Lego, a popular line of toys manufactured by The Lego Group from 1949, consists of a set of brightly colored interlocking plastic bricks that can be assembled and connected in an infinite number of ways. They can be used to construct buildings, people, vehicles, and more recently, robots. With its huge popularity, targeting both children and adults, over 560 billion Lego pieces have been manufactured as of 2013. Most people have seen Lego, and have played with Lego. But besides using as a tool for creativity, it has more recently been utilized in ways unthought of before – team building.
The LegoMan exercise is adapted from the original ways of using Lego building blocks to build people. However, a twist to that activity becomes not only good for a children’s party or a hobby, but extremely useful for team building. I was personally first exposed to this exercise as part of a team building exercise at McKinsey and Company. As a group of new interns, we were split into groups of 5-6 people, with each team given our own pack of Lego bricks. The game moderator (in this case, a Partner of McKinsey) stood at an equidistant from each team, in front of a table that displayed her self-designed LegoMan. The main aim of the activity was for each team to replicate that LegoMan with their set of Lego bricks, right down to the size and color of each brick used. However, the catch was that each team could only send one person each time to catch a glimpse of the original LegoMan, then run back to the team to disseminate the information and allow the next team member to catch the next glimpse. No pen, paper nor camera was allowed to capture the information. Pure brain power was at play. The fastest team that replicates the LegoMan accurately, wins the game.
The Firm was definitely not the only one to play the LegoMan. The Stanford Graduate School of Business also utilizes this game frequently to teach its MBA and entrepreneurship students on the importance of teamwork. The benefits of this game is many-fold:
- Easy to implement. Lego bricks are not difficult to come by. And everyone knows how to ‘use’ them, so no teaching is necessary there. A quick and efficient way to teach an idea is always the key to top organizations such as McKinsey and Stanford.
- Forces a leader to emerge. The fun thing about Lego is that there are a billion ways you can use it to build the same man. The un-fun thing is when 5-6 adults want to use their own way to build that man. This calls for a leader to emerge in just minutes or even seconds, to dedicate roles to people, to decide on a way to gather information quickly, and to make sure there is no overlap in roles between team members.
- Encourages working in a team. Because LegoMan is a time-sensitive exercise, the team has to figure out the most efficient way to get the job done. Of course, one single person can rotate between running to look at the LegoMan, and going back to convert the information into a physical being. However, the ideal time utilized is for another team member to run off for another look at the LegoMan while the first team member is transferring that information to his own LegoMan. Besides a “round robin” way of gathering information, some teams may also split into 2 groups to gather the information and piece the LegoMan separately. Others may divide and conquer, having 1 person focus on the head, another the arms, and another the torso. Whichever the case, it is definitely a case of teamwork to maximize efficiency and minimize stress on any one person.
- Trains a team to watch each other’s back. Due to the time pressure, team members very often bring back the wrong information and build a replicate LegoMan that is not identical to the original LegoMan. It takes a good team to trust one another’s information, but an even better team to watch each other’s back to make sure they deliver the right product at the end of the day. It does not matter who remembered the information wrongly, but the team as a whole is responsible for the entire final product. One single error, by any member, will cause the entire team to lose together. This activity forces the team to realize that although each person has an individual role to play, they need to help one another to make sure the perfect product is created in the shortest time possible, without compromising on quality.
- Stimulates interaction. A game like this definitely spurs the team members to start talking (especially if they are new to one another). A great orientation activity for new team members, or a newly reorganized organization that introduces new faces to new teams.
A simple toy like the Lego bricks can be a very useful tool to teach a sophisticated but important concept of teamwork. Find out more details here on how to play the LegoMan.