The Greek philosopher Plato once said, “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation.” A new program offered by Rice’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies draws on this ancient wisdom by using Lego bricks to help a company’s employees articulate concepts in a new way that accesses the whole brain and opens up pathways for each team member to contribute to potentially novel and richer solutions.
“Lego Serious Play is a facilitation method that’s used worldwide,” said Kim McGaw, director of professional programs at the Glasscock School and a certified Lego Serious Play facilitator. “Of course it was started in the land of Lego, in Denmark. It’s been used at Harvard Business School, Stanford and Fortune 100 companies, and it’s becoming more and more popular in the U.S.”
The method can be applied to a variety of company objectives, whether it’s solving a brewing crisis or brainstorming ways to transform a current business model. Sessions might start off with a question such as “Name one challenge that is preventing growth in your company and build your answer with Lego. You have four minutes. Go.” Facilitators support this process by asking questions and helping participants draw out the meaning from their models made out of bricks.
McGaw recently packed several dozen boxes of colorful Lego bricks and minifigures into her car to lead a team-building session using the Serious Play methodology at a global Internet marketing company’s offices in Houston. Developed by Robert Rasmussen, a former Lego employee, the method is centered around the use of one’s hands while the mind is in an unplugged state. It capitalizes on this by asking the hands to find a solution that the mind hasn’t been able to come up with on its own.
“When it said ‘team-building and communication training,’ I was expecting more of a lecture and not to play with Legos,” said Jerry Lopez, a Web developer at the company. “I’d rather do this than the lecture. We weren’t really thinking about it as team building; we were just playing around,” he said about the method’s hands-on and unplugged approach.
“I saw a lot of creativity in my team members, which I really like to see, and how they interpret their roles,” said Alexandra Beaupre, a team leader, in regard to her employees’ creative responses to the challenge to depict their jobs through Legos.” “The ways that they built their jobs … helped me also dig in a little deeper to how I can help to motivate them and inspire them and mentor them.”
McGaw said the platform provides equal support for a variety of communication styles and creates a level playing field for visual thinkers and team members from other countries. “This introvert-friendly method using Lego gets 100 percent participation from everyone in the group,” she said. “Everybody builds and everybody shares. There is no right or wrong way to build something. The meaning is in the Lego model, and the builder’s story about it. All discussions are about a model and its story, which ensures participants focus on the message, not the messenger. This facilitates an environment where people feel safe to bring their insights to the table and also compelled to listen generously to their teammates.”
Lego Serious Play complements the Glasscock School’s variety of professional development opportunities, which allow people to obtain new competencies; prepare for a certification exam; improve professional, business and communication skills; or earn professional recertification credit.
“Being we’re an ‘unconventional-wisdom’ school at Rice, we are very heavy on innovation at the Glasscock School,” McGaw said. “This (methodology) adds to our offerings and provides a more innovative format for people to do their best thinking.”
Groups interested in learning about or receiving the training can contact George Zombakis, professional development program manager at the Glasscock School, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-348-6101.