ON FACILITATING LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®
LEGO Serious Play Blog
Ausbildung zum LEGO SERIOUS PLAY Facilitator von SERIOUSWORK

BUILDING BETTERFACILITATORS

How COVID-19 created our new book ONLINE

Here's the back story to our new book.

March 2020 was set to be a busy month for me, my schedule included system model workshop, a trip to France and two trips to the USA.

On Wednesday March 11th, I caught the early morning Eurostar train from London to Paris. The COVID-19 crisis was escalating but the attitude to the virus in the UK in early March was still relaxed. I got back from Paris late afternoon. The next day the US Government announced a travel ban from the EU to the USA, except UK and Ireland...

Let's wind the clock back a few months. In December 2019, I had been invited to pitch to train a very senior group of men and women in a leadership academy in a branch of the US Military. Accordingly I had spent a good chunk of the previous three months in the most complex contracting I had ever been involved with (how does a document running to 55 pages and 37000 words sound?).

Having finally agreed a contract, on March 2nd, that day I booked to fly to Washington DC for a 4 day training week commencing March 16th. At the time of booking, the decision to travel to the USA felt safe.

Fast forwards, and pick up the story. So the day after I got back from Paris, the US Government had issued a travel ban from the EU, but excluding the UK and Ireland. The ban came into force at midnight on March 14th, six hours after I was supposed to land.

I began regretting my trip to France. Legally, I knew I was OK to fly, (virus free?), but was worried my client might cancel the training, because I'd been in Paris. We had a phone call, discussed the situation and decided it was OK. I'd travel the very next day.

Landing in Washington DC on the afternoon of Friday March 13th, I cleared customs, hired a car and drove several hours to the client base. The next day, just after Saturday lunchtime, the US Government extended the travel ban to include the UK, effective Sunday 15th March. Great.

After a call with my family I packed my bags, turned around to travel home, to try and fly six days later could be tricky. So I drove to the airport and caught a flight back to London 24 hours after landing (and as it turned out, my flight home was cancelled).

In the UK, the week that followed saw schools shut. Then on March 2Oth a UK wide lock-down began. My world (along with the millions of others who were ahead of 'the curve'), went crazy.

Sitting here in London, in October 2020 the world has changed. Face-to-face meetings are mostly out, right now the COVID-19 curves are going up again and the economy is not wearing a happy face.

In late March, it took me about a week to understand that things would not return to the 'normal' we had known only days before.

I could either sit at home and wait for normal to return, or I could accept the reality of the situation and embrace change. An insight given to me twenty years ago, helped me resolve what to do next.

'Masters of change, use change to create change'

As a much younger man, I had been fortunate to be taken 'under the wing' of an elder, Michael Frye a lovely and wonderful man. One day, over lunch, he asked me for my definition of 'mastery of change'. Michael was like that, he would ask questions that I'd never even thought about. He then said, 'Masters of change, use change to create change.'

I had never been sure what to do with this insight until March 2020, having been like many in the LEGO® Serious Play® community, sure that online LEGO Serious Play was not possible. I resolved to set my biases to one side and learn from my own experience what was, or was not possible.

With the encouragement of my friend and training associate Jens, and with help from our wonderful graduate community, MeetUp groups and enthusiasts from LinkedIn, we began a series of experiments to learn about the possibilities and limits for online LEGO Serious Play mediated and via online platforms, mostly Zoom and Mural.

The results of these trials surprised me. It turns out there are things that are better when bringing digital tools to LEGO Serious Play facilitation. In the six months since March we have created new techniques to make the LEGO Serious Play Method work extremely well online.

Is it possible? The answer is a resounding yes.

We remain aligned with the core principles of the method and continue to use the ideas that we have written about in our previous two books, SERIOUSWORK and MASTERING.

There are additional techniques and requirements that ONLINE demands. The preparation phase is more complex, for both participants and facilitators. and online requires new skills. Foundation LEGO Serious Play components, like the three stage skills build requires a fourth skills build to be included.

The role the facilitator takes, especially during online shared model building is both different and at its core similar to what happens in the real world.

Our innovation to split the shared model building into new stages, disaggregate, rebuild, 'Magic-hands©" and 'Build-along©' still results in a shared model that people are proud of and feel ownership over.

There have been (and may still be), voices in our community saying online LEGO Serious Play is not possible. They are wrong. It is. And the approaches to online LEGO Serious Play will help cut carbon emissions long after the dark days of COVID-19.

This book has taken six months to write and we've shared drafts with our customers and students whose imagination and unlimited outlook inspires us everytime we pick up bricks. This book is a true act of co-creation, I just asked the question 'what's possible?', and made time to write up our learning.

Sean Blair, London UK, October 2020


Learning to facilitate LEGO Serious Play Online - By Dr Rebekah Wilson

The blog post below was written by SeriousWork graduate Dr Rebekah Wilson who works at Exeter University. Rebekah first published this post on the Exeter University Incubator website and we are grateful for her permission to re-post it here.

The Education Incubator Serious Fun, Serious Play, Serious Skills project awarded six bursaries to support Lego Serious Play Facilitation Training across the University of Exeter. In this blog, one of the bursary recipients, Dr Rebekah Welton shares her journey.


I am a Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religion. As a relative newcomer to the world of teaching and lecturing, I am particularly keen to try new and exciting ways of delivering content and assessments for my students. So when I heard about the opportunity to apply for a bursary to train as a Lego Serious Play facilitator, I was immediately intrigued. However, I did not have much time to put together the application video as I was about to go on annual leave for a week camping in Wales! I decided to make the most of the gorgeous landscapes and recorded my application video in various locations from Great Orme’s Head to Llanberis! Fortunately, the sight of me in walking gear did not put the panel off, and I was selected to receive the bursary for Lego Serious Play facilitation training. I was delighted!


In normal circumstances, Lego Serious Play takes place face-to-face, with all participants handling shared piles of Lego, but this was, of course not taking place under normal circumstances. So instead, each of us received an array of Lego in the post to use in our own homes via Zoom.


Our brilliant trainer, Sean, taught us to use the bricks as metaphors, building models to express our ideas and anxieties about any topic imaginable. We had to learn to listen carefully to the stories that each participant told about the models, and in asking further probing questions about why they chose a red brick instead of yellow, we were led to unexpected but insightful conversations about each model and what they represented.


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Once we got the knack of facilitating the building of individual models online and using them for reflection, we then learnt to amalgamate the individual models into a one large shared model. I think we were all surprised by just how effective this was for drawing together a variety of ideas into one narrative, mediated by the Lego bricks.


On the second day of training we got into the nitty-gritty work of planning Lego Serious Play sessions for the particular needs of a specific group; a seminar on a particular module, a department of academic colleagues, or an executive group, for example. This is where we realised that the efficacy of Lego Serious Play sessions relies on the planning and the thoughtful implementation of clear, accurate directions for model building, and the subsequent reflection.

It is not simply a case of asking participants to play with bricks. The task must be framed carefully to yield the best results. Nevertheless, the capacity and flexibility that this playful pedagogy provides for enhancing learning and communication are immense, and I am eagerly anticipating delivering my first Lego session to my students in a couple of weeks. When face to face, hands-on Lego sessions become safe to carry out, Sean will be visiting us on campus to teach us how to run even bigger Lego Serious Play sessions and build ‘system models’.

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I feel so inspired by the training I received. The ways in which this method of learning and creating shared visions can be used appears to be multifarious. I am fully behind the aims of Education Incubator to integrate Lego Serious Play into the University’s toolkit of common practices in teaching and academic development. If you have the opportunity to attend a session, or to also receive facilitation training at a later date, I wouldn’t hesitate to take part!


NOTE: Thanks for letting us share your write up Rebekah. We should also note that without the pioneering work being done by Dr Holly Henderson at Exeter University expanding the use of LEGO Serious Play at Exeter University would not be happening!

Tosin Interviews Sean - A Podcast on LEGO Serious Play, including some of the secrets of #OnlineLSP

Tosin Adebisi is, accodoring to his mum, "a specialist in human-centered stakeholder engagement, an intrapreneur, educator, coach and facilitator"

Actually I made up the part about his mum, but that's what his LinkedIn proflie says.

Tosin, pictured above (no, that's not Sean next to him), is also a Certified LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator and PodCaster.

He recently interviewed SeriousWork founder Sean Blair. In this 56 minute interview Tosin asks Sean many questions including...

  • You've been busy during the lockdown. As a trainer and facilitator, how have you found it? Tell us what you have been up too...
  • What is LEGO® Serious Play® and why do you think it works?
  • "Making a 3D print of your own thoughts", what does that mean?
  • How did a toy become such a popular tool for businesses?
  • Is Online Shared Model Building possible? Tell us about your new online facilitation course...
  • Traditionalists say online LEGO Serious Play facilitation lacks tactile element. How did you go about recreating a similar experience?
  • LEGO for Lockdown challenge - instructions for people to participate on Padlet

If you have an hour spare, or want to have a bit of background talk as you work-from-home, you can listen to the musings and ponderings of Sean and Tosin here:

The interview starts after the 5 mins, click just below the << if you want to skip the preamble...


Or listen on Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker or Pocket Casts

Thanks so much to Tosin, for his hard work preparing, recording and producing this PodCast. You can contact Tosin via LinkedIn here.

A message to graduates of all LSP trainings. Yes you can facilitate LEGO Serious Play online :)

El Capitan also known as El Cap, is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face. It is one big, big rock face. I know, I have tried to climb it twice, and failed both times.

Can El Cap be climbed?

In the early 1960's, if you had asked if it was possible to climb El Cap, the answer would be likely be no, as back then, no human had ascended this mighty wall.

If you upped the ante, and asked it it could be climbed in less than a day, most people would have thought that a crazy question. If you had asked could it be climbing in under two hours or without ropes, the leaders of the climbing community would have surely asked if you had smoked something hallucinogenic, and met such questions with by saying "no, that simply is not possible!"


Too much no in the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® community?

The question "Can you facilitate LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® online" was recently put to one of the elders of the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method. His answer was, "No, it is not possible".

This 'no' is on video, on the internet. But as we know, there are lots of spurious videos on the web, of leaders saying things that are untrue. You might have recently heard a President saying bleach is a good cure for Covid-19.


Not possible is possible

The job of innovators or the new generation is to confront orthodoxy, challenge established norms, and show that what not might have seemed possible is, in fact, quite possible. History is littered with examples of leaders saying 'this, that or another is not possible', only to be comprehensively proven wrong.

In 1964, El Cap was climbed by Warren Harding. It took him 47 days, using what is know as 'siege' tactics: climbing in an expedition style using fixed ropes along the length of the route, linking established camps along the way.

Lynn Hill was the first to 'free climb' (using no points of aid) the most iconic route on El Cap, 'The Nose' over 4 days in 1993.

Photo: Heinz Zak

And as I'm sure some of you know, in June, 2017, a remarkable young man called Alex Honnold completed the first free solo climb of El Capitan. He climbed the whole route free, with no rope. And he did it in 3 hours and 56 minutes. The climb was filmed for the amazing 2018 documentary Free Solo.

And whilst the first ascent of El Cap took 47 days, in 2018, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climbed El Cap in 1 hour 58 minutes.


Online LEGO Serious Play is possible - and in some ways better

Business guru Gary Hamel famously said that 'complacent incumbents' in any industry have a vested interest in things staying the same, but Covid-19 and environmental pressures have changed traditional ways of working, so has LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® reached a limit, or become useless just because we are now online?

The clear answer is no. We have made the what we believe is first ascent of shared model building online, and more importantly we have trail blazed a new route to teaching others how to facilitate LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® shared model building online. So this is just another of many moments where the old guard said "no, not possible" only to be proven wrong.


One has to wonder why such negative assertions are proffered, when innovation is needed?

20 years ago, the clever people (Professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor) had the imagination and vision to ask, 'can we use LEGO bricks for business strategy'.

This was a radicle and bold idea, and if they were still actively pioneering and advancing the LEGO Serious Play method today, surely they would have the imagination and ability to invent additional new techniques make the LEGO Serious Play method work-online? SeriousWork are not the inventors of LEGO Serious Play, but we have met the new challenges on online and have added new techniques to make online work, and work well.

It makes you wonder if organisations that claim to be guardians of the method are actually motivated by protecting their own self-interest?


A pioneering method needed online more than ever

In the world we now live in, more than ever, people need tools and methods to imagine new possibilities, design new models, and find ways to get the economy moving again. The LEGO Serious Play method needs new skills and mindsets to operate effectively online, but it is not only possible but much needed.

So yes dear LEGO Serious Play facilitator you can facilitate online :)

Virtual LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® – Is Online Shared Model Building possible?

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® community is blessed with innovators (like the people who created this wonderful method) and hard core traditionalists (the ones who say 'no' quite often). So this blog post asks a contentious question:

Is Online Shared Model Building possible?

The answer is YES, and actually the experience and outcome is better than you might think.

The shared model building process differs in some important ways from face-to-face-in-the-same-room shared model building, and has its challenges as well as surprising opportunities. Yet, if a facilitator has the right mindset, has practiced the new techniques that online shared model building requires, and is well prepared before the workshop, the results can be as good as in the “real” world.


New Mindsets Needed

Some LEGO Serious Play traditionalists have recently written that online LEGO Serious Play cannot be learnt online because it lacks the tactile element. But this challenge can be overcome by new techniques that combine physical use of bricks with clever use of online-collaboration-tools. How do we know new mindsets are needed? Because if you had asked us a month ago, if Online LEGO Serious Play was possible we would have said no. But it turns out we were wrong too.

A group building a shared model online


A shared model built online by the group pictured above


Our business was born by embracing constraints

Can we be honest for a moment?

Four years ago, when we launched our book SERIOUSWORK, we unwittingly upset one of the authors of the other main book about LEGO Serious Play. When we came to develop our own training we knew this would be seen as controversial move in the LEGO Serious Play community.

And like every participant who were trained by the traditional school, we signed an agreement on the first day of our training agreeing not to use others Intellectual Property. We have honoured that agreement, and as it turns out, the limits and constraints of that agreement was one of the greatest gifts of being trained by the original method.



Constraints and limits are rocket fuel for innovation. We turned the 'master / trainee' model on its head three years ago and pioneered practice-based learning in LEGO Serious Play, and today we are embracing the constraints Covid-19 demands to create another innovation in LEGO Serious Play - online facilitation and training.


Masters of change, use change, to create change

Covid-19 has changed traditional ways of working. And for a while, face-to-face meetings are out. But now, more than ever, people working-from-home, need to meet in ways that facilitate human-to-human connection and support people to make sense of this new reality. People need effective ways to imagine what next, to rebuild careers, products and services in the hugely challenging times we are in.


Harness disruption to innovate even better solutions

So when disruption comes along, this can be seen as an opportunity or a threat. History is full of examples of organistions that created change, adapted to change or fell by the way unable to adapt to change.

Uber change the taxi market, AirBnB changed the hotel market, Amazon changed the high street, the list is long.


Online facilitation and training

Just as our second book, MASTERING The LEGO Serious Play Method (ironically launched in March 2020, the same month that Covid-19 put half the world on some form of lockdown), sought to pass on techniques for professional facilitation of LEGO Serious Play in face-to-face settings, our new book How to Facilitate The LEGO Serious Play Method ONLINE and training will seek to pass on all that we know, with the spirit of sharing that is defining our new age.

Sean Blair & Jens Droge

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SERIOUSWORK uses the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method described in the LEGO Group Open Source Guide made available by LEGO under a Creative Commons licence ‘Attribution Share Alike’

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