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What would you do if you had all the free time in the world?

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:

Detachment

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.

Storytelling

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.

Thought

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.

Truth

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.

Practice

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.

Stella on LinkedIn

Report from Build Level 3 System Model ONLINE training pilot

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.

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