Innovation? Child's Play!
07 November 2018
Michael Eppelmann

Innovation? Child's Play!

Working agile means to act with an open mind – but thinking outside of the box is not always easy in a fast-moving, increasingly complex present. In our new “Agile Methods” series, we want to introduce several approaches that Boehringer Ingelheim employees have been using to leverage new insights and foster innovation.

In our first “Agile Methods” article we would like to talk about something we may rather associate with children than with the workplace at first: Lego, or rather Serious Play! Patricia Gómez, our Organizational Development and Learning Manager in Mexico City, visited the Ingelheim headquarter in September and introduced us to this method. We quickly realized that Lego Serious Play cannot only be taken seriously indeed, but also that it is a rewarding method to realize what you need to launch your goals.

Patricia, how did you get to know Lego Serious Play?

An external consultant introduced it to me four years ago and certificated me. Since then I have been using it around once or twice per month in sessions with colleagues from all areas of Boehringer Ingelheim.


So it really has become a major method you use at work! But why Lego, if we may ask? Isn’t this actually a toy for children?

The great thing about Lego is that it stimulates our mind. Research has demonstrated that 80% of brain cells are connected with the hands. Lego leverages our creativity and imagination, and the numerous bricks give us the opportunity to create the most different, individual models. This is something that can also be used to innovate and improve the performance of the staff or of organizations.


But what is the difference between Lego and Lego Serious Play? Are there any guidelines?

It is key for Lego Serious Play to have a facilitator who guides the session. In the beginning, the facilitator will pose a very specific question like “How would you describe your team?”. Then the construction stage starts: The facilitator has to make the participants clear that every brick they will use will have a meaning. A pink brick standing on its own could for example represent a banana. It is important that the facilitator gives the participants free rein to their imagination. Them sharing the meaning of their models is the next step to take.


What happens afterwards?

After the explanation round, the participants compare their models and build a single one together. Like in real life, on the one hand compromises need to be made, but on the other everybody learned from each other’s individual models. Afterwards the facilitator can ask a follow-up question, like “Where do you want to see your team in ten years?”. Then a second common model can be constructed by the group and both models can be compared again: What is supposed to change to reach our goals in the future? And how can we connect both Lego models physically – with a loose rope or a firm brick?


So the bricks have to be seen as eye-opening metaphors?       

Exactly! But it’s not only the bricks themselves. You can also position yourself around the model in different ways and see that the same thing can be viewed in totally different ways, for instance from above when you are in a leading position. This fosters tolerance and innovative ways of looking on things.


How is the reaction of your colleagues? Do they like Lego Serious Play?           

A lot! Sometimes they are a little confused at first when they see the Lego bricks, but the very latest when they start constructing their models they are really fascinated and engaged. It is great to see for example rather shy colleagues coming out of their shell. Everybody participates, there is no digital distraction.


If you had to describe the potential of using Lego Serious Play in the workplace in one sentence: What would you say?

It is ideal to develop creativity and imagination which also helps companies – and it is less intimidating than a blank sheet or the numbers on a spreadsheet.

"Every brick has a meaning. Give the participants free rein to their imagination, says Patricia Gómez. "
Michael Eppelmann

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