Engage employees with your company values using LEGO

Engage employees with your company values using LEGO

Something I’ve missed since the pandemic changed our lives is delivering face-to-face workshops.

So when the opportunity arose to deliver a workshop for  SBM OffshoreI jumped at the chance!

The aim of the workshop was to help employees in Porto to truly engage with the culture of the business.

One of the techniques I was able to revisit was the use of LEGO Serious Play. It’s an exceptional way of helping people explore how they feel about abstract concepts.

At first, it can appear rather daunting. Being asked to build your role in an organisation or build the future business as you see it using a bag of plastic bricks doesn’t usually crop up at work, but LEGO has a brilliant and disarming quality when it comes to dispelling fears.


What is it about LEGO that engages us so quickly?

Every workshop I’ve ever run using LEGO has been a memorable one. The look on participants faces when they enter the room and see little bags of brightly coloured bricks is always the same: beaming smiles.

“It’s LEGO!”

Everyone has their own stories of what they built and who they built with. Everyone remembers the joy of free play and imaginations running wild.

And this is what we unlock in workshops.

It’s all down to Homunculus Man.

Homunculus man is a model that depicts the human body as it would look if our parts grew relative to the brain activity that happens in the cortex.

Despite shortcomings and additional research*, the model is still valid in showing that the extent of information communicated between three parts of the body and the brain.

The hands, feet, and mouth (face, lips, and tongue) receive more information than any other body parts.


So, what happens when the cortex is stimulated using these body parts?

Scientists examining the effects of water stimulation on the hand have shown how it results in a shift in neural inhibitions.

Further studies have shown how tactile stimulation of the hand increases activity in the cortex. Perhaps it’s why we hold hands with the ones we love?

Podiatry medicine has long told how study and treatment of the feet can help relieve stress or identify other underlying conditions. And perhaps the reason we go out to dinner with friends is because the tastes help stimulate our conversation.

Finding ways to stimulate the cortex during workshops is a critical enabler for informed conversation and debate.

They may look like a children’s toy, but in the hands of a group of adults with a clear challenge to build, they unlock wonderfully diverse conversations.

I was first introduced to Serious Play by Lewis Pinault. There’s a wonderful film of him online asking participants at a workshop to “build a duck.” This is always my go to opening exercise.

What’s wonderful about ‘duck building’ is the number of different ducks created.

It demonstrates creativity and a number of permutations. It also results in plenty of pride – people love their ducks!


LEGO ducks

And this exercise quickly gives people the confidence they need to build.

As a facilitator, building confidence with the LEGO allows you to then ask those more interesting questions: build the culture of the company as you see it today; build how you feel on a great day, and so on.

SBM Offshore LEGO workshop

The art is then in asking participants to build together to express how they feel as a team.

And once building together, teams can move from the abstract to the real. At EADs (Airbus) they rebuilt processes and a whole factory floor.


Airbus floor created to examine workflows

For SBM Offshore, we used these techniques alongside storytelling and exercises that helped participants consider their own ‘Mind Traps.’

Each exercise was designed to help SBM employees explore the values in practice at work.

The objective: to find ways to help people talk about culture in practice and what individuals can do to keep the culture alive.

Of course, success can be judged not just by the score at the end of the workshop, but by whether the models are taken away by participants – or even better, displayed at the office reception…

Feedback on this workshop was brilliant! With 20 participants scoring it a 9.2 out of 10, I’m hoping we’ll be able to roll it out worldwide.


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* Nico Dosenbach is an associate professor of pediatric neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and has highlighted fascinating research into the links between homunculus and the control of involuntary bodily functions like blood pressure and heart rate. The work helps explain some baffling phenomena, they say in a press release, “such as why anxiety makes some people want to pace back and forth, why stimulating the vagus nerve, which regulates internal organ functions such as digestion and heart rate, may alleviate depression, and why people who exercise regularly report a more positive outlook on life.” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-05964-2