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It started with a bit of small talk. It was a party of local entrepreneurs and I met a fascinating woman who wrote her doctorate thesis on how “Serious Play” methods and design thinking tools can support creativity and knowledge sharing and thereby accelerate innovation and value creation. Specifically, Dr. Camilla Jensen is a certified Lego® Serious Play® facilitator and we talked about how building a model can help unleash deep understanding and creativity. It should be no surprise that we also talked about panel discussions…. And then we started brainstorming how we might integrate LEGO Serious Play into a panel discussion!  So here is our take on the Lego® Serious Play® Panel Format:

The LEGO® Serious Play® Panel Format is perfect for those topics that are complex, have differing perspectives, and/or the opinions are difficult to access/deeply personal.

The model creates a visual anchor to represent ideas, thoughts, and feelings that may not otherwise be articulated in a group setting.

There are a few nuances to this format that you’ll need to consider:

1) Decide who will be building the model:

  • Just the panelists. If you use this option, I suggest you have the panelists build their models right before the panel starts OR have them working on building the models as the audience filters in…timing it so they are “done” as you start the panel discussion.
  • Just the audience. You’ll want to have them seated at tables – rounds are best – with 4-6 people working on their individual model. If this is the case, you’ll want to have the panelists working as one group at a table OR have the panelists each working at different tables. Once the models have been built, THEN introduce the panelists (or, have each table send one representative of their group to be a panelist!).
  • Panelists AND audience. This is probably the easiest to do with a small group (less than 50).

2) Buy a Lego® Serious Play® Starter Kit

for each panelist and/or small group that will build a model. There are 214 pieces specifically curated for their metaphorical value. You’ll want to have them ready to go. (Camilla suggests you put the turntables, hinges, and tires together ahead of time, and make the kits easily accessible.)

3) Think through the logistics of debriefing the model.

  • For small groups, this shouldn’t be a problem as most audience members will be able to see the models – either up front on the stage or on the table topics.
  • For larger groups, it may be difficult to see the models as they are debriefed. If this is the case, you may want to talk to your A/V crew about having a live video feed of the models as they are being presented.

4) Think about how you are going to get all your LEGO pieces back!

  • People get attached to their models, so you may decide to gift the model to the panelists. Either way bringing ziplock bags or sealable containers to store the individual kits.
  • For the audience members, encourage them to take a picture, tweet it out (provide your Twitter handle if you would like to be tagged. Encourage hashtags such as #LEGOSeriousPlay), and then put all the pieces back in the bag/box. Yes, you literally have to tell them, remind them, and tell them again!

So here’s the process to use:

  1. Welcome and introduction to how this will be a novel panel format. Explain a bit about what they can expect.
  2. Outline the LEGO® Serious Play® method and the ground rules.
  3. Take them through a couple of warm-up exercises to help them understand how to build in metaphors.
  4. Pose a question, a prompt, a topic, or something that will spark the conversation.
  5. Ask the panelists and/or the audience small groups (depending on the size) to use the LEGO sets to build a metaphorical model that enables them to share their perspectives on the question or topic.
    Reinforce that it is a metaphorical model – not a literal model. Encourage them to be creative and let their hands do the thinking! 3-6 minutes is a typical timeframe depending on the complexity of the question/topic. You want to instill a sense of urgency to induce a focused and non-analytic building session.
  6. Share the models.
    1. If models were built at the tables, ask for the group to select a spokesperson to ensure that everybody at the table shares their model one by one.
    2. In a roundtable fashion ask for each panelist/spokesperson to share their perspectives. A long LEGO connector piece can serve as a “talking stick” and help participants point to elements in their model:
      1. Ask them to share/point to a specific element in the model – what did they build into the model and what does it represent?
      2. Request that all listen generously…there is no question of “correctness.” There is no “right or wrong” models; “Better” or “worse” models. They are simply models to help the owner (panelist or small groups) describe what the topic means to them.
  • There should be no interruptions while they are explaining.
  1. The panelists (or other participants) then get to ask clarifying questions about something they can physically observe in the model (not their interpretation).
    1. If time is an issue (when is it not?), give them a timeframe for the debrief (e.g. 2 minutes per table – otherwise, they may ramble or share EVERYTHING about their model).
  2. The panelists then have a discussion about what was shared:
    1. Common themes
    2. Differences of opinions
  • Surprises and interesting discoveries
  1. Optional: Debrief on the experience:
    1. What just happened?
    2. What was it like for you?
    3. How was it different from a normal panel?
    4. Why does that matter? I.e. what are the impacts?
    5. How else might we ….?

And that’s how you use Lego® Serious Play® in a panel discussion!

For more information about how to use Lego® Serious Play® in teams, check out Dr. Camilla Jensen’s article. She can also advise you in case you want to get trained as a LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator.


Related Articles:

How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions


For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.



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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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