Three lessons from LEGO on how to design workshops 

People respond differently to one another in social situations. Some are keen to share, others less so. In design workshops and ideation sessions, this means that not everyone gets the chance to give everything they can or want to give. So how do you encourage consistent, active contribution from everyone in the room?

LEGO Serious Play might have the answer. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitated, group problem-solving method developed to unlock tacit knowledge in business meetings. Each person builds a 3D LEGO model in response to a challenge and shares the story behind their model.

Here are three principles from LEGO Serious Play to help you unpick complex challenges, and get more from your innovation workshops:

1. The frivolity of play creates a safe space for new ideas

 “Of all animal species, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play”. – Stuart Brown, founder of The National Institute for Play.

As we grow up, we relegate our enthusiasm and opportunities for play to the far away realm of childhood memories. As a result, we lose sight of what play can do to kickstart the imagination. Building LEGO models in a “serious” business meeting might feel light-hearted and even bizarre. But it’s this environment that makes LEGO Serious Play so effective. It sets a positive culture for exploration and creates a safe space for participants to build and test imaginary solutions with confidence – and without fear of conflict. Apart from LEGO, there are other ways of creating safe spaces for new ideas through play. These include ‘Bodystorming’ or ‘Make A World’ – both and more are described in Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. The key learning? Whether you opt for LEGO bricks or not, create a ‘playful’ space for building new ideas with confidence in order to get the most value from design workshops.

2. Working alone together makes for full participation

By asking every single person in the room to build a model and share a story, LEGO Serious Play focuses on the individual whilst also requiring everyone to get stuck in. Everyone is given the opportunity to step up to the plate and express their ideas, so that all voices are heard and all unhidden and hidden knowledge comes to the surface. This is both encouraging and motivating, as it is human nature to want to contribute to something bigger.

Having 100% participation means that you all feel bought into whatever has been decided and committed to make this happen and make it successful. During any design workshop, don’t let anyone sit on the fence. No one wants to be an observer, so make sure everyone in your team has a role to play.

3. To build big ideas you need to build with your hands

Only using words to express what we think and feel is tricky and clunky. But when physically making or building thoughts and ideas with our hands, we express things in greater detail. And this also makes it easier to understand and remember them. Therefore, the act of building a tangible model is such a critical element to the LEGO Serious Play process. By creating a 3D representation you attach meaning to that model, rather than simply talking and assuming others will immediately grasp what you are saying. Translating our thoughts into physical “constructions” unlocks new ways of thinking. And it might even bring out knowledge you didn’t know you had. What you are left with is a visible and tangible object that holds all the knowledge you wanted to convey. Whether you have objects, materials, images, sticky notes, LEGO bricks or playdough in the room, plan a design workshop in which your team is not dependent on messy language alone. Make them use their hands, interact with tangible stuff and organise information visually to see the unexpected.

Ready? Set? Play!

I am not urging you to run out to your nearest LEGO store and purchase the largest Star Wars set you can find (though of course you can, if it helps you find your ability to play!) Rather, I am urging you to break the mould and make some time for play in your workshops, seriously. Play will allow for different, equally valid answers to emerge and enable you and your team to reach your full potential – making shared decisions faster and better.


Want to learn more or need someone to design your workshops, contact us here.