The new UN Innovation Toolkit, launched in November 2019, provides a platform for the United Nations to do things differently. In the spirit of doing things differently, a learning programme, “Leadership Skills for Programme Support and Administrative Functions,” which I led recently, utilized child play as leadership tool – with powerful results. 

The methodology is the brainchild of two researchers from the IMD Business School in Switzerland, in collaboration with LEGO Group. Using “Lego Serious Play” as a training methodology is like bringing three-dimensional gamification into corporate training, by enabling participants to construct with their hands and explain the rationale behind their construction. It’s learning by playing.

Humans learn best when they construct knowledge and meaning from their own experiences. This means that teachers and trainers can use supportive questioning to get participants to communicate what they are thinking and why. Lego serious play methodology helps to achieve just that. It also helps to foster leadership skills.

From bags of bricks to towers of exploration

In the course, “Leadership Skills for Programme Support and Administrative Functions,” each participant is given a Lego Window Exploration bag containing a set of 49 bricks. The purpose is to introduce them to the new teaching strategy. All participants have similar shapes and colour of bricks. The first task is to build a tower, individually, with their bricks in one minute. Then, each participant is given one minute to explain to other participants on their tables what makes the tower “my tower”?

This lego skill-building takes participants deeper into building a model that represents who they are, and to use that knowledge to introduce themselves to the members of their tables.

Connecting half-bridges

Once I knew that participants had built the skills and confidence in using lego to express themselves, the window exploration kits were collected and I introduced the lego identity and landscape kit which enabled participants to build complex models, as the course progressed.

One of the activities for teaching leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving is the challenge of building a “half-bridge”. Participants were divided into two groups. Each group was to build half a bridge in 10 minutes. The groups were not allowed to see the model each other was building until they were asked to stop building.

The two groups were then combined to join their half-bridges together as one bridge. This tested participants’ leadership and problem solving skills.

Lego play enabled participants to grasp complex concepts more easily by making them concrete. For example, the course included a module on “systems thinking” as part of the online component, which was delivered before participants met for the face-to-face component. Only a few participants had been able to complete the online assignment about how systems thinking applies to decision-making and problem-solving in the workplace. However, when this concept was revisited during the face-to-face with Legos, participants built a model to visualize the idea. They were able to see, in very concrete terms, the interconnectedness of the problem and the solution.

Participants built a systems thinking model


Making complex ideas concrete

As one participant wrote in the course evaluation, “I really enjoyed the hands-on activities - Lego building for instance - in the face-to-face sessions, as it helped me visualize better the leadership characteristics and elements, and also the systems thinking and how to embrace each other's differences toward a common goal.”

The workshop ended with a half-day creativity and innovation session using the new innovation toolkit. The session used Lego building as a technique for ideation in a design thinking process. Participants used Lego builds to express the challenges or define problems, generate ideas, and build prototypes.

Register for the exciting next edition of “Leadership Skills for Programme Support and Administrative Functions”, which will take place online and in Turin, Italy from 11 May to 26 June 2020. And from 26 October to 27 November 2020

A participant explains her group lego build. 


The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.