LEGOs are great toys you might have enjoyed building with when you were a kid, but they’re also effective tools for adults. LEGO bricks open your mind so you’re able to think outside the box and approach problems from different angles.
LEGO has become integral in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education. Instead of working on paper, students can solve problems using a hands-on approach. Likewise, bringing play into the workplace bolsters team spirit. Coworkers aren’t stuck at their desks, working alone; instead, they’re using creativity to collaborate.
Team building is something that companies strive for because employees feel more invested and supported. But many team building exercises are corny or don’t inspire collaboration as they should. Instead of asking employees to do something that doesn’t relate to teamwork or your industry, consider the LEGO exercise.
What Is the LEGO Exercise?
The LEGO exercise is a team building task where a group works together to tackle a challenge. There are variations of this challenge that you can customize for your group and work environment, but the basic foundation is a great place to start.
The manager builds a LEGO structure and hides it behind a screen in the conference room. Each group of five employees gets a collection of LEGO blocks exactly like the manager used. Only one person from each team can peek at the manager’s structure. After one look, each person has to instruct their group on how to build an exact replica.
The person who saw the structure can’t touch a single LEGO block. Instead, they can only verbally tell the team members what to do.
You can complete the exercise in this way to see how different people take on leadership roles.
To inspire collaboration across the board, start this exercise with one piece switched out from each group. When the building gets to a certain point, each leader will realize they don’t have the right pieces to create an exact replica.
As this realization ripples across the room, teams will see they have to work with each other. But with only one person on each team knowing how the replica should look, there might be some disagreements about what pieces they need. This leads to negotiation, collaboration, and teamwork on a larger scale.
The ideal outcome, of course, is to have an exact replica from each group. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll most likely notice a sense of camaraderie among coworkers by the end. An unfinished replica isn’t a failure because it was stepping outside of the box, introducing play at work, and giving everyone a chance to interact.
When the employees finish their replicas, ask questions to start a conversation about teamwork.
- Did you view this as a competition at the beginning? What about once you realized you didn’t have all the necessary pieces?
- Was there anything that stood out to you as being the key to success in this exercise?
- How hard was it to act as a leader? How hard was it to listen to a leader who couldn’t participate themselves?
How Does LEGO Help With Teamwork?
Building with Lego blocks activates different areas of your brain. If you’re not following instructions from a kit, then you’re looking at bricks without knowing what they’re going to make.
You have to survey what’s on hand and try to envision what they could be. Think of the colors you have, and how many. How big of a structure can you make, and what’s its purpose?
LEGO team building activities engage the mind in the same way, but on a broader scale. You’re not only looking at bricks trying to envision what you can build, but what everyone else will create. Whether you work in teams or as one large group, you have to make sure there are enough supplies for everyone. You have to communicate, collaborate, and trust others.
Say your team is building something that only uses red bricks. Another team needs a few red bricks to accent their own creation, but you have them all. They can ask for them, and you can say no. Maybe you can negotiate a trade, or maybe the other team can effectively plead their case in a way that makes you want to share your LEGO bricks.
Posit that the entire office has to vote on one creation to represent their work ethic or overall spirit. Allowing each person to build their own Lego structure introduces a new element to the challenge. Now you’re not only trying to make the best-looking LEGO art, but you also need to sell it to others. Think of the language you’ll use to get everyone to vote for you.
Approaching building this way might seem like you’re isolating each employee, but it’s making everyone think of the team in a new way. You’re considering what you know of each coworker and using that to play to their strengths. Use what you know to make every person choose your design.
How Do You Conduct a LEGO Team Building Activity Virtually?
Many offices allow people to work remotely, or have teams in different cities, states, and even countries. There’s still a way to work on team building exercises even if you’re not in the same room.
You can adapt LEGO team building activities for virtual use. With video calls, participants can still see each other, as well as what they’re building. You can even make things more challenging by turning off videos and making everyone type instructions in the chat.
Tasks don’t have to be as specific as they might be in person. One example is to ask everyone to build the tallest tower possible, without two bricks of the same color touching. Set a three-minute timer and see who can build the best. Conversely, you can ask them to build the tallest tower using a single color of bricks.
Another fun virtual LEGO activity is to have each employee design a Lego self-portrait. They can show their art during the meeting as a way to break the ice of introductions.
For an added layer of getting-to-know-you, ask everyone to take a picture of their portrait. Email it to the manager or meeting facilitator and have them show them during the meeting. Everyone will guess whose portrait is whose.
Example LEGO Team Building Activities
The original LEGO exercise is a great start for inspiring collaboration at work. Other team building exercises using Legos can continue this practice for your employees.
LEGO Replica in Shifts
Making a small variation to the original LEGO exercise outlined above can inspire your employees to work together in a drastically different way.
Keep the rules as they are in the beginning. The only change will be that different people can go look at the original design—but not all at once. They’ll work in shifts. The first person will go look, then instruct others on how to build for five minutes. During this time, they can’t touch the LEGO bricks.
When the timer goes off, a second person will go look at the original design. Then it’s their turn to guide the group without touching the bricks themselves. The last leader is now able to touch the bricks, but they can only do what the new leader tells them, even though they’ve already seen the original.
This variation on the classic exercise pushes employees to work collaboratively. Once everyone has seen the original design, it’s tempting for each person to build what they remember. But they have to listen to whoever is in charge, and the leader needs to have the group’s goal in mind. There’s also a crucial balance of making everyone feel heard and supported.
Sometimes doing this variation after your group tries the basic exercise can help them learn more about working together. Asking the same questions as before might reveal shockingly different answers.
Teams of five to seven people must work together to build a structure, but no one has the complete picture of the finished product. Though the group has the same goal, they don’t all have the same instructions, which ramps up the difficulty.
Instead, each person has an assignment that they must complete—without saying a word. And no, you can’t show your assignment paper to anyone else, either. You’re working on your own, in some ways, but also working in a team.
Most people associate teamwork with communication, so the hurdle of not speaking makes this task more complicated than you might think. Adding to the pressure is a ticking clock; you only have 20 minutes to complete the job.
Assignments include things like:
- Make sure the third layer of the structure has only red bricks.
- The fourth layer should only have eight bricks in it.
- The structure can’t get any taller than seven layers.
- You can only add blocks to the first three layers of the structure.
- Only three people can add blocks to the top layer.
- You are the leader.
Reading these tasks gives you an idea of how much teamwork the process takes. Think about how you might let your coworkers know you’re the leader without saying anything aloud. It’s difficult to be the leader without knowing everything that’s going on, but you’re responsible for the final product, as well as ensuring everyone works together without argument.
Each person has to make sure they can complete their tasks correctly without messing up anyone else. This process mimics how collaboration works. Every employee has their own job to do, and you have to get it done so you get paid and don’t get fired. But everyone else is also trying to do their own thing, with their best interests in mind.
The Lego team building exercise shows coworkers how they can—and should—trust each other. You can do your work while still making sure that others can do theirs. You can sit back and see what they’re doing, and then help or gently correct them if they’re taking the wrong step.
When the timer goes off, let each group show their finished product. Team members can try to guess other people’s assignments based on how they worked or what they did. After everyone has a chance to guess, all employees can share their assignments.
After everything is out in the open, come back together as a bigger group. Give everyone a chance to share their thoughts about the exercise. Ask guiding questions, such as:
- How well did you work together without verbal communication?
- Do you feel like you were part of the team?
- How did you act as part of this team?
- What did you learn about communicating and working collaboratively?
- How can these lessons apply to your typical workday?
Questions about the leadership at this stage can help both the employees and managers understand more about their roles. The leader had one job to oversee everyone else, without knowing what they were doing. This limited role might have affected their ability to help, and could possibly change how the other team members viewed them.
This exercise should show employees how important it is that a leader has knowledge of what they’re doing. Everyone should work together as if the work is a puzzle and all of the pieces need to come together.
Ask everyone how different the process would have been if they knew who the leader was and that the leader didn’t know any of their duties. There’s a certain amount of space you have to give your coworkers to allow them to do their work while also trusting them to let you do your job.
If the team building exercise was effective, then you feel like all of your coworkers have everyone’s best interests in mind. This approach toward work will better the company as well.
Using LEGO bricks in the workplace is a way to bring play to the task at hand. Your employees will feel inspired to think outside the box as they tackle a unique team building exercise. And, best of all, they’ll learn how to work together in new and exciting ways.