Tribe workshop with Lego® Serious Play®

At Upvest we give a good amount of thought to how to foster team collaboration. In this spirit, I recently facilitated a workshop using Lego® bricks for our newly formed Investment and Custody Solutions tribe.

Captain Upvest - a lego superhero with an Upvest logo

About my role

As Head of Delivery, I work with all of Upvest’s Product Engineering tribes, typically on topics such as OKRs, Team Health Checks, or ensuring our Engineering efforts are compliant.

Facilitating workshops like the one I’ll be describing below is an exciting and important extension of my work. Seeing everyone interact with each other, sparking great discussions about what matters to the teams and tribes is such a joy!

Why did we have this workshop?

A couple of months ago, three Product Engineering teams that had previously belonged to different tribes started to form our new Investment and Custody Solutions tribe. We found it highly important to support the teams in building a shared identity within the new tribe. So we organised a three-day offsite event, and I worked with the tribe during one of those days.

As part of Upvest’s philosophy, we have enabled hybrid work. Our employees get to decide whether they work from our Berlin office or remotely. This provides us all with great flexibility in where to best do our work. Given this hybrid setup, it is more important than ever to take time for everyone to get together every now and then in one location to nourish personal connections among team members. Nothing can replace the interactions that people have with each other when they meet in person.

What did we do?

During the offsite the tribe engaged in a variety of activities, all of them geared toward better understanding each others’ approaches as well as sharing domain knowledge.

To avoid monotony throughout the event, we were looking for different formats and activities for the individual parts of the offsite. I proposed a method that I’ve used numerous times productively in the past and have been certified to facilitate: Lego® Serious Play® (LSP).

Upvengers building a shared team model

Upvengers building a shared team model.

What is Lego® Serious Play®?

Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) uses “hand knowledge”, meaning that the brain gets activated in different ways when working with haptic models, using the models as metaphors and telling stories around them. LSP is not about building perfect models, rather it is about the stories which participants are able to tell using their models. As participants start building, they find that they can access more knowledge than when they solely rely on their conscious minds.

The underlying belief in an LSP workshop is that each member of the group has valuable insights. People naturally want to be part of something bigger and take ownership. Allowing all participants to contribute and speak out tends to result in more sustainable solutions.

Lego® Serious Play® can be a good choice when you want:

  • To create a level playing field for discussion
  • Give all participants time to think before they speak
  • To hear and be able to appreciate everyone’s unique insight
  • To help listeners understand and remember what is being said and to minimise the risks of misunderstanding
  • To help all participants to focus on the message, not on the messenger
  • To access the playful energies of people.

How did we structure the workshop?

We played several rounds and each round followed those four steps:

  • The facilitator presents the question to be discussed
  • Everyone builds a model
  • Everyone tells a story about their model and everyone else listens carefully
  • The audience asks questions about the model and its meaning, thus further exploring the ideas that the model represents.
A Lego model of some kind of bird with a gold-helmeted skull-faced minifigure standing on its back, brandishing a black stick.

A variation on a bird everyone built as a warm-up exercise

We started with two warm-up exercises where all members of the tribe individually first built a bridge and later a model from a booklet. Although everyone had started with the same set of bricks we saw a wide variety of bridges.

The first “real” challenge was for each participant to build a model that represented something about themselves that they wanted to share with the group. It was amazing to see which metaphors made out of Lego® bricks people came up with for important aspects of their life and personality. It was equally fascinating to hear what others saw in the models and what questions came up.

In the next part of the workshop we moved on to team models: Each of the three teams built one shared model about what everyone outside of the team can expect from the team, and a second model to talk about the strengths the team is proud of.

In addition to the good time everyone had while shaping something tangible together, and negotiating what to add to and what to remove from the team model, this ignited great discussions about the values the individual teams have identified for themselves.

For the final round of building, storytelling and discussing, the entire tribe focussed on this question: “If you had magic powers, what is the one thing you would change in the way we work in the Investment and Custody Solutions tribe?”

Initially, everyone built an individual model so that we could hear the broad variety of what is important to the members of the tribe. After everyone had presented and discussed their individual models, we looked for clusters of related ideas, and for how the individual models connected to each other. Finally, we created one shared model for the tribe.

One group of wishes centred around furthering the collaboration between the three teams of the tribe, as well as the commitment to continued and deepened knowledge sharing. Another group reminded us to continuously focus very sharply on what our next product development should really be. As a company we are on a great mission with many exciting routes we could take. While this is a privileged situation to be in, it also forces us to think hard about priorities.

Finally, one colleague used his model to remind us of what a magic product we are working on together. This clearly is worth taking a moment to reflect upon regularly no matter how busy the daily work can get.

Captain Upvest, a lego minifigure super-hero with a light-saber sits on a throne above a giant Upvest logo

Captain Upvest

Final thoughts and feedback

Facilitating team building and strategy workshops using Lego® Serious Play® has been a very rewarding experience ever since I started to offer them. On the surface, it might just look like a fun alternative to other team discussion formats. However, in most cases, the result is serious progress on topics the team wanted to move forward with. Building metaphors made out of Lego® bricks is great because metaphors are often simple, enable storytelling and are easy to remember. During our workshop, several complex topics of the sometimes dry finance domain turned into colourful Lego® models which everyone enjoyed interacting with.

Investment folks engaging in Lego Serious Play

Investment folks engaging in Lego Serious Play

Here is feedback from a few participants:

“Very interesting exercise, it’s a good way to see what others value most and how they think.”

“Amazing workshop, a lot of fun and teamwork.”

“Unleashed a lot of creativity.”

“The Lego play was fun and entertaining.”

“Building with Lego was awesome, good team-building exercise.”