Is LEGO seriously good for business?

The LEGO® Serious Play® Method (LSP) was developed in the late 1990s by Professors Johan Roos and Victor Bart from the Institute for Management Development, Switzerland. It might seem childish at first, but it utilises three very powerful ideas from social science to be effective;

  1. intrinisic motivation
  2. constructive learning
  3. hands-on creativity

These can have huge transformative impacts on real business challenges. Read on to learn how.

Intrinsic Motivation through Play

Play offers us the opportunity to develop competence and mastery, and in the ‘sweet spot’ of a challenge that is achievable but stretches our abilities we are completely absorbed. Csíkszentmihályi described this as ‘flow’, which we often experience in sports and leisure activities.  But it’s rare to feel it in business meetings! By introducing serious forms of play such as LSP, companies can engage employees’ intrinsic motivation to create ‘leaning in’, or direct and active engagement in the present problem or objective.

Constructive Learning

Human beings are natural experimenters, building new solutions out of previous successful and unsuccessful experiences. This experimental attitude is the basis for problem-based learning and relies on a constructivist theory of learning, that we build knowledge rather than absorb it from others (there’s an in-depth post on learning theory here).  Papert expanded on this in the 1990s with constructionism, arguing that learning is most effective when we create a meaningful product as part of the process. By thinking about learning as building, it’s clear that we don’t learn directly from simply listening to other people’s talk of their experience or understanding –  that would be like ordering some flat-pack furniture and waiting for it to build itself! Instead we combine what we already know (previous assembly) with resources (screwdrivers), stories (instructions) and feedback from others (“It doesn’t look straight, honey”) to build something new. It’s even more effective when we collaborate within a community and learn together.

This model of learning also applies to organisations; as individuals learn and adapt they pass the knowledge on to others. However, it can be very difficult for managers to ensure this process if productive, visible and effective when dealing with more abstract challenges. The building practices of LSP focus on creating visible representations of ideas that can be a focus for collaboration. Using LSP or similar processes, businesses can learn from changing environments to enhance services, strengthen teams, and develop and revise strategy more effectively.

Hands-on Creativity

Although an area which is still undergoing detailed research, the creative potential of physical building activities (‘think with your hands’) is widely praised. Neurological research into creativity suggests that activating parts of the brain which are not usually connected can be a requirement for creativity, as can the release of dopamine (which may be stimulated by play). So having an enjoyable experience such as building LEGO models can help promote a creative mindset suited to improving services, innovating new products and collaborating on visions for the future.


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Learn more about LEGO® Serious Play® Workshops

Selected academic sources

Pichlis, D et al.(2015) “Empower a Team’s product Vision with LEGO® Serious Play®” in the Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Product-Focused Software Process Improvement 9459:210-216

Primus, DJ & Sonnenburg, S (2018) “Flow Experience in Design Thinking and Practical Synergies with Lego Serious Play” Creativity Research Journal

McCusker, S (2014) “LEGO®, Seriously: thinking through building” in the International Journal of Knowledge, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

James, A (2013) “LEGO Serious Play: a three-dimensional approach to learning development” in the Journal of Learning Development in HE

Team Culture is a powerful enabler

There is really no better time than during a top sporting season for a healthy reminder that in business, as in sport, team culture is incredibly powerful. But as recent analyses of Southgate’s managing style have pointed out, it’s not just a matter of bringing the boys together.

Positivity in managing a collection of footballers has been key to the England team’s success in the World Cup so far, and sports psychologist Dr Pippa Grange’s contribution has had a huge impact. Reporting in the Guardian, Emine Saner sums up her 5 top tips:

  • Don’t fear failure.
  • Reframe emotions: you’re not “nervous”, you’re “excited”
  • Positive thinking is unhelpful if you’re simply fantasising. Focus on the steps that could get you to your goal.
  • Treat your employees as individuals rather than a homogenous group. Different approaches will work for different people.
  • Kindness, listening and empathy will take you further than barking orders. Use praise to motivate people.

Creating a positive and productive environment can certainly help any team’s performance. But we should also remember that compared to business managers, Southgate has it easy. Managing business culture may well be an impossible task. Few businesses can keep their employees together 24/7 to keep that culture of positivity going, and trying to do so can even be dangerous! Plus employees are often much more diverse in age, background and experience than England’s football team. But business culture can be inspired by popular culture, and perhaps these tips can be applied to the harder task of business success. Here’s some translations of Pippa’s advice for managers;

  • Promote a culture of positive learning from setbacks and mistakes, not dressing-down.
  • Listen, and trust emotions as feedback. In a trusting environment teams can explore disappointment and other negative feelings to find and share the positive passions that inspired their work in the first place.
  • Be kind, not nice. Etiquette and politeness have their place but can support cowardly management, prevent open dialogue and acknowledging challenges. Allow friendly dissent!
  • Generate regular positive sociality routines, through old traditions or new ones! Games and play provide a safe environment and teams can face tough challenges when they have used shared experiences to build rapport.
  • Celebrate! Recognise success wherever you find it. Don’t make your employees leave their joys at the door: encourage sharing of diverse personal victories and as well as professional ones
  • Be humble and accountable. Regularly review and revise goals and productive practices to avoid unattainable fantasies, paying closer attention to individual steps. Don’t forget that you and your team are in this together.

Southgate’s job is a difficult one, but there’s a clear goal in sight. Managing your business is harder, as those goalposts will just keep moving. But supporting a positive team culture means you don’t have to get there alone.