Developing High Performance Teams through… LEGO®?

 Research has begun to narrow down the key components of effective teams, yet a main challenge for coaches and managers is understanding how to ensure each team member understands team concepts and buys into into shared team goals and vision. In my 20 plus years of facilitation experience with teams and groups of all kinds, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is the most effective method I have found to quickly make an impact turning groups into teams and providing a foundation for future work.

First, let’s look at recent research on effective teams. Google recently asked “What makes Google teams effective” and interviewed over 200+ Google staff looking and more than 180+ active teams. What they learned was shocking; it matters less WHO is on the team but more how the team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions. The five key dynamics that were present in successful Google teams included:

  1. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  2. Structure and Clarity: Are goals and execution plans on our team clear?
  3. Meaning of work: Are we working on something personally important for each of us?
  4. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
  5. Psychological Safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

Of the five dynamics Google identified, psychological safety was by far the most important. Healthy teams have team members who are willing to take risks and look vulnerable. On safe teams, team members admit to mistakes (they are ACCOUNTABLE) and are more likely to cooperate to accomplish tasks.

In other work, Yukl (2006) also identifies five characteristics of effective teams:

  1. Commitment to shared objectives: Do we agree what we are working towards?
  2. Accurate, shared mental models: Do we share the same vision for the work that is to be completed? Can we articulate that work in a model?
  3. Role clarity and acceptance: Each person’s role on this team if of vital importance, do we know what this role is?
  4. Mutual trust and cooperation: Do we have a solid foundation of trust and cooperation?
  5. Collective potency: Do we have the swagger we need? Do we believe we can do this?

These concepts are similar to the Google Dynamics, with the main additional contributions of “accurate shared mental models” and “swagger”.

So how does LEGO® help teams develop these important team dynamics?

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is an evidence-based approach that helps teams and organizations work through challenges with groups by accessing important areas in both the right and left brain, and removing the rules of how we operate therefore unlocking creativity. It is completed in an atmosphere structured to remove power imbalances and ensure 100% participation and engagement.

For the past two years I have been incorporating LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® into my work with teams and groups and am convinced this is the best method for nurturing trust, cooperation, accountability, role clarity and meaning of work within teams. Sharing and growth is fostered as the team building is all completed in an environment that provides psychological safety for team members. Managers and coaches are always shocked at the insights revealed by all, even the most quiet and reserved, team members.

Recently I had the privilege of working the the Ottawa Junior Senators, a top level Junior A hockey team in Canada who has undergone many changes over the last year. Our focus was to build the sense of “team” with a number of new players joining the veterans.

Through addressing personal roles, personal goals, and previously identified team concepts we clarified everyone’s purpose, how to demonstrate accountability, and enabled the players to articulate personal meaning and commitment to each other and their shared goals. Together, the team actually built their shared model, each person contributed to their ideal team which they could all explain. We actually videoed the explanation of the shared model, and the team will be able to look back on this through the season.

CTV Ottawa was present for the session and captured the process. Note how Junior age players talked about team concepts and their own aspirations openly, because the methods provided a psychologically safe space to do so. As one colleague noted:

“What a strange and interesting way to circumnavigate the ego. Encouraging team members to project onto inanimate objects and become self-aware as well as interpreting a shared vision.”
Watch the video and let me know if you have seen such engagement and buy-in from a group of 17-20 year-old young men. Having facilitated close to 100 sessions now I can verify that LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works with younger and older participants, men and women. It’s a great way to level the playing field and provide your team members a chance to buy-in and commit to something great. Most importantly, perhaps, it allows us to play, and it encourages everyone to have fun!

Happy building, and happy hockey!

IMG_2690Theresa Bailey has a Masters in Community Psychology and is certified in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods. Her work has crossed generations and sectors. Learn more at, seetestimonials and past and current clients, or contact Theresa at