LEGO® Bricks (or Building Block) Exercises for Experiential Training

(information can be printed - not for reproduction or distribution, please)

by Dr. Scott Simmerman
Performance Management Company
3 Old Oak Drive
Taylors, SC 29687
864-292-8700

email: Scott@SquareWheels.com

(c) Copyright Performance Management Company, 1998 - 2010 and respecting the contributions of individuals contributing to this site and any copyrights that they may have on any of these materials.


LEGO Group saw the original title (without the words "Bricks (or Building Blocks)" and requested that I add the following to this webpage after I assured the Corporate Legal Affairs that I do not actually DO training with the word "LEGO" in any title and that I offer these ideas only for possible use by others:

“LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, endorse or approve this site (sic)”

LEGO Group apparently still sells licenses through its "Serious Play" organization to consultants who can then deliver training using these building blocks. My simple attempts to find costs for such a franchise or for events were not successful but conversations with sales people at a number of conventions over the years have found that the initial licensing / training / materials fee is many thousands of dollars and that the licensee would pay significant royalties back to the head organization, so a best guess is that such training events would be relatively expensive. (One can ask why these companies do not publish their costs... )

(You can see our prices for our games and events at www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com

Please feel free to use the exercises detailed below at NO COST!

A variety of building block materials can be substituted for LEGO. Lego can also be purchased cheaply and in bulk on eBay and other auction sites.


Objectives:


What better hands-on, experiential learning tools than LEGO, the indestructible colored plastic blocks available in toy stores throughout the world?

We asked the TRDEV community ** about experiences using LEGO for training and development activities. Without exception, people reported positive experiences. Participants like assembling structures and meeting challenges with the pieces and facilitators like designing activities with them. They are colorful, reusable, flexible in application, and engaging for participants. And it took many of them immediately back to a playful childhood framework of experimentation and concentration.

Warning: Do not eat LEGO. They are for training purposes only!


Diana Swenson contributed this exercise

Start with three rooms with a phone in each room. It is best if the rooms are on different floor but the key is to make communications inconvenient. Have a complicated (500 pieces or so) Lego project.

Divide your participants into three equal groups. Workers, Middle Management and Senior Management. Each group has one of the rooms.

Workers are told they have a contract to build something. They get all the LEGO pieces. No instructions, no pictures, nothing. All they get are lego pieces.

Middle Management was told to wait for instructions from senior management.

Senior Management is given the picture and instruction to build the LEGO product. They are also told that the client will pay $1,000,000 for the end product. They have two hours to deliver. Management was inform the cost of material and the labor cost per minute. Each minutes late will cost them $5,000.00. They get a bonus if they can get it done within 90 minutes. Then they are told where the workers and middle management are located.

You'll be amazed how many times the pictures and instructions never leave the senior management's room. They get too busy arguing about how to proceed. Another interesting aspect is how few times they contacted middle management.

The Workers never bothered to contact Middle Management to see what they were suppose to do, so they build their own project! (But then middle management are always in the dark.)

Diana Swenson
http://www.jerhong.com
diana@jerhong.com


A few of the reported activities, such as "Jungle Escape," were published in various resource guides as formalized product, "LEGO Man," for example, appeared as an exercise is from the 1972 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, University Associates. Most activities, however, were self-constructed to meet some particular situational challenge or learning outcome. A few people provided detailed program ideas and will be credited for them. Others suggested more general ideas and themes.

Most are designs with small teams of 4 to 6 (my preferred team sizes) as well as groups with an observer or two focused on some aspect of team dynamics or analysis. Some the activities were quite simple and others could lead to quite complex deliveries and debriefings.

One very clever idea from Boni Sivi and designed to increase the difficulty level of any of these exercises was to have the teams complete the assembly activity without removing the pieces from a large plastic bag!

 

Directed Compliance versus Engagement and Ownership - One detailed example:

Select a number of the same LEGO assembly kits (there are many possibilities and your selection depends on your store's inventory - the "Outback" vehicle of 117 pieces is a good example and easily links to my many "vehicle metaphors"). Have one kit for each team of 4 or 5 people. A less expensive option is to purchase one very large set of regular LEGO and assemble a series of sets of the same pieces.

From your inventory of parts, construct written step-by-step Instruction Sheet that is specific and detailed as to the assembly of what you will describe as "a device. " This device should use 20 to 25 parts (20 to 25 assembly steps) to create some object, possibly one of your own design or that of a specific kit. You will give participants very detailed step-by-step instructions as to how to make this device.

Without knowing the desired end result of their assembly activities, the likelihood of failure is fairly high and the directive nature of the instructions will generally create a conflict among the participants, even though instructions are exact. There will be initial "new employee" interest, but the team, after a few steps, will gradually shift responsibility for the task to one or two people, with the others becoming passive observers.

Instructions to participants might be as follows -

Read the following or give this to one of the participants who will function as group leader, who will read them. You can repeat your instructions but you cannot explain in any additional detail.

"Each team is to create a device that will be used later in the day. You have sufficient parts in your plastic bag. Please follow instructions exactly - your cooperation is appreciated. Quality and Productivity are both important."

Follow these instructions carefully:

1. Take one of the ten by two long red double thick pieces.

2. Center a four by two double thick blue piece on top, at the end, perpendicular to the red piece, flat to the end.

3. Center a four by two double thick white piece on top, at the other end, perpendicular to the red piece flat to the end.

4. Parallel to the red bottom piece, place a four by two double thick yellow piece so that one space is visible at each end on each side.

5. Take the two red Roof pieces and place them on the perpendicular blue two by four block on the end so that the 8 of the bottom holes are exposed and you can still see four of the blue dots are visible.

6. Do the same thing with the other red Roof piece, only have the piece face in the same direction as the other red Roof piece, leave four white dots showing on the end and have the red Roof piece cover two of the dots on the parallel yellow piece.

Continue this until you complete your kit or until you have 20 steps.

(Note to facilitators: As you develop this list, you should simultaneously construct your Standard Model so that it is available for side-by-side comparison at the end of the exercise. Continue building your list based on the specific kits that you purchased or the general supply of LEGO blocks -- you can purchase large tubs of them relatively inexpensively).

Present the exercise in a dry and straightforward manner. At the end of the exercise (and you can stop anytime prior to completion), ask participants to discuss what happened to their team and in the activity. You can also compare the finished products to that of a pre-assembled Standard Model to make the point of how difficult things can be even with a straightforward task when the vision is unclear. Jo Clarke and Darin Ulmer both had somewhat similar suggestions.

Debriefing questions might include:

Was there any pressure to perform? How did pressure to perform show itself? What was positive? What was negative?

How might this parallel situations we face at work?

What might have been motivating to you as a team? As individuals?

Did team members support each other? Explain.

What kinds of things were demotivating to your team? As individuals?

What were some of the factors that contributed to quality problems?

What communications system(s) did the team establish and how successfully did they work?

Why is general understanding of the nature of the task important for generating consistent products and services?

Comment on some of the group dynamics that were generated by the nature of this activity.

· Boss to Crew

· Crew to Crew

Can you think of an example where someone in the group expressed a strong feeling non-verbally? How did they do it? How was it noticed by others. (then) Are these non-verbal communications important to teamwork?

What did you personally learn from this activity? How did you feel when you finished?

What might we learn about work design and group dynamics?

What is the advantage of taking the time to talk about the work we completed and the groups' goals on a regular basis in the workplace? How might this be done effectively to improve quality or productivity?


  Laura Moushey contributed this exercise: The Builder

Objective: This is an icebreaker that helps teams quickly understand that communication is key and there are different ways to explain things to people.

Materials:

Set-Up

  1. Place two chair back to back in front of the group.
  2. Ask for two volunteers and have them sit in each chair.
  3. Hand one bag of LEGOs to one participant. In this bag is a model put together. They may pull it out for themselves and the group to see. They may NOT show it to their partner behind them.
  4. Hand one bag of legos to the other participant. In this bag are the same pieces (size, color, and number) but they are NOT put together. Again, they may pull it out for themselves and the group to see. They may NOT show it to their partner behind them. Call this person the Builder.

Facilitation: (2 Min. max each time, you may stop if they get very frustrated.)
Total time: 10 minutes with group interaction and discussion

Round 1:

1. Tell the participants:
a. The participant with the model: You may talk, but you may NOT use words that are colors or shapes.
b. The Builder: You may not ask any questions.
c. The group: You may not help.

2. Begin Round 1:
a. If anyone breaks the rules, you must call them on it as the facilitator.

b. After 2 min., no one turns around and the participants are asked.
i. How did you feel?
ii. What would help you do a better job as a team?

Round 2:

3. Tell the participants:
a. The participant with the model: You may talk, but you may NOT use words that are colors or shapes.
b. The Builder: You MAY ask any questions.
c. The group: You may not help.

4. Begin Round 2:
a. If anyone breaks the rules, you must call them on it as the facilitator.
b. After 2 min., no one turns around and the participants are asked.
i. How did you feel?
ii. What would help you do a better job as a team?

Round 3:

5. Tell the participants:
a. The participant with the model: You may talk, but you may NOT use words that are colors or shapes.
b. The Builder: You MAY ask any questions.
c. The group: Now you will invite one more person to come and help from the group. They may do anything to help the team, and they CAN NOT use the words that are colors and shapes.

6. Begin Round 3:
a. If anyone breaks the rules, you must call them on it as the facilitator.
b. After 2 min., no one turns around and the participants are asked.
i. How did you feel?
ii. What would help you do a better job as a team?
c. To the group: What did this teach you about working together as a team?

Results: The exercise shows teams:

1. We all communicate differently.
2. There are other words to use to make people understand.
3. Sometimes we need a 3rd party to help us hear each other.
4. Working together is important and a process. Sometimes it takes more time than we think to reach our goal but with understanding and patience, we can achieve our goals.

Please let me know what you think of this activity!

Laura Moushey, M.S.
Organizational Wellness Solution, Inc.
organichrdsolutions@yahoo.com


Tiffoni A. Holliday uses LEGO in her skills classes on interpersonal communication, having pairs of participants sit back to back - one with the instructions, the other with the pieces. They may not look at what the other has or is doing. Its a race to see which pair can put the set together the fastest, with the fewest errors. She offers some prizes, as people in her company really like that.

She debriefs on themes like:

What behaviors were effective in helping you complete the exercise?

What behaviors were ineffective?

How might this link to other experiences in your workplace?

and draws a parallel to communication in general by pointing out that the behaviors they've listed apply to all types of situations and presents a series of steps for getting their point across and listening. She links to the key actions from Zenger-Miller material. It is also a useful exercise when talking about communication between employees not at the same location.

An interesting additional activity allows participants to construct some "vehicle that will take us into the Future" and allow teams to play with the same materials and then make a short presentation. They get creative and involved. Or, you can provide them with instructions if you are using the kits or instruction sheets if you are using your own design and allow the teams to see which team can make the device "the best and the fastest." This adds some competitiveness and challenge to the task.

In the latter situation, you generate a contrasting work ethic from the first situation.

You might then ask them:

What were the differences that created a more engaging and involving situation?

How might we develop parallel situations that might apply these same dynamics and principles in the workplace?

What have we learned about motivation and involvement from this activity?


Another range of activities involves building a structure or vehicle that will win a judged competition.

Greg Kroll, Training Coordinator with Virginia Tech suggested activity around building a tower. The group was split into small groups, each given an identical set of pieces. The challenge was to build the tallest free standing tower possible within a given time limit (approximately 10 minutes). Each team also selected one observer (who can be given a worksheet focused on desired learning outcomes). The facilitator also circulated among the groups observing team interactions.

One of the outcomes of Greg's activity was for the observer (and facilitator to a some extent) to facilitate the team's discussion of collaborative team interactions, successes and failures, and personality styles of the team and team members (aggressiveness, leaders, followers, etc.). This could also be linked to one of the social styles inventories or leadership skills inventories.

In contrast, the first exercise is more directive in nature, telling the individuals HOW to assemble a "device" from a stack of blocks, in what order, in what relationship and EXACTLY what they should do. They, in fact, will probably assemble quite different "devices" and quickly lose both interest and motivation. It is not fun for them, just doing something they are told to do. This contrasts with Greg's activity where their job is to "create the tallest tower." This is a very general framework that is very engaging.

Using these kinds of activities allows you to contrast the feelings and motivations and discuss how they might relate to productivity and quality, etc. This debriefing is quite flexible and can be linked to personal style inventories, teamwork discussions, leadership, work / task analysis, etc.


Darin Ulmer made the suggestion of his "LEGO Maniacs Collaboration Project" using several related or exact same LEGO sets.

He suggests you divide the group into teams and give each a set of instructions, developed based on your materials, and a practice period to review their instructions and test assumptions. After five to ten minutes of practice, collect the instructions and have teams reform at tables so that each table has one person from each of practice tables.

Then, hand out the LEGOs necessary to build the final projects, one set per table. The team is to build the project following each person's understanding of the rules.

The task continues until every table has completed their assembly project. They can build what they choose.

and so forth as desired and in relation to start-up materials at hand.

Your instructions can also include some safety issues:

 

Debriefing can focus on issues such as:

Who took control at each table? Why? What situations did this produce? What conflicts resulted?

What rules were followed and why? Were any rules broken or ignored?

Did the projects turn out the same or different?

Are different results from the same resources common in your organization? How might this relate to productivity and quality?

Did teams help each other, coach, etc.? How might teams support other teams more appropriately in the workplace?

What were the major causes of disruption, conflict or frustration?

What did those persons who were frustrated do to effectively deal with it?

 

Darin's "LEGO Communications Exercise":

Darin suggests another activity focused on collaboration and communications. He indicates that the following activity works best if participants return from the exercises' suggested meetings unaware of the value or significance of the information they received because it tends to mirror the real workplace.

Have at least 5 people at each table and have them chose who will go to each of five simultaneous meetings and set it up as follows:

"Often we go to meetings and we are asked to return to our direct reports and disseminate that information back to them. Between the meeting and the reporting many things can happen to the information that is to be shared. We are going to see how effectively you can communicate information that you learn in a meeting back to the people at your table."

"The meetings contain extremely important information about the company's vision. In order to build the best company possible, everyone will have to come back to the tables after the five-minute meetings to share what they have learned. Please go to your meetings now."

Direct everyone to the rooms or area of the room where they can view the written guidelines listed below. It is best if they are out of earshot or even out of view of the other meetings. There should be at least one representative from each table at each meeting.

While everyone is meeting, place one bag containing all of the pieces to build the "Baja Buggy" (or similar set of LEGO materials) on each table. Make sure you have enough kits for each table you have set up and that you have all of the pieces in the bag. (Nothing upsets teams more than being set up for failure.)

Note: If you wish to push the need for collaboration between the groups and they are somewhat functional, you may with to give each table all of one particular piece so that they have to go to the other tables to get missing pieces. This bartering can cause many issues about sharing of resources to arise. You also open the group up to set each other up for failure by withholding pieces. Your debriefing can focus on how interdepartmental competition is detrimental and creates lose-lose situations.

After 5 minutes, collect the written guidelines and ask everyone to return to their tables.

"You have 20 minutes to build a better company. You have been given the vision and now it is time to act on that information. Be aware of the process that you go through to complete the vision so that you can share your experience with the other tables."

You may wish to document the progress by teaching flow-charting and having someone at each table take responsibility for documenting the steps that a team follows. The flow-chart lesson could be at a sixth meeting for those people. It is important that they look for both effective and ineffective behaviors as learning examples.

After the 20 minute building time, ask everyone to stop and have each table show what they have built and relate to the other tables what process they went through to reach that vision. Debrief with the whole team afterward about what was important from the exercise to take back to the work place. (See debrief above)

Here is what is written on the sheets of paper at Meeting #1 (for the Baja Buggy set. Instructions would be different for other assembly packages):

What is written on the sheets of paper at Meeting #2:

What is written on the sheets of paper at Meeting #3:

What is written on the sheets of paper at Meeting #4:

What is written on the sheets of paper at Meeting #5:

Above two exercises © 1997 by Darin Ulmer. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Judith Cayton and Laura McCann both suggested exercises that were similar to each other. Judith uses LEGO as part of her seminars to illustrate the value of synergy and gives each small group a similar (but not exactly equal) pile of LEGO. Ask them to build something like a building, a bridge, a mode of transportation etc. When completed, they show off their creations and explain; then have them combine into larger groups, pool their parts and build something else.

With more LEGO pieces, a little practice and some new ideas, the second creation is generally more interesting and complex.

Your debriefing can focus on differences in building approaches, ideas, various pieces the groups brought together. You can focus on the process of getting to synergy. You can brainstorm on the process of having to get beyond their own ideas of "how to build and what kind of thing to build," listening skills, etc. to generate a final result that is greater than the individual possibilities.


Steve Sniderman at Meritor Automotive shared two exercises for training on the value of clear communication.

Taking a LEGO package, you briefly show a picture of a vehicle on an overhead on the screen (about 30 sec.) and then instruct participants to assemble it from parts in front of them. After about 3 minutes, show the Instruction sheet on the screen (again for 30 sec.), giving them about 3 more minutes to complete the task. They thus receive some information about mission and goals and expectations, but not sufficiently detailed information to allow for high levels of success. Partial feedback like this is generally common in the experience of most participants.

Debriefing can focus on the value of clear, detailed and accessible instructions and reflection back to some of the directions the participants may have given their staff in the organization. Success is a factor of the quality of information and the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of feedback.

A second exercise Steve shared provided the group with the verbal description of the LEGO object (a boat, house, vehicle, etc.) and then asked each group to assemble the product themselves from the parts they had before them. If they desired, they could appoint a leader who was allowed to enter another room to look at a fully assembled unit. The leader then had to return to their team to explain what needed to be done.

Team leaders were not allowed to touch any part or assemble anything. They could only communicate instructions and ideas to others in the group. Leaders were allowed to return to the sample room as many times as desired within the time parameters -- the more complex the object, the more time that can be allowed. After about 10 minutes, each team can be evaluated as to how close they their product was to the actual model. Expect some deviation!

Debriefing can focus on the importance of having a clear vision of the final product and the importance of clear communications. Another factor is the ability to make adjustments throughout the development / assembly process to assure the final result was what was intended. Feedback loops are critical to continuous continuous improvement of quality and productivity.

 

Anne Thornley-Brown reports using LEGO as an energizer to keep participants alive, alert and awake. For most audiences, I put lunch bags with assorted toys including LEGO on each table and encourage participants to "fiddle" with the toys. For conservative audiences, she is prepared to "test the waters" by putting only a small box of LEGO on each table. If they get into it, she adds more pieces to each table.

She reports that it has been a big hit, particularly with engineers, technical audiences and, ("believe it or not,") executives. She is surprised at the things that people build as they continue to participate in the training session and reports that it really boosts the energy level in the room.

Anne says:

"I've sometimes used the small LEGO kits that come with all of the parts for making a specific vehicle. So many people approached me after sessions to ask if they could keep their vehicles or to beg me to give them a kit that I started using the LEGO kits as prizes."

Anne describes this use of LEGO in two issues of my Spice of the Month, virtual newsletter for trainers. A recent one entitled "Season to Taste" (which focuses on tailoring accelerated training to a variety of audiences, from conservative to creative) can be found at:

<http://www3.sympatico.ca/thetrainingoasis/janspice.htm>

and a previous issue entitled "The Energizers: Sure-fire Strategies for Keeping Participants Awake" is found at:

<http://www3.sympatico.ca/thetrainingoasis/febspice.htm>

She also uses LEGO for her coaching and training skills programme, she says.

Using the small kits for the vehicles, she divides the participants into teams or pairs and gives the coaches an opportunity to practice making the vehicles. Then, they are asked to coach one or more team members to assemble the vehicles.

She uses various scenarios. Some coaches are allowed to fully share the information they have with team members. Others can only give verbal instructions. For other groups, the team members work behind a barrier so that the coach is unable to monitor their progress. She also blindfolds team members in some of the groups.

Debriefing the activity uses the results to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of a variety of coaching and support strategies. She disclaims ownership of the exercise, thinking she first saw this exercise at a programme at Waterloo Institute near Toronto a few years ago. But like most of the people we talked with, she adds her own touches to the exercise.

In an interesting twist to this simulation, she works with some of the participants ahead of time to train them on the art of assembling the vehicles and making them subject matter experts.

She reports it is quite an eye opener to the coaches when they realize that they did not take the time to ascertain the level of proficiency of the members of their teams before they started coaching. This reinforces powerful lessons about the need for a flexible approach to coaching and the many opportunities missed to use peer coaching or team members' expertise.

 

In summary, there are a wide variety of training and development exercises that can involve and engage participants in your learning-directed outcomes. These ideas and suggestions represent but a few possibilities. You are encouraged to try these out, make changes or add debriefing aspects, and get the ideas back to me!

So thanks to all who have so graciously shared their ideas and information,

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman, author of the Square Wheels toolkits
Performance Management Company
- Scott@SquareWheels.com

 

copyright © Performance Management Company, 1998. All Rights Reserved.

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