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The Serious Business of LEGO® Play

Dr Kay Hack is a trained facilitator in the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  method, and has used the approach in a variety of scenarios, for example identifying where and when employability skills are being developed across programmes, curriculum review and developing international research-teaching linkages. In each of these situations the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  method allowed deeper thinking, with participants building on each other’s ideas, identifying and developing new connections as well as identifying gaps which could provide opportunities or challenges.

Higher education institutions are awash with strategies: Learning and Teaching, Research, Enterprise, Widening Participation, Knowledge Exchange, and so forth, but frequently the strategies for different institutions appear very similar. The lack of apparent difference between strategies is understandable; what university does not have a strategy to achieve excellence in teaching and research? We are all aware however that there are wide differences within the university sector in the UK.  Driven by the expansion of higher education in the UK, institutions have been placed under pressure to position themselves ‘in the market’, and to develop a unique identity, such as:

  • an elite research intensive university, ranking highly in global league tables or
  • a university focused on excellence in course delivery and student experience or
  • a university having a strategic role within local communities or
  • as a university delivering technical and vocational education or
  • as a civic university supporting the local community and industry

(or indeed, any combination of these aspects.)

The challenge for most universities would not appear to be the ability to write strategies, but in translating strategies into practice, getting them understood, lived and enacted by the faculties, schools/departments, subjects and individual academics who are responsible for delivery. Higher education institutions remain largely collegiate institutions, the academic freedom to pursue scholarship and research is at the heart of the relationship between an individual and the institution. For academic middle managers, heads of schools and deans to ensure that institutional strategies are delivered, they need to adopt approaches that give ownership and a comprehensive understanding of these strategies to those working in their delivery.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is an approach to facilitation that ensures all voices and viewpoints are heard, enabling the development of a shared understanding of issues, challenges or opportunities. It was developed in the nineties by LEGO® as a tool to improve their own strategic development and creativity, in response to the challenges in the toy industry, and is now used across a diverse range of organisations from charities, to the military and pharmaceutical companies.

Using the structured SERIOUS PLAY ® methodology, participants rapidly develop their ability to translate their ideas into models, allowing the transformation of strategic documents into three dimensional models of strategies that can be applied in the real world. The physical presence of the models allows the identification of connections on the landscape and ensures that ideas are not forgotten.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is grounded in constructivism, and provides an informal environment where participants can explore ideas in a low risk environment. This leads to the development of deeper insights, identification of connections and shared ideas, as well as recognizing and reinforcing what is important. The process develops listening and questioning skills, and helps teams develop a narrative and take ownership of the challenges.

The flexibility of the approach means that it can be effective in a wide range of situations, from individual coaching conversations to working with students, in curriculum review and, most relevantly, translating visions and strategies into practice. 

If you are interested in learning more about how LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  can be used to explore a specific challenge in your organisation, then please contact or your Head of Membership. 

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