The success of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) may be because it is aligned with the environment in which our brains evolved to operate. No two-dimensional charts, books, reports or screens (and if you are a purist, not even a PowerPoint slide). It lets us get back to the basics of face-to-face story-making and listening with nothing but physical objects as our prompts and visual aids. It is thinking, communication, and problem solving in three dimensions, person to person.
But what can you do when people can’t meet because of a global pandemic? On 1 October 2020, more than six months since the lockdown began, the UK’s Office for National Statistics reported that 24% of people were working exclusively from home. So should we pack the LEGO® bricks in the attic and wait for better times?
During lockdown, I adapted an existing LSP workshop so it could run online and stay with the core principles of the methodology. The original workshop ran for the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Wellbeing, who wanted it to be just 90 mins. For a short but effective workshop I used the 49-piece LEGO® Window Exploration kit and a schedule that brought in topic relevant questions before the end of the Skills Building section. This meant that participants were able to get stuck into some big questions in a short but true LSP session.
Online LSP workshops need bricks to be sent in the post and need to be short to minimise screen fatigue for participants, so the existing workshop format switched to online easily. This workshop also adapted well because there was only time for individual model building (AT1) which is the application technique (AT) most suited to online. Participants still got their hands on the bricks, so it could be described as remote-LSP rather than virtual-LSP. In terms of the LSP core processes, 1 & 2 (question and construction) were ‘remote’ because the experience was only changed by the participants being in different locations but 3 & 4 (sharing and reflection) were ‘virtual’ because other participants could only see others’ models in two dimensions. Two of four core processes being virtual is a compromise to the LSP methodology but can work for short sessions limited to AT1. Application Techniques 2 to 7 would also require construction to be virtual, and at that point you wonder if that is LSP anymore…
Even with only AT1, there are lots of adjustments you can make to overcome the constraints of virtual sharing and reflection so we can let our brains work at their best. Some of those are about preparation so participants have space to build and are using a large screen, others are about using slides to support LSP basics like ground rules and technical advice. But the most important adjustments focus on how you can improve the virtual core processes of sharing and reflecting.
In face-to-face workshops, we look at the model and hear the voice so we listen with our eyes but our video conferencing habit is to make faces the main visual focus.
To overcome this, participants must either hold their model up the camera or tilt their camera down and trust the model and their voice.
However, holding the model limits your building options to two units that don’t fall apart but more importantly it also restricts your pointing to the bricks as you tell your story, therefore limiting the communication. Far better that participants tilt their camera to the table, and point to the bricks as they guide us round their model.
The focus on the model can be further enhanced by disabling the voice activated video switching in the video conference platform so when people ask questions to the model, it is the model that remains our visual focus and not the person asking the questions.
These are all subtle changes but together can make sure that online LSP keeps as close as possible to the environment in which our brains evolved.