Introduction: Change and the Unorthodox Solution  

Business transitions can be a turbulent process, carrying the potential to disrupt a well-established working system.

As the Head of Design at Growens, I recently navigated through such a significant shift when a branch of our group, which included both Growens and MailUp teams, was sold to another company, TeamSystem. In this challenging context, where colleagues felt as if the ground beneath them was shifting, I found myself turning to an unconventional approach for assistance — Lego Serious Play (LSP).

While the concept might seem unusual, Lego Serious Play is a potent tool for exploration and communication, particularly in the face of uncertainty and change. As a certified LSP facilitator, I designed and executed six different workshops within our company to help our colleagues cope with this significant transition.

The metaphor of tectonic plates moving and causing an earthquake rings true to what we experienced in our company. When these plates shifted, people fell, but in the aftermath, beautiful things emerged. It was like using LSP in the aftermath of an M&A — giving people a platform to tell their story, to share their emotions, and to navigate through the change.

What began as a child’s game has been transformed into a powerful tool for exploration and communication, especially useful during times of uncertainty.

Understanding Lego Serious Play

(This paragraph is only for people who don’t know Lego Serious Play)

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method (LSP) is a facilitated thinking, communication, and problem-solving technique for organisations, teams, and individuals. It draws on extensive research from the fields of business, organisational development, psychology, and learning, and is based on the concept of “hand knowledge.”

Workshop’s LEGO models by the Holding People Managers

The LSP method is based on a set of fundamental beliefs about leadership and organisations. It acknowledges that leaders don’t have all the answers and their success is dependent on hearing all voices in the room. It promotes the idea that people naturally want to contribute, be part of something bigger, and take ownership. Therefore, allowing each member to contribute and speak out results in a more sustainable business model. LSP recognizes that we live in a complex, adaptive world and that teams often work sub-optimally, leaving team member knowledge untapped.

The Core Process of LSP, involving posing the question, construction, sharing, and reflecting, is the essence of this method. The challenge presented to the participants should have no obvious or correct solution, and the framing of the challenge has to be clear and concise for the participant to connect. The participants make sense of what they know and what they can imagine by constructing a model using LEGO® materials, and developing a story covering the meaning in the model. The stories are then shared and reflected upon, as a way of internalising and grounding the story.

The Genesis: An Unanswered Question 

Sara Parroco, our People & Organization Growth Manager, asked a foundational question: “How can we provide our teams with their own tools to interpret and manage the moving context they are living in?” This query inspired the development of our LSP workshops, each designed to equip our People Business Partners, and then Growens People Managers and MailUp teams, with self-made interpretive and organisational tools that reflected their individual perspectives, wishes, questions, and answers for the future.

Phase One: The Early Workshops 

Our first workshop was with the People Business Partners of the Growens group. Organised on February 7, 2023, it centred around the theme of adaptability. The changing business landscape necessitated a strengthening of team bonds, also in sight of future separations, and a shared understanding of change at a deeply personal level, in order to let all the linked emotions emerge. Sara Parroco proposed the session, we wrote the protocol together, and I facilitated it, encouraging participants to use LEGO blocks to represent their interpretation of the change. It was heartening to see that these physical models not only encapsulated participants’ fears and concerns but also their aspirations and hopes for the future.

On February 13 and 14, a second workshop was held for the Holding People Managers, spanning over four and a half hours across the two days. This session, proposed by Enrica Lipari (People & Culture Director), Sara Parroco (People & Organization Growth Manager), Michele Cappellini (Chief Information Officer), and Giammarco Defilippi (Chief Administration Officer) and facilitated by me, involved 20 participants. The workshop aimed to foster unity and camaraderie in the face of the forthcoming changes, mirroring the initial workshop’s goals with People Business Partners but expanding them to a broader group of leaders.

Workshop table with the Holding People Managers

It was the first time for many to be able to express their feelings to their closer teams or to a larger group of colleagues: humanity and mutual understanding emerged, as well as listening and generosity, but also gratitude in pain and focus in uncertainty. Many times these words are summed up with resilience, but the stories that this word represents are many, tangible, multifaceted, and colourful.

Phase Two: Tailored Team Workshops 

Following the initial workshops, we initiated a series of workshops tailored for different MailUp teams. While the previous sessions in the first weeks after the news given to the company population aimed to instil a sense of understanding and unity, these workshops were designed to prepare the teams to handle uncertainty when the deal with TeamSystem would be closed and to adapt teams and individual professionals to change effectively.

The first workshop catered to the MailUp Marketing team with Daniele Pelleri — Marketing Manager, the second to the Sales Acquisition and Reseller team with Marco Caramagna — Sales Manager, the third to the Sales Development team with Walter La Dolcetta — Sales Manager, and the fourth to the Sales Operations team with Flavio Caloni — Sales Operation Manager. The workshops took place from May to June 2023, with the number of participants ranging from 7 to 12.

Workshop moment with MailUp Sales Development team

We used a three-pronged approach to these workshops:

  • Skill Building Exercises: Participants were asked to build models based on given images and then we asked them to explore a little more how that model can be a metaphor for “The Positive of working in the MailUp team”. This creative warm-up stimulated their minds and hands, especially for people who had not used Lego in years, and prepared them for the main exercise. We held many of these sessions remotely, in this way we lowered the length of the main sessions in person.
  • Individual Models: We started the real workshops by building individual models. Based on unique questions relevant to each team, participants constructed both representations of the current world and of the inspirational world. The questions reflected topics like the team’s vision, their comfort zones, and their thoughts on change management.
  • Red Brick and Shared model: The second part of the workshop involved a shared exercise called “Red Brick”. Participants identified key elements from their individual models that they felt were critical. They then constructed a shared team model by integrating these crucial elements. This method helped the teams create a collective understanding of their change journey and foster unity.
  • Guiding Principles preparation: Finally, each participant placed their current individual model in relation to the shared model, reflecting their personal place in the team’s change journey.

Shared model moment with MailUp Sales Acquisition team

The Outcome: Guiding Principles and a Path Forward

The workshops culminated in the emergence of “Simple Guiding Principles,” encapsulating the different teams’ collective wisdom. These principles revealed a trend towards fostering resilience, adaptability, and collaboration in an increasingly volatile and complex world.

They stressed proactive response to challenges, the value of teamwork, open communication, critical thinking, and the importance of a positive, growth mindset in embracing change.

Reflecting on Lego Serious Play: A Human-Centric Empathetic Tool 

As I reflect on this journey, it becomes clear that Lego Serious Play (LSP) has proven to be an effective and empathetic tool in managing this business transition. As a facilitator, these workshops have been a rich learning experience for me.

I’ve seen firsthand the power of Lego Serious Play in promoting transparency among individuals and teams, providing a safe space for deep-seated emotions and thoughts to emerge. It’s a tool that honours individual perspectives and narratives, asserting that there’s no single correct way to build, and the creator holds ownership of the model.

The transformative power of the LSP workshops left me in awe. Teams that were unaware of their unity found it as they shared their professional journey and faced the change together. The workshops brought to light the hidden strengths of the teams and the profound connections they had established.

Moreover, I found that Lego Serious Play can act as a channel for truth. Despite being a hands-on tool, it resists manipulation. It’s easy to spot when someone is not engaged, lacks an idea, or disagrees. It’s impossible to dodge the question at hand, as the answers are vividly reflected in the model.

Snapshot of the workshop sharing moment, with remote colleagues of MailUp Sales Acquisition team

The most enlightening part was understanding the potency of the method — a potency that remains elusive until you build, narrate, listen to, and reflect on a model. The concept of “hard fun” remains abstract until you experience it and comprehend why it’s so impactful.

In conclusion, this journey has reinforced my faith in Lego Serious Play as a facilitation tool, and equally importantly, in the people around me. Lego Serious Play is a creative, interactive, and empathetic approach to managing change, encouraging open communication, mutual understanding, and a shared vision. Through this method, we have not only navigated the shifting business landscape but also strengthened our team cohesion and individual resilience.

The people around me have shown their vulnerability and tranquillity, their strength and readiness to face life’s surprises, their capacity to feel gratitude and compassion amidst insecurities, and their ability to lead while remaining human.

Final model of the Workshop with the Mailup Marketing team

In these Lego Serious Play sessions, another approach materialized, which was cathartic for me: Perspective getting vs Perspective taking. Only by “getting” someone else’s perspective through questions and their narrative can you stand beside them, vulnerable in your questioning, just as they are vulnerable in their moment of response.

This realization brought me peace. Even amidst discomfort, I found kindness and compassion within myself and others.

And in those precise moments, I felt happiness.

Let us remain human, but let us be these humans: open, attentive, vulnerable, and kind.

The original article was published on the Innovation Blog.

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