one on top, a lighter grey. I couldn’t work out why the baseplates were set-up in this way.
All became apparent once the agents were connected to the shared model, and the impact of the agents was then explored. The shared model was built on the slightly smaller, light grey baseplate. What this meant was that when the agent was pulled or pushed, it moved smoothly, so that the full impact of any movement could be seen.
Small things matter
- The problem statement was on display at all times, placed on a card at the top of the shared model baseplate.
- Full instructions were received, together with access to MURAL a few days before the workshop.
- Make sure that as a facilitator, the participants are aware of any requirements with regards to lighting, cameras, showcasing their models and agents etc.
- Make sure participants know how to use MURAL, Miro or similar online collaboration tools ahead of the workshop. You can also build in time at the beginning of the workshop to recap. The one thing I would absolutely check is that participants know how to upload the pictures of their models to the online collaboration tool you are using.
So in the final summary, can a Systems Build be done online effectively?
For me, the answer is yes. Without a doubt.
What is exciting is not whether it can be done effectively but rather, that we are at the outset of this journey of exploration. There is still so much to be explored in the online space, not as some kind of time-limited alternative, but as an option in its own right. It is facilitators like Sean Blair and Jens Droege, amongst others, who are proactively exploring on our behalf, sharing generously their findings so that we may all learn, and together, create different narratives and new assumptions, and in so doing add to the existing rich narrative of LEGO Serious Play.
#FacWeek and #Book launch. Martin Gilbraith's introduces 'How to Facilitate the LEGO® Serious Play® Method ONLINE'
My first Online LEGO Serious Play Workshop. Shared Model Building with 78 Senior Academics and Executives. What could possibly go wrong?
MASTERING THE LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® METHOD 44. Facilitation Techniques for Trained LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitators
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® © 2017 The LEGO Group
©SERIOUSWORK 2021. SeriousWork and ProMeet are a part of Serious Outcomes Ltd a UK based company number 11115058.