Lego Serious Play for Retrospectives

I have recently facilitated a retrospective (a meeting with a purpose to introduce good change to how the team works) with the use of Lego Serious Play. Here is a summary of the activities I used and some brief reflections on how it went.


  1. Introduction/Ice-breaker – we used the Lego Serious Play starter kits  and did the duck activity – all attendees have to find the same 6 Lego pieces and then make a duck out of them (I wrote more about this activity in my previous blog post). This activity is great for familiarising the attendees with the Lego set, getting them into creative mindset but also demonstrates really well that we all have different ideas that are worth listening to.
  2. The second exercise was to build an animal from the Lego pieces. The participants have to then modify the animal to express how they are feeling about the upcoming retrospective session. The purpose here was to lead the team from model to metaphor building and get them to start actively listening to one another.
  3. The follow up exercise was to modify the animal models to show how the participants are feeling about their team’s work. This marked the end of the ice breaker phase as the team started to focus on reflections on how they work.
  4. We left the Lego pieces for the next activity (Hot air baloon) and came back to using Lego in the gathering insights phase. I based the activity on the Perfection Game and asked the participants to build a Lego model of their production process that would score 10 points out of 10. After everyone described their models we put together the emerging common themes  on the flip chart paper. The next task for the team was to decide what actions would be needed to achieve the ideal process. The rest of the meeting was done without the use of Lego.

Using Lego for the introduction and ice breaker activities worked really well. Everyone in the room was really engaged and energised – well, I guess playing with Lego makes most people happy!

Using Lego made the meeting   more “lean in” with everyone participating equally rather than “opting out” and not engaging with activities. However, listening to everyone talking about their models takes time so  the process is quite slow.


On the whole I was happy with the use of Lego Serious Play for the retrospective, especially the team building aspect. I would definitely use Lego again, if there is enough time!

I’d be really interested to hear about any other Lego related activities for retrospectives – let me know on twitter (@alicja_shah) or in the comments below.




Retrospectives for any team – agile or not

Retrospective is a meeting in Agile/Scrum that looks at how the team is working together, the behaviours and processes that are undertaken. The meeting happens after each sprint (defined length of time to do the work). I’m a strong believer that techniques from a retrospective can be used with any team to improve their performance, productivity and team morale.

However, if you are thinking of conducting a retrospective for a team that doesn’t work in an agile way you might find the following helpful:

  • The team might not be familiar with the Scrum values such as trust, openness and respect so it might be more difficult to get them to open up about any issues. My solution would be to start the meeting by defining the purpose of the meeting together with the  team. It will be helpful to set a few working agreements (e.g.  one person speaks at a time etc.) to help with the meeting flow. It is interesting to ask the team what they want to happen if someone breaks the working agreement.
  • If the team has never experienced having a retrospective you might be surprised at the amount of things surfacing up during the meeting. My tip would be to carefully manage time and make the team prioritise the issues they want to discuss in detail. It might be better to come up with some actions to tackle one big issue rather than dwell for too long on too many things and end up with no clear actions.
  • It might be a good idea to check mid way through the meeting whether the team is finding the retrospective useful (smiling faces and a great atmosphere doesn’t guarantee positive feedback – I learnt the hard way!) or whether you need make some changes. So instead of having the “retrospective of a retrospective” at the end of the meeting you could do it before lunch or a coffee break to adjust the second half of the meeting.

I will be writing soon about using Lego Serious Play for retrospectives and sharing my favourite techniques – so watch this space!


How (not) to create your own website

Four years ago I embarked on a project to set up a website for my mum. This is a tale of how and why I failed.

My mum is an artist and wanted to show and sale her paintings online. I volunteered myself for the project and started by doing some research and buying a book on “How to set up your digital presence as an artist”.

I read the book from cover to cover and learnt that it is vital to have your own website as an artist even if you are already selling or advertising your works via various online art galleries (you’re welcome – the book was £20). I also read that your personal website should have a shop with a ‘buy it now’ button and an online payment option. It was very important as you want to make all those evening “after a glass of  wine” purchases as easy as possible.

I took all the lessons on board and proceeded to build a website from scratch. I bought a nice gallery theme from WordPress, paid a friend to host the page and bought a domain. I then went on adding paintings (and it took ages as had to create thumbnails and change the size and resolution of all pieces), descriptions and the “About the artist” page… The website was ready and all that was missing was the ‘buy it now’ button. I had no idea how to add it. I got stuck. I made a plan to commission someone to set up an online store. I put the plan on a post it note. The post it note got lost.

Roll forward a few years

Last year I attended the Jisc Digital Leadership course and decided to set up my own blog. WordPress was easy to use and it only took a few minutes before I could start writing my first blog post. I wondered whether I could set up a website for my mum in a similar way.

However, she didn’t need a blog – she needed an online gallery. And this is where I had the idea to implement some agile product management principles. I needed to aim for a minimum viable product. I didn’t need to set up a page with a store, it dint’t need to be translated into a few languages and it didn’t need to show all the paintings that my mum had ever painted. I could start with something simple and then improve it if needed.

The project was a lot of fun and it was really satisfying to show progress to my mum. I have to admit I also used the agile phrase of “you ain’t going to need it” a lot when her requirements were getting out of scope.

My mum was surprised at the speed with which the website was created and she quickly mastered editing the webpage. We launched the page on Facebook and I have to say my mum beat me on the numbers of ”likes” her new page received. She also managed to sell a painting straight away – without even the magic ‘buy it now’ button!

So if you are thinking of setting up your own page – wait no more. WordPress is just a click away and you can start with something really simple. And if it really doesn’t work out – where there is always the delete button!

PS. And here is the online gallery that I put together – maybe it’s not the most brilliant website ever but it does the job!





My first impressions of LEGO Serious Play

Would you like to build things from Lego for a whole day and be paid for it?… Me too! So I was very excited to be spending a working day attending a Lego workshop. I knew it would be a fun day but wasn’t 100% sure whether it would add much to my facilitator’s tool kit.

Andrew Walsh led the workshop starting the day by asking us all to build… a duck! We all had only 6 pieces of Lego each but all the ducks that we constructed were so original and different. It was a short but powerful activity to show what you can get by giving people the same resources and unleashing their creativity.

The activity also illustrated the various ways in which people think and how important it is to listen to all the participants (and allow them to voice their opinions) if we really want to find some original ideas and inspire each other. Here is a photo of just two of the ducks (mine is the one on the right – as you can see I wanted to represent a raw concept of a duck…  The other duck  was created by the talented and also a birder Lawrie Phipps).

lego ducks

After the warm up it was time to get serious. We proceeded to build more models reflecting answers to questions that Andrew was asking. The questions started with things that were relatively easy to build from Lego bricks such as a model of our ideal boss and then got more and more metaphorical, such as a model of strategies for overcoming issues to introducing Lego at work.

lego model 3

What really struck me about working through problems using Lego was the ability to start “thinking with your hands”. It was as if the whole body was contributing to finding answers and not only your brain. It seemed to me to be the great way to start discovery of new insights to  difficult problems. The use of Lego models made it really easy to explain clearly the complex visions that might have been lost if they were only related aurally.

The great thing about the workshop was that all of the above was taking place in an amazing atmosphere. Attendees (including me) were having lots of fun while doing the activities and all seemed genuinely happy –  and it has been proven that happiness increases our productivity.

I came out of the workshop with some clear ideas on how to start introducing Lego into the workplace and hopefully with enough evidence to convince management that it is a good idea. And if nothing comes out of it… well at least I have this amazing set of Lego serious play to show off at work!


How to be happier and more productive

The first week back at work after the winter break and New Year celebrations can be a bit dreary. So I was very excited to find out that the Peak Work Performance Summit is happening this week. I have been following some of the talks based on scientific proven ideas on how to work smarter and be more productive and now feel reenergised to get great things done in 2016!

I especially loved two talks from Day 1: Determining What is Essential and Eliminating Everything Else by Greg McKeown and Staying Positive in a Stressful Workplace by Shawn Achor.

According to Greg Mckeown the key to being more productive is accepting you cannot get everything done, to focus, avoid disruptions and learn how to diplomatically say no. I really liked the phrase that Greg used saying that if you spread yourself too thin then you make “millimetre progress in million directions”. I think this phrase resonates with me because as a person with a wide variety of interests it is very easy for me to volunteer myself for lots of activities but seeing them through to the completion is another matter.

Greg talked about being careful of how you use email as I quote ”Every time you are checking your email you are responding to some else’s agenda”. It helps to have your own priorities for the day set up before staring to check email.

Shawn Anchor gave a great talk which evolved round happiness both at work and in personal life.  I liked the idea of making small changes which have massive impact and I will definitely be trying out some of the short activities he described. I was also inspired by the fact that 5% decrease in the amount of “noise” (news, information, emails) in your life increases the ability to see success patterns. Taking a break and reflecting on something completely different can bring unexpected and brilliant solutions to our problems (some great examples in Shawn’s talk). On a personal note I loved the phrase he used that “worrying is not love”.

The Peak Work Performance Summit continues this week with many great talks ahead. I’m especially looking forward to hearing how to beat procrastination (Richard Wiseman’s session on How to Change Your Life in 59 Seconds) and am very intrigued by Todd Henry’s session which will answer the question what a winemaker can teach you about having creative ideas. So here is to happier and more productive 2016!

Applying Andragogy*at Work

I have been catching up with the Jisc Institutional Change Leader course  and came across Malcolm Knowles’ theory of adult learning. For someone whose main strength is the Love of Learning I found it fascinating and was eager to explore how the principles behind this theory can be applied at work.

So here are the six assumptions about adult learning that Knowles defined and my plan of incorporating them into the next internal TED event:

The need to know

Adult learners need to know  the reason and benefits of why they are learning. I believe the same principle should be used whenever meetings are organised. This means:

  • clear objectives
  • upfront knowledge about the content and the process (How is it going to happen?)
  • the need to involve people in setting the topics, and goals and plans for their learning as opposed to dictating what they need to learn.


Adult learners will take ownership of what and how to learn and will self direct. I will then try to engage with as many of the attendees prior to the meeting to gauge the relevant topics.


As opposed to children adults have their identity defined, learning activities need to be set in real experience and some might want collaborative learning. The idea for TED is sharing ideas with others – perhaps there could be a bigger steer towards sharing experiences as well.


What they learn must be relevant to what they need, learning needs to be timely and relevant for the context. I think the challenge here is to try to make the event as relevant as possible to as many people.

Orientation to learning

Adult learning is life-centered  and focusing on tasks and problems rather than subjects. This could be a theme for the day – rather than a specific topic the event could be centered around a problem or task solving.

Motivation to learn

Motivation to learn is more likely to be intrinsic (enjoyment, self-satisfaction, value – feeling that what is learned is worthwhile). As the event is optional I think those attending are intrinsically motivated anyway – one I can tick off straight from my list!

*Andragogy – the methods of techniques used to teach adults (literally ‘leader of men’ as opposed to pedagogy – ‘leader of children’).

Find your strengths and Flourish

When I came across a concept of Positive Psychology  a year ago its ideas really struck a cord with me –  using psychology and its findings not only to help cure illnesses or solve problems but to improve one’s quality of life.

Martin Seligman is an inventor of positive psychology and in his book Flourish he describes how it could be used in schools, army and the workplace (to mention a few) to help people lead more fulfilling lives.

One of the main things that I got out of the book is the recognition of one’s individual strengths. Martin claims that we feel more fulfilled (i.e. happier) if we use our strengths. The task here is to make a conscious effort to introduce activities that use them into our daily routines.

It is very easy to discover your own strengths by filling in a questionnaire from the University of Pennsylvania Questionnaire Centre. You can choose the longer version (VIA Survey of Character Strengths) or the really short 24 question version (Brief Strengths Test). I did both and the results were very similar.

My two top strengths were the love of learning and appreciation of beauty. Since I did the test a year ago I started to look for opportunities to use the strengths as much as I can in my day to day life.

So here are the changes I made to use my two core strengths:

  • I alerted my route to work to include a brief walk through the park.
  • I became a National Trust member.
  • At work I’m trying to do as much learning as possible – I have volunteered myself to look after the knowledge exchange project to help colleagues across the team share the good practice (like the TED event I organised). I was proactive in filling training forms and attended a few certified courses.
  • I joined Twitter (and discovered the TED account – so many inspirational ideas and new things to learn!)
  • I’m now in the process of designing my new garden – that perfectly combines the learning about plants and design and it fits the appreciation of beauty very nicely.

Am I happier as a result? I think the answer has to be yes. The activities I introduced into my life make me feel more energized and “alive”. Would I be doing them without all the positive psychology background? Perhaps, but definitely not to the same extent and not in the conscious manner.