This story is a personal view on one of my current software projects together with a customer. I’m an IT project manager at QAware in Mainz, Germany, and work currently as a scrum master in a SAFe program.
At a team building workshop, the participants often have something crazy to do together in order to increase trust and sympathy in the team. Blindfold Driving maybe or Chariot Racing. If you search the web, you’ll find a really big number of ideas for - sometimes really crazy and weird - team building activities.
I’m the scrum master of a software development team and in our case we liked to do a team activity because of the following two main reasons:
- After two COVID19 years, the team needs more “live time” again, more common time in reality. Video conferencing is a really good way to collaborate without being physically present, but it couldn’t replace face-to-face meetings for a team in the long run.
- The team members have changed several times in the recent months. New members joined the team, other members left the team. Although we try to keep a team as stable as possible, this is not always possible in a project company.
On the one hand, it was of course the goal of team building that the team not only spend time together and get to know each other better. On the other hand, it was also important that the participants actively shared their views on the team and their colleagues. How do I see myself in the team? How do my colleagues see me?
That’s how the decision was made for “LEGO”. And if you think this is just for kids: No, it’s not :). Invented especially for adults, “LEGO Serious Play” is a really cool and fun way to learn about your teammates. At first glance, some participants looked a bit confused, but after a few minutes they couldn’t wait to open the boxes.
Inspired by Jens Dröges book “SERIOUSWORK” the workshop lasted three hours and was diveded in three parts:
- Get in touch with LEGO
- What’s actually an unhealthy team?
- The different perspectives of “me”
Although COVID19 abate a bit for some time, I decided to do the workshop “COVID19 compliant”. That means: Every participant builds its own LEGO model (and not the whole team builds a model together). For that exercise every participant gets its own LSP Starter Kit.
1. Get in touch with LEGO
Because not everyone has for example children with LEGO at home, it’s important to give every teammate the chance to get in touch with LEGO. Which of the bricks would fit with which others? And how?
Before the participants were allowed to start with the first exercise, I explained the rules:
- The participants get a specific amount of time for building a model (1 to 6 minutes, depending on the model).
- After the time has elapsed, everyone explains their model to the team one after the other. For the presenter it’s important to pick up the model, turn it around and touch it. For the audience it’s important look on the model in the presenter’s hands and not in the presenter’s eyes instead. This detail is essential for the “LEGO Serious Play” method, because focusing on this very unusual level of explanation brings new thoughts and ideas and increases creativity. You listen with your eyes and think with your hands.
- After everyone has presented its model, the team reflects in a retrospective manner the exercise. Was it difficult? Are there similarities between the models?
- Of course it’s really important to be honest AND polite at the same time when talking about others models.
The “get in touch” part itself was divided in three parts as well, and each of these parts had its own objective:
- Build a bridge: Basically get in touch with LEGO
- Build ANYthing with 7 bricks. The facilitator (me in that case) says then what it should be and the builder explain it to the team: Be creative and spontaneous with LEGO and use the bricks as metaphers. A red brick could be a drop of blood or the color of love — it’s up to you!
- Build your vacation: Be creative and tell the team the story of your model.
And if you think, a bridge is simple and unambiguously: No, it’s not — there are many different ways to build bridges with LEGO :). Of course some bridges were more creative than others (and at later points of the workshop this difference became more obvious), but that doesn‘t matter because it‘s important that the participants accept the method and have fun with it. A model contains only 5 bricks because the builder don‘t know how to bring his thoughts into LEGO – that‘s really okay. In the phase of explaining and talking about each model, this difference will be relativated.
After that intro part (which lasted about an hour), all participants had the skill — and the mood — to build the “real” models.
But: Not immediately — first we talked at the flipchart about the different aspects of an unhealthy team.
2. What’s actually an unhealthy team?
At first glance, that questions looks a bit weird: Why should we ask for an unhealthy team when we would like to have a healthy one? The question is inspired by the Liberating Structure TRIZ. Deliberately asking in the wrong direction allows critical issues to be addressed and solutions to be sought. That being said, the “wrong thinking” leads to fun and interesting discussions that probably wouldn’t have happened with the “right” question.
With that discussion and questions in mind, we started into the third part of our workshop: The different perspectives of “me”.
3. The different perspectives of “me”
The actual part of the team building is divided into three parts which are based on the Johari window. That conceptual model of the Johari window was presented to the team after the first of these three parts.
My identity in the team: What’s my role in the team? How do I see and identify myself in the team?
Explicitely thinking about these questions brings interesting insights about oneself and the role in the team. While presenting a model to the team the presenter can get instant feedback about the opinion of the team regarding the built role.
A hidden secret of me: What’s a secret of me that my teammates don’t know until now? Maybe a strange students job many years ago or a special music favour?
It’s of course a bit of intimicy to tell the team something personal about yourself they did not know already. But: Especially these “What?? Really?? How could it be that I don’t know that until know, we already work 15 years together. That’s funny!”-moments increase team spirit and cohesion.
The teams view on me: Now don’t build a model of yourself but someone else on the team. To be fair and to get everyone built we gave out mixed name cards. What’s, in your opinion, the role of your teammate? Is he shy? Or very well in explaining complicated things? I think, that’s the most difficult of the exercises, but after some thought, everyone got a great idea on how to build its teammate.
In addition to that, everyone writes down a short sentences of what have been built on a piece of paper and give both (LEGO model and paper) to the “partner”.
In many cases the built person did not know that THIS skill is so visible to the team.
- Am I really a good listener to my teammates? Is that not natural?
→ No, it’s not! Not everyone is able to actively(!) listen to others for more than a few minutes. But YOU are, and you should be aware of that.
- You say that I can explain things very well and understandable? But I only tell you how it is?!
→ No, that’s a difference! Some people explain easy things difficult, and in your case it’s vice-versa.
- Am I supposed to be purposeful? But how do you figure it out? Just like the rest of the team, I’m just doing my job.
→ No, that’s not true! Some people are made to do well-defined things, and they do them very well. In your case, you also contribute your own ideas and perspectives.
- In your opinion, I’m a good presenter and can talk relaxed in front of other peoples? Well, that’s not difficult, I just read out the slides?!
→ False! Some people are already blushing when they talk in front of two people.
In summary, the workshop was successful for the following reasons:
- Colleagues gave each other honest feedback on their way of working and their skills. Everyone can benefit from this in their further personal development.
- The LEGO Serious Play method is suitable for teams that
- have been working together for some time and are well established.
- are interested in trying out some new things.
- are always trying to improve themselves and the way they work together.
- The “LEGO Serious Play” method provided the team with an entertaining workshop, and the three hours flew by. Even during the coffee break, the colleagues could hardly keep their hands off the stones :).
And as I already mentioned: The level of creativity is, of course, quite unequal across the team. But that’s no problem because it’s important that the participants have fun during the workshop and can explain their thoughts with their model. It doesn’t matter then how complex or creative that model is.
- The work on the board regarding the “unhealthy team” promotes the development of the team as a whole. The discussions led to interesting approaches, which will be pursued further after the workshop.