Lego® Serious Play® and Disability

May 31, 2019 in Serious Play Case Studies

I’ve been procrastinating about this post for a while because talking about disability seems to be a politically correct minefield with its own vocabulary. I am disabled myself; I call it a handicap because for me it is “a disadvantage that makes achievement unusually difficult” (Webster definition) in certain areas of my life. Please excuse-me if the wording is clumsy. I do feel it is important to share this experience with you anyway, so I’ll plod on.

I use the Lego® Serious Play® Starter kits for my workshop skills building. I find it gives the participants plenty of options to choose from, gives them use of Lego and Duplo and allows me to start working on something meaningful during the skills building phase. The only problem is that they are expensive, so I lend them to my customers. At first, I sorted them myself and it took too much time. Now I take them to a special structure that employs people with disabilities, and they sort them for me.

This is a way for my business to give back to the community, so I’ve decided to continue doing this despite having found cheaper options, and it saves me time. Some time ago, as I dropped the Lego off, one of the supervisors came over to me and said: “What do you use those Lego kits for?”.

I was stunned: here I am consulting in organisations, helping managers to give meaning to their teams, aligning behaviours with vision and values, and I hadn’t practised what I preach!

A few days later, I called the supervisor and offered to run a small Lego Serious Play workshop for the team that sorts my Lego and for those that wanted to. He said he would ask the team and come back to me. They were delighted and 15 people wanted to participate. He also explained that there was a huge diversity in disabilities ranging from physical to mental disabilities and/or combinations of both. That I wouldn’t be able to get everyone on board. That sounded harsh to me, and I wanted to try anyway.

When the date of the workshop came, 1 hour before, I still didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt very anxious because I wanted the workshop to be as inclusive as possible, but I didn’t know their job, I didn’t know any of the participants or what they would be able to do physically (Lego requires dexterity) or if we would understand each other in trying to use metaphors.

I met the participants and the 2 educators that look after them and realised that the range in disabilities was just blind blowing and I had no idea if there was a common thread in these experiences. I was also informed that we only had 45 minutes before the break which was much less than originally planned. It was very important to the participants that we would be finished by then because otherwise it would induce stress.

So I started the workshop, still seeking THE question. I had brought a few pictures to show them what I use Lego Serious Play for, what their work allows me to do, why it’s important for me and thanked them for what they do. On the spur of the moment, I then asked them to describe their experience at the centre.

I gave them 15 minutes to build a model. Most started immediately manipulating the bricks. Some felt some stress from being given an open question, so I talked to them individually and the educators helped me reframe the question in a more directive style. Once everyone was building away, I got the educators to participate as well, despite their initial reluctance.

Everyone built something. We had 3 tables, so I asked everyone to come to the first one to share. One man decided that he “didn’t like this s**t”. The team laughed and discussed the fact that out of the Seven Dwarfs, he was most probably Grumpy. One lady who had built a model decided to opt out. The rest of the team shared.

It was amazing. One person built a very elaborate model explaining how she didn’t like coming to the centre but at the same time realized that it gave her a revenue and allowed her to be autonomous. She wanted freedom and didn’t like being watched by the educators but at the same time couldn’t live without the structure they provided. Another man built multiple small models, many had feet going in opposite directions. When asked what that meant, he wasn’t able to verbalise it, but it seemed to me that it was very symbolic for him and could have been used as a basis for a deeper discussion.

Eventually we came to one man who had sever physical limitations and who taken all 15 minutes to build the model shown in the photo. He spoke extremely slowly, each sentence taking about a minute to be spoken. When I asked him what he had built, he replied: “This is me, I have an antenna on my head because I need to listen. They keep on telling me here that I don’t listen and just do my own thing”, then, he burst out laughing. The educators commented on how they wished he did have an actual antenna and listen, and the other participants started laughing as well.

Once everybody had shared their model, I told them it was time to finish and that the exploration bags where a gift for them to take home. Many of the participants came to shake my hand and thank me (the Lego gift was a big hit!).

I learnt enough in those 45 min to write a book. Here are my main take aways:

  • I was amazed how the Lego bricks allowed people with whom it was difficult for me to talk to share something about themselves. It opened an opportunity for discussion that just wasn’t available through conversation.
  • Every person built something. Even those who didn’t want to share were absorbed by the building for a while.
  • I had vertigo from the range of disabilities. We talk about diversity in organisations and this team brought it to a whole new level for me, and yet, Lego Serious Play allowed all participants to come together, share, each one within his own possibilities, and it created a great moment of camaraderie, fun and emotion. It was just so powerful.
  • As the participants were disabled and their life revolves around this centre, they couldn’t imagine that I would be using Lego with non-disabled people. In a way, I managed to open their perspective to something else and they got a taste of something outside their world. I will draw a parallel here with organisations that tend to be closed in on themselves.
  • Finally, this was a huge opportunity for me as a facilitator, I felt completely insecure, in an unknown world, with people I couldn’t easily communicate with, being in service. It was very revealing and also truly elating.

Minimalist Lego Serious Play

September 7, 2018 in Serious Play Case Studies

The other day, I facilitated a group session for a client. Discussions are sometimes tense with this group and it often feels difficult for the participants to share openly. Discussions are guarded and past brainstorming sessions have proven laborious.

Over the Summer, a friend of mine inspired me by sharing an exercise he does with groups during a wilderness camp using pebbles. Each participant chooses pebbles and describes the group with them. He usually does this with small groups and my group was a bit larger than what he described. I felt inspired by the concept but wasn’t prepared to take the plane with a backpack full of pebbles and symbolically, it didn’t seem like something I wanted to do!

In replacement of pebbles, I had the following idea: I bought 255 2×1 Lego bricks in 15 different colours.

I set them out on a little table in the middle and asked the participants to represent the group and their relationship to it. I didn’t do any skills building or mention anything other than giving them that task. All participants were able to respond. One person took a handful of bricks and threw them on the floor and said “chaos”. Another spontaneously started explaining why he used a particular colour. This prompted the next participant to explain why he had connected two bricks.

We had many discussion and lunch before we moved on to the second part of the discussion: aspirations. I asked them to represent themselves with one or multiple bricks and then explain their aspirations for the group.

This time, the models were a little more elaborate and participants spontaneously asked questions about the model.

All in all, I was extremely surprised by the amount of information that was shared using such simple bricks. Initially, I had planned to use 1×1 and that would have been a mistake because I would have limited connection options. I was also surprised to find that despite not having given any process or skills building, a lot of Lego Serious Play concepts spontaneously emerged. Finally, despite the tense atmosphere, all participants seemed to enjoy the exercise and got involved.

Lego Serious Play at a distance

January 11, 2018 in Serious Play Case Studies

Experimenting with Lego Serious Play for distance coaching

I’d like to share an experiment, using the Lego Serious Play method for distance coaching.


I was certified as a Lego serious play facilitator a couple of years ago and have been running workshops in industry for a couple of years now. Since I discovered this method, I have found that it is particularly suited for exploring abstract concepts. I use it extensively to help teams build a shared vision, explore their mission, uncover their values, and generally talk to each other with authenticity. I have found that the method is particularly valuable in transforming ideas or concepts into a practical understanding of the topic for all participants.

Over the last few years, I have been very interested in the topic of distance collaboration and learning. All too often, distance collaboration has been an unsatisfying experience for me ending up in either a face to face meeting or something that leaves me with a feeling that we could have done more together or weren’t quite as effective as I had hoped.

As part of my personal development and the development of my business, I work with other professionals on a regular basis on topics of mutual development. We share insights and experience and give each other feedback.

This is at a distance and works well but sometimes, there are questions pertaining to one’s life purpose or mission, which we find difficult to answer. I have been thinking for a while that the Lego Serious Play method could help answer those questions by accessing the knowledge that we cannot connect to when trying to think about these topics.

This questioning has led me to an experiment that I would like to share.

In the past, I had proposed to my development partner to experiment with the Lego serious play method and had sent her a starter kit by post a while ago. We had not done much about it until last week when she came with the topic that seemed ideal for experimentation: she had been asked as part of a training course to define her identity as a coach and professional. She needed clarity and as she is developing her business, this is a question she could not answer directly. We decided that we would experiment distance coaching using Lego Serious Play to see if I could help her.

The method

Since we are both separated by more than 1000 km, we decided to work using videoconferencing on our laptops. We both had Lego starter kits and as a facilitation method I chose to do the following: I would ask her a question, she would build a model answering that question, and I would also build a model giving her feedback, based upon my perception of where I could see from my viewpoint about her situation. For example, I asked what added-value she brought to her clients, she answered the question by building a model, I build a model showing what added-value I think she gives her clients. My model was based upon previous discussions and my gut feeling.

One of the main challenges I found, was the scaffolding of the question. We were doing this in real-time, like a conversation. Unlike a workshop in which I carefully plan my questions ahead, I chose to offer questions based upon my intuition of what was needed. I will admit that this took me out of my comfort zone as I had no idea whether what I was offering as a question would be helpful or not. I decided to trust both myself and the Lego Serious Play method.

Once we had both built our models, we shared in the traditional way, by pointing to the different elements of the model and commenting them. There was an added challenge where the other person needed to see properly the model via the web cam and this required sometimes moving the computer or the model.

My view of her model

My view of her model

I gave her time to take notes after each sharing so that she could capture both what she had said and the contents of my model. I took a picture of my model and sent it to her each time by email.

We did not do any skills building exercises beforehand as she already had a good grasp of using Lego bricks and building metaphors.


I feel that this was an important part of the exercise. In a coaching process you are seeking to ask powerful coaching questions. For the Lego serious play aspects, I did not want to ask her directly to build a model in which she would define the characteristics of her identity as a coach and professional. I felt that given the situation, the step would be too large and therefore she would be out of flow.

I asked four questions in total:

  • First, I asked her to define her relationships with her clients and the manner in which she supports them.
  • Then, I asked her to define the characteristics of her ideal customer.
  • Thirdly, we worked on what she thought provided the most value to her clients.
  • Finally, I asked her to make a summary model and describe her professional identity.

I answered each of these questions from my perspective as a kind of feedback, using an application technique 1 of external identity.


Customer feedback first!

My development partner found the exercise very useful and it helped her to write up her description of herself:

  • At first, she hadn’t pushed to try the method because she couldn’t see the point. Now that she’d tried it, she found it very useful and would be willing to use it again.
  • She found the insights valuable and the fact that we had taken a detour to answer the main question had been helpful.
  • The feedbacks I provided gave a fresh perspective and often raised aspects of herself she hadn’t considered.

My learnings

Before trying, I had two main questions: would skills building be necessary and would it be possible to share at a distance using just a webcam.

Skills building is still an open question for me and I would need to experiment further. What would happen with somebody who hasn’t used metaphors in that way before? Would a client be prepared to do a skills building session before starting on the “real” work?

From a technology point of view, it works fine although it takes a fair amount of collaboration between both parties to properly see the model. The person sharing doesn’t always see what she is showing, so the person receiving needs to say what she can see and ask questions if the picture and the commentary don’t match. The laptop has to be held steadily otherwise it can be quite unpleasant to watch. Finally, the angle of view can influence what the other person sees or not, so there again, it requires good two way communication and questioning. I found that this aspect of the limitations of the technology was actually a valuable asset because it helped to explore the model and metaphors in detail and further collaboration.

From my perspective, I initially felt there was a certain element of risk involved. Giving a feedback based upon my perception, my feelings, and whatever information I had collected from previous discussions meant that I had to be in the “I don’t know the answer zone”. I had to be completely open, non-judgmental about what I was building and about what I was offering. There again, I think it is helpful because it put us both on an even playing field, in the “I don’t know zone”. We were both vulnerable and seeking answers.

I would now feel more comfortable offering this to a client, although I would probably need a few sessions beforehand with that person to build trust, to understand a little about them, and to be able to contribute fully by providing meaningful feedback.

Is there a future for Lego scribing?

July 1, 2017 in Serious Play Discussion

The challenge

Yesterday I experimented something new. I was lined-up to co-facilitate an organizational  workshop using paper and Post-it when the facilitators organizing it came up to me the day before saying that they wanted to use Lego bricks in the workshop. My brain immediately said “Uh-oh!” as usually when people ask me to use Lego bricks for a workshop; they don’t mean using the Lego Serious Play method.

I needed some clarification: “what do you want to do with Lego bricks?” Basically, we didn’t have time to train the participants in skills building so LSP was out of the question. They wanted a different way for each of the 3 groups to share the result of their work. One group was supposed to produce a puzzle, one had a graphics facilitator scribing and for my group, they wanted me to do simultaneous translation of the conversation into Lego bricks, something I’d like to call Lego scribing. The purpose was to capture the essence of the discussions.

I started thinking about it and whether this made any sense but before I could get anywhere, they threw the gauntlet at me saying that I am always taking them out of their zone of comfort and that now was my turn. Deal!

My task during the workshop was to listen to what was being said and simultaneously build a Lego model. I built metaphors to help capture the story of the conversation. As with many passionate and animated conversations, there was a fair deal of debating so I would capture only what the group agreed to. This often meant building something and then adapting or deconstructing it as the discussion evolved.

Once that sequence of the workshop was finished, we had on the table a base plate with a few smaller attachments telling a story. It so happened that the facilitator had structured the conversation around five main concepts (Principles / Management / Processes / Resources / Customers) so that made it easier for me to tell a story. The team was very impressed with the end result and found that it brought their conversation to life. They were surprised that so much information could be captured in a few bricks.

The nagging question

The question that bugged me was: “does this make any sense at all?” All three groups then had to share the results of their work. As expected, in my group, I was the only person capable of sharing the entire model. Some people could share parts, but they hadn’t built it so didn’t get all of the detail.

When all groups gave feedback, I noticed a few things:

  • The group that had built a puzzle rambled on like you do when you have a sheet of paper and post-it, it was linear and simply restating what was written on the page.
  • The group that had had visual facilitation seem to struggle as much as my group to give the whole story so the facilitator ended up filling in the detail.
  • At least when I told the story, everybody was listening, which wasn’t the case for all other groups.

As far as I am concerned, this isn’t really a scientific study about the benefits of Lego scribing. It sure drew attention, people listened, and my group was more pleased with the deliverable than the other groups. In terms of information retention, all methods were pretty low, but I guess the Lego scribing ranged slightly higher. It is obvious that appropriation is much higher when group members are participants in a Lego Serious Play process.

Is there a future for Lego scribing?

Could this be a fun way of reporting back when you don’t have time to run the entire process?

I think so. Telling a story is always more powerful than running through a sheet of paper reading statements. I would equal Lego scribing to visual facilitation with a novelty twist that commands attention.

In doing this exercise, I found that to be effective, I would have needed to set-up my Lego trays and boxes differently. I had to make do with whatever bricks were on hand as sifting through the box was noisy and covered the discussion (I don’t know if I should see a therapist for this, but I actually know by heart what bricks there are was looking for a specific brick…). Everything needed to be laid out flat as in order to keep up with the discussion, I didn’t want to be looking for bricks.

I made simple metaphors and enriched or simplified them as the discussion evolved. I found Lego to be particularly easy as a medium to make evolve as points of view change (I’ll willingly admit that I’m a budding visual facilitator and probably not as skilled in getting my symbols to translate as well the discussion I hear).

This time, I used many more minifigures, hats and accessories than usual. I don’t know whether it was the topic or the speed at which I could rapidly capture the message. Bricks came to give context to the minifigure.

It was easy to build a story on a large baseplate and add bits on smaller baseplates as and when. Once I knew how the metaphor built on the smaller plate fitted in with the big picture, it was quick and easy to attach the plate to the main one or to add the model to the main plate.

At the end of my scribing, I ran through the story and “cleaned” the board up to make it visually more pleasing.

I’d be curious to know if anybody else has played with this concept and was learning you may have extracted from it. Would you think Lego scribing has a future? Have you found it effective as a scribing or note taking activity? What level of attention and information retention have you experienced?

Explaining visual-spatial thinking to a 5 year old

April 21, 2015 in Serious Play Discussion


The other day, my son came home from primary school with his achievements. When he does well, the teacher gives him a smiley and if he has done really well (some kind of over-achievement), he gets a smiley with a crown. He showed me a collection of exercises for which he had received smileys and crowns and rapidly moved over the exercises where he had made mistakes. As we looked at his efforts for the month, I noticed that he makes mistakes on the same types of exercises.

One thing led to another and I felt that it was time for a father / son conversation on learning preferences. My perception is that the teacher offers exercises that are more suited to sequential auditory people whilst he seems to me to be more spatial and visual. I wanted to explain to him the difference the two thinking preferences so that he is aware of his preferred style. The big question was: how do I explain that to a 5 year old?

I turned to Lego Serious Play and built a model in which I explained his mental organization and that of his teacher. I added a few other elements I considered relevant. Actually, the most difficult part was borrowing some of the little construction workers from him!

I then explained my model to him. He didn’t seem to pay much attention and just nodded as I talked. At the end, I started asking him questions:

“Which little man do you think corresponds to how you feel?”

He pointed to a little red hat hesitantly. I was intrigued by his body language.

“That one? Do you mean that’s how you feel or that’s how you’d like to be?”

He smiled with his tongue sticking out to the side; he does that when something connects inside his brain.

“- I’d like to be like that, but I’m more like that.

– Like the man with the miner’s hat?

– Yes!”

We didn’t manage to go much further. A few hours later, he explained to his mother that when somebody mentioned the word apple, in our heads, it could be red, green or lead to apple puree… or a banana. If this doesn’t make much sense to you, just take it as my part of the model on divergent thinking.

This morning, ten days later, I told him that I had been to a conference where there many people just like the little men with the miner hat. He immediately went to get the model that was still built (apart from all the construction men that he had taken away again!) and pointed to one part of it: “Yes, and this is a sequence: step one, two, three and four.” He looked very proud of himself.

I’m not sure whether that conversation will help my son or not in his daily dwellings with school, what I am sure of is that using Lego bricks to build a metaphor allowed me to explain simply something complex in a form that he can remember. I also believe it worked well because he is visual, so I am not sure this is a one size fits all solution as it may not work so well with different thinking preferences. I feel this is an avenue I need to explore further.


Lego Serious Play Experience at Airbus

April 15, 2015 in Serious Play Case Studies

Airbus_logo_3D_BlueI have had a number of people ask me how I deployed LSP at Airbus so I thought I would share how I came to LSP, what I have done and what worked and what didn’t work so well. Please just take this as a humble sharing of experience, nothing more.


I would first like to put things into perspective. Airbus group is a big entity of many nationalities, many different entities ranging from offices to production sites and products (airplanes, space and defense, etc.). I only have experience of introducing the method at an Airbus aircraft production facility in France, in St Nazaire. I am aware of two other one-time initiatives at Airbus using Lego Serious Play but haven’t managed to create any internal exchange of information around the methodology.

At St Nazaire, we structurally assemble the front and middle section of aircraft (meaning that we connect together sections of the fuselage to make either the front end with the cockpit or the middle section of the fuselage onto which are bolted the wings) and then equip them with insulation, hydraulics, electrics, air, and everything a plane needs and that you can’t see when sitting in it.

How it all started

I was introduced to the method by Per Kristiansen who came to the Global Innovation Forum in London in 2013 for a teaser workshop. I really liked the jacket he wore with the zip in the back so thought I would give the methodology a try. :-)

Returning to the office full of enthusiasm, I started talking about it with great energy. I showed a picture I had taken in London, however, LSP being something one needs to experience; I found it difficult to convey the potential of the method.

Héloïse Lauret from BNP Cardif that I had also met in London proposed to organise a session with other companies. Instead of the full 4 day training, we would do half at first. I managed to convince my management to attend this first half of facilitator training and would then test it before taking the second half. We finally all met at the Orange Campus in Paris for an initial 2 days training.

Lego Serious Play at Airbus - by Mark Harling

Lego Serious Play at Airbus – by Mark Harling

Back at the office, I assembled 4 pages showing photographs of what I had built during the training and illustrating aspects of what one can achieve using the LSP methodology. I started going from manager to manager telling a story using the pictures as a teaser. I generated much interest in that way, however, few managers were willing to try. Many were reluctant to abandon traditional brainstorming activities and some admitted that they could not see themselves putting their teams in front of Lego. Before having experienced a workshop, many people think we are playing Lego or using Lego to represent the reality (build the assembly line for example). Once they have participated, they see the true use and power. Read the rest of this entry →

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