Building a better business with Lego bricks

How to build teamwork, piece by piece

(L to R) Marie Milner, Kirsten Armleder, Sandra Albers, Kyle Born, Virginia Rasch and Julie Matchett celebrate a day of teambuilding with Life Roots Consulting’s Lego Serious Play.

(L to R) Marie Milner, Kirsten Armleder, Sandra Albers, Kyle Born, Virginia Rasch and Julie Matchett celebrate a day of teambuilding with Life Roots Consulting’s Lego Serious Play. — Photo courtesy Krystal Oleson

Playing with Lego can make your workplace a fun, collaborative and productive business. The explanation for such a claim takes some deconstruction, so allow me to break it apart piece by piece.

First off, I’m an unapologetic AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). I have collected Lego since I was five years old. Now, at 32, I have my own Lego room decorated to the rafters. I take any and every opportunity to talk about and promote my favourite hobby. When I found out that there was a business in Cranbrook that integrated Lego into workshops, I knew it was time to do some hardcore investigative journalism.

Photo of me in my Lego room

I like Lego. A lot. — Kyle Born photo

Life Roots Consulting is owned by Krystal Oleson, an experienced facilitator and trainer. Her knowledge of brain plasticity and development, relationships, psychology and business is utilized within workshops using Lego Serious Play. Lego Serious Play is a technique encompassing thinking, communication and problem-solving using hands-on visual and interactive methodology. Oleson is passionate about collaboration and brings a balance of fun, insight, care and community to each session.

“The process engages participants to think through their fingers,” said Oleson. “Lego Serious Play is based on the belief that everyone has something unique and valuable to contribute to discussions, decisions and outcomes. Its methodology releases and enables individual and team insights and imagination. People gain understanding and clarity regarding the identity and dynamics of their organization. They are empowered to make effective decisions and do so with confidence and commitment while having fun.”

Krystal Oleson from Life Roots Consulting

Krystal Oleson is an experienced facilitator and owner of Life Roots Consulting in Cranbrook. — Kyle Born photo

Here’s how it works: Oleson comes to your business and hands out a small assortment of Lego bricks for each participant taking part in the workshop. After a slideshow introduction, Oleson gives instruction on what to build and explains how it relates to your work. For example, “What is your role at work?” she asks. How you go about interpreting and building that is up to you. After a few minutes, constructions conclude. One-by-one, participants show off their build and explain their thought process behind their creation.

“A workshop using Lego Serious Play methodology is so powerful because it engages 100 per cent of the team, facilitates constructive discussion and decision-making and creates visual 3D images which frees up the working memory for idea generation and innovative thinking,” Oleson said. “Each member of the team is part of the process and even the quiet person is heard and seen.”

Group shot of everyone building

(L to R) Marie Milner, Sandra Albers, Kirsten Armleder, Kyle Born, Virginia Rasch and Julie Matchett are all working hard to make their creations just right. — Photo courtesy Krystal Oleson

It’s unreasonable to expect a business to remain successful without routine sustenance and internal analysis. A comfortable setting with a facilitator leading Lego Serious Play is a social and interactive experience that you’re not likely to replicate by sending a group email asking for input. It’s not the same.

In the same way that a business owner will learn more about their employees’ goals and aspirations, workers can learn about their employer's mindset and why they make the decisions that they do. Understanding and empathy can go a long way to assembling a healthy workplace. Good communication is never a given, even in a communications business. I’ve worked in several of them—it’s always a challenge.

Julie Matchett

Not everyone is comfortable talking in a group setting. Lego Serious Play allows quiet individuals like Julie Matchett to express themselves. — Photo courtesy Krystal Oleson

Building creations and sharing them with co-workers builds camaraderie and friendship and not just in the “Hey, this is like show-and-tell from when we were kids” kind of way. At one point of the session, everyone was told to move one seat to the right and try to interpret what a co-worker was trying to say by examining their model and the three words the creator wrote on a post-it note beside the creation. For example, I sat in front of Kirsten’s model and tried to decipher what she was trying to say with hers. The theme for that build was about her job. She wrote “Fun, freedom and misunderstood.” The model looked like a snowmobile (I was impressed, especially considering the limited amount of pieces we were given). I tried to guess what Kirsten was trying to say with her creation and keywords and then she said if I was near or far from what was on her mind. Once we’d all had a chance to guess what the models were about, the creators revealed what they were really trying to say.

Kirsten's snowmobile creation

Kirsten created a snowmobile during one of her builds (impressive, eh?). — Photo courtesy Krystal Oleson

Oleson led us through an encouraging activity in which each of us built a model that represented what we see or respect in the person whose name we were given, along with three descriptive words. This was an exercise that allowed the recipient to see and receive a compliment or perspective that other team members see in them that they may not have known was recognized. I received Sandra’s name. She copy edits many of the stories I write and points me in the right direction when I’m having a hard time coming up with what to say or do for an article. To represent this, I created a lighthouse (since she guides me through the fog of uncertainty) and wrote “Positive, helpful and friendly.” Receiving compliments is great. Receiving them in Lego form is even better.

(L to R) Sandra Albers and Kirsten Armleder.

(L to R) Sandra Albers and Kirsten Armleder. During one exercise, participants build a model for a co-worker and explain what the creation represents. — Photo courtesy Krystal Oleson

One of our final builds was to create something that represents our identity at work and on the team. To describe my build, I wrote, “The fun, creative thinker.” I hadn’t really thought about my role here much beyond “writer” before this workshop. Having a clearer role of how we fit in at work is satisfying and helps define who we are.

Being a Lego maniac, I figured I would enjoy Lego Serious Play with my co-workers and I was correct. Even after building Lego my entire life, these exercises allowed me to interpret and delve into Lego in a way I never had before. At home, I have dozens of containers to create masterpieces that look exactly the way I want them to. Here, with limited supplies and time, I was forced to be more resourceful and utilize every available piece to communicate my thoughts in the most effective way possible. I enjoyed the challenge, and I suspect you will too.

Kyle Born

Kyle Born is a writer for Kootenay Business and his initials match that of the magazine—it must be fate that brought them together. View all of Kyle Born’s articles

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