How valuable are your networks?

Have you ever spent an extended time with a group of people in a shared experience? Maybe it was a week long class or boot camp or a seminar that was very interactive and forced you to let down your natural barriers and share "yourself" with the others in the group. Many times a very powerful bond develops among the group and a sense of family develops. You leave the session feeling really connected to the others because of the shared experience. You may even make an attempt to keep that feeling by starting a user group, a weekly call or some other method to stay connected.

The first week goes by and you still feel the strong connection but sadly as the weeks turn into months the feeling fades and eventually its as if you never made the connection at all.

What would it be like to keep that connection strong, thriving and growing? What would it take to make that a reality? How powerful would those networks be for you if you could keep them alive and healthy?

We recently facilitated a LEGO Serious Play (LSP) session for Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for a group of entrepreneurs from Africa as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. Fifty fellows, who represented 30 African nations, arrived with diverse backgrounds, skills and professional experiences and were connected with either the School of Business or the Wilder School. The 25 fellows studying at the School of Business participated in a six-week intensive business and entrepreneurship program that introduced new topics weekly. 

We were asked to design a LEGO Serious Play workshop as a capstone event. Our team held meetings with the fellows to get an understanding of the process and the types of issue they would face when they returned home.

We were trying to determine the most beneficial theme / topic / problem we wanted to solve in the workshop. One topic kept surfacing as a possibility for our workshop - the Fellows told us how different things were at home versus here in the U.S. The availability for help to develop and grow a business venture is far more established and viable in America. The U.S has vast resources available to entrepreneurs while the Fellow's native regions tended to be isolated and lacked the broad based support systems we in the U.S. take for granted. The Fellows also talked about the culture of trust that exists here that was absent at home. People at home were reluctant to share ideas, information or advice. 

These extremely smart people represented the cream of the crop back in their countries and as they had just spent 6 weeks together the bond they developed was obvious and very powerful! During our interviews they talked frequently about their new friends and how much they had learned from each other. We heard "If only we could keep that connection when we return home!" Suddenly our LSP session agenda was clear.

Any relationship requires work in order for it to grow and thrive -business, marriage, friends, children, and even enemies (that one requires even more work). Our task was to help the Fellows to understand what it would take to keep this bond alive, thriving and most importantly become a powerful tool to enable their businesses to grow and prosper.

We broke the group onto teams of 5 and had them share a table full of LEGOS. After the obligatory skill building exercises that are part of every LSP session we asked them to build a model of something that they had learned about America in their time here. There were some very interesting revelations among the 25 fellows that we did not fully appreciate but when seen through the eyes of these folks gave us new perspectives on our country and ourselves. (Everybody learns in LSP sessions!)

From there, we delved into more thought provoking questions by having them build a model of a personal barrier they have overcome or what they have learned about themselves. From there it was simple to move into the heart of the session- Networks. Building your business and community will require support from a network. Using the bricks, we asked them to create something that incorporates the critical elements of the support network you will needed when returning home. We told them they could build as many as they desired.

During the sharing we reminded them to listen for insights, perspectives and new ways of thinking and acting that will keep the network vibrant after returning home. With that task complete it was time to bring the individuals together and create a shared vision of how they were going to own this network and take responsibility for maintaining it. This is the core of LSP and it is an amazing process to observe and help facilitate.

Once the teams had the vision of the network and how it was going to grow, thrive and be a support system at home we had to identify the inevitable roadblocks and issues that would work against the network. We challenged them to think of the barriers to achieving the vision they had just created and build models to represent them.

To create and maintain your support network, we asked them to prioritize and address these barriers. To help with prioritization, we created a gird to allow them to categorize each barrier into one of four quadrants

Prioritization helps create and maintain focus:

  • Ensuring you are working on the Important Items will keep you from spending time on Not Important but Urgent items
  • If everyone understands the barriers, your support network can work together to overcome them
  • The prioritization quadrant will help keep your sessions with your mentors focused on the most important things

The individual groups shared their teams' model, plans, barriers and prioritization with everyone else and gave them time to talk, ask questions and comment on the elements. The solutions had very similar themes and the team level sharing helped to drive home the importance of keeping their bond strong when they went home.

Concluding the session we invited everyone to take pictures of their models and each other as way to bring themselves back to this moment when they went home. Laughs, hugs, plenty of smiles and a plan to keep the bond and network alive and well kept the group busy as we wrapped up the day. So much was learned by everyone during the 6 week immersion and the capstone LSP event was a huge success.











Just what is LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

My trainer in LEGO Serious Play- Robert Rasmussen of Rasmussen Consulting has a newsletter that I always look forward to reading.

This month was particularly timely as we try to help people understand what LSP can do for their business, organization or team.

Reposted here with permission:

Most people have either participated in team-building programs at their workplace or a conference, know people who have or have a mental picture of what goes on. Maybe they have even read articles about what's out there or conducted on-line research. Many team-building exercises include LEGO bricks. This widespread use of LEGOs in corporate training has created misunderstanding and confusion.

Many people think they know what the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method is. Often superficial or partial knowledge clouds our vision more profoundly than no knowledge at all. So, pretend for two minutes that you know nothing about LEGO SERIOUS PLAY.

Effective, engaged and equitable group decision-making is the core outcome of a workshop designed and led by a trained and experienced LEGO SERIOUS PLAY facilitator. There are many tangential benefits such as better understanding your co-worker's values and motives; seeing how your function, expertise or role impacts others or depersonalizing areas of conflict or disagreement, but the core, hard-to-replicate-any-other-way outcome is a decision emotionally supported by all participants.

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is a science-based communication and problem-solving method designed to help organizations make better and faster decisions by assuring that everyone participates in an equal and meaningful way. The LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method disrupts the status quo 20-80 meeting flow where 20 percent of the participants dominate the conversation and 80 percent play a back-seat role and creates a 100 - 100 meeting, where all voices are equally heard and are equally important.

When a decision is supported using the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method (LSP), everyone in the room sees and hears the options, the constraints, the best- and worst-case scenarios likely to result and realizes that the final decision makes the most sense for the majority of stakeholders.

LSP was officially first launched in 2002. The idea to use LEGO bricks for business strategy originated in 1995 in a collaboration between the owner of the LEGO Company and the Institute of Management Development in Switzerland (IMD). Between 1995 and 1999 Roos and Victor from IMD experimented with the process without much success.

Are your meetings draining the energy from your teams?

My mother is 89 years old and no matter how many times I explain what I do for a living she can't fathom it. The fact that I work just about anywhere there is internet only adds to the confusion. Most weeks I am remote a couple of days and on site the rest That makes the mess even worse in her mind.

We gave her a very simple computer years ago so she could see pictures and I spent two hours one day doing "phone support" to try and get her to a web site where she could view the proofs from my daughters wedding. Typing the horrendously long URL one letter at a time (try explaining the concept of forward slash vs back slash) was an exercise in frustration for both of us.

Finally we got there and saw some pictures! She was delighted- and then disaster struck-she hit some key and it all went away. Two hours down the drain and we were both spent. We had no energy left to pick up and start over. Another day maybe.

Do you ever feel that way when you are in meetings? You spend two hours listening to the few that always seem to do the majority of the speaking. While others pretend to listen but are actually multitasking email, Facebook or doing some banking.

How is that working for you or your teams/organizations? You leave the room (or worse, the web meeting) feeling spent, not recalling just a few hours later what was covered during the meeting as you rush to the next one to experience the same outcome.

When we do meetings using LEGO Serious Play (LSP) all those anti-patterns end. We engage everyone in the meeting while developing and creating realizable results, solid actions items and plans for execution and energized, committed participants that actually remember what they agreed to support or do. Something surprising happens when your hands and mind work together with the bricks. Concepts become real, explanations and sharing perspectives is easier to relay in the 3D world of LEGOs. And because the models are something we created, we take greater ownership and emotional commitment to the ideas.

Happy with the energy your meetings generate? Then LSP is probably not something to consider.

Looking to break the cycle of ineffective, energy draining, waste of time meetings? We can make that happen for teams and organizations of all sizes. What kind of ROI are you getting from the time your teams spend in meetings? Think about it. Then give us a call.

Lego Serious Play is hard fun

I just returned from a week of training in the LEGO Serious Play method with Rasmussen Consulting

It was amazing to say the least and I can't wait to start facilitating workshops!

We began the week as a group of individuals from many different backgrounds, experiences and industries. Entering the  room, we were met with a long "U" shaped tables covered in nearly every kind of LEGO brick imaginable.  This was our debrief table and we all built, took apart, modified and played with these LEGOs non stop for the next 4 days.

A second set of tables were set up to be our landscape for Serious Play. The rest of the room was lined tables filled to overflowing with LEGOs, DUPLOs connectors, gears, little people and every other kind of LEGO creation ever made. We built models of people, places, things, fears, strengths, opportunities, roadblocks- you name it we built it. Then we would talk about what they represented and share the stories behind the models. It was a safe and fun place to  work out our plans where we focused on the models, not the others in the room. Unlike every other meeting or training session I've ever been in, where some people participated more than others (or not at all) this involved 100% of  the group giving 100% of their focus towards building shared models, negotiating changes, coming to consensus and evolving a view of the topic at hand, and it was hard work.


As the week came to a close we found we were no longer the same group of individuals but had morphed into a team with a shared interest, goal and vision (not to mention a model) of how to use LEGO Serious Play in our professional lives. We designed plans for our first workshops until 10 PM on Friday night. We used each other as sounding boards, mentors, coaches, counselors and ultimately became a network of friends with a common experience and perspective on the power of this facilitation tool.

If you've never heard of it, I highly recommend you take a look. You will never have so much fun, working so hard, and achieving results that will amaze you.

Train IT will be adding these sessions to our list of available consulting services. If you're interested in a conversation drop me a note and I'll tell you more about this experience and see if it could help you, your team or company achieve amazing results. 

SAFe Training at Genworth's Campus

Our first training class is in the books and it was a resounding success.  Thank you Genworth for providing a wonderful venue!  The participants consisted of folks from a variety of firms around town who return to work equipped with a sound foundation in Leading SAFe.  Our instructors brought fresh ideas and an approach towards training that resonated with everyone.  As an observer for the 2 day workshop I took note of a few highlights that I would like to share:

Our instructors, Vickie Figaro and Joe Snyder, know their stuff!  They are very entertaining and engaging and complimented each other well.  It kept the class lively and full of energy.  They used their combined experiences in doing Agile to tailor the discussions and examples to scenarios which made it much easier for the students to firmly grasp the concepts.

Some of you may not know, I come from a teaching background.  Nothing as sexy as Agile/SAFe.  My speciality was Drivers Education, P.E and Math - I was a high school teacher in another life.  With that said, watching Vickie and Joe opened my eyes to a really fresh brand of collaboration and idea generation from instructors.  They co-taught the entire class as opposed to predetermined hand-offs between instructors.  It led to very adaptive discussions amongst everyone that often resulted in meaningful, substantive dialogue.  The collaborative teaching approach also helped when the two of them could bring different perspectives to bear on questions, scenarios and learning opportunities.

I enjoyed the fact that Joe and Vickie do not lecture as much as lead the class in detailed discussions.  They were often looking to the class members to help answer each others questions to build a team atmosphere geared towards problem solving.

I also observed a mixture of strategic thinking and strategic actions being presented to the course materials born out of a wide range of practical experience in Government and Private sector engagements.  I feel relevant, real-world examples provide the best path to learning; at least thats how I'm wired.  Now, after 2 days of observation doesn't mean I am a Scaled Agilist! However, I can say, without a doubt in my mind, Vickie and Joe are outstanding at what they do!  Hope to see you at the next class RVA!