This week I had the opportunity to run an online Lego Serious Play session with the students on my Developing Leadership and Reflective Practice module. I am fortunate to have a really great group of engaged and thoughtful students. This was the first time I had run an online session with my students. It involved a bit of preparation in terms of sending out the packs (I used the Explorer bags) and making sure that everyone got them in time. There are eight students in the group so the numbers worked well.
I have run a whole day face to face using Lego two years ago with a different cohort. We used the Starter Kits and created a landscape of our leadership practice in an academic context, through building a series of models that looked at how our leadership was perceived by ourselves and others and there where we wanted to be. The feedback on that session was positive although some students felt the day was too long and in hindsight I think I would perhaps have integrated with other techniques too. After using both the Starter Kits and Exploration Kits I do think that the Exploration Kits can be rather overwhelming with the number of pieces too.
Now we are online, I needed to do something different, both in terms of a shorter session and a different focus, as well as using smaller packs. The session comes around halfway through the module. We have focused a lot on perceptions of leadership and how this influences our leadership practice in the earlier sessions, culminating with an assessment where the students present their leadership philosophy. The module then goes on after this halfway point to look at organisational leadership and culture. So in this session I wanted to start to bridge that point between thinking about your own leadership practice to how that operates in a broader context.
After the skills building session which culminated in building a model of a nightmare leader – always a good question for leadership students as it provokes a good discussion about negative leadership practices often in a light and more humorous way – we moved on to building a model of how leadership is perceived in our current professional context. I was going to ask the students to build a model of academic leadership but I thought this was too restrictive and specific as well as not inclusive enough as some students are working in other related sectors or not academic staff. By focusing more broadly on the professional context, this enabled similar issues to come out as well as getting the students to interrogate what leadership they see around them. The models were very evocative of the cultures in which the students were operating, both positive and negative. This model enabled them to reflect on some of the leadership literature and models that we had discussed earlier in the module, seeing what actually happens in organisations and the gap between theory and practice.
We then moved on to consider how this leadership context or culture impacts on them as individuals and the enactment of their leadership philosophy. They were asked to adapt their model to demonstrate this. For some this was quite different. It was clear that their philosophy and approach was at odds with the culture. For others it was very much in tune with what they were doing. Interestingly, some students already saw their role as bridging or changing negative aspects of the culture. I hadn’t necessarily anticipated this outcome at this stage, and it was refreshing to see students understanding their role as leaders and taking ownership for developing and supporting those around them. Which, for me, is the core of effective leadership. In the sharing of their models, many of the students started to consider actions that they needed to take having considered the impact of their leadership context on them in this way.
As we only had two and half hours for the session, those two models formed the basis of the second half of the session. Learning from the feedback from when I ran this face to face, I felt that the students then needed some structured reflective activity to undertaken after the session. We had covered a lot in a short amount of time – one of the beauties of LSP for me – and the feedback at the end was that for many of the participants their heads were spinning with ideas and thoughts which they needed time to process. I asked them to build a model of how they were feeling at the end of the session, which was positive but that sense of possibility and new ideas came through. I asked students to reflect on the following in their own time:
1. Think about 3 things to take away from the session – focusing on something they have gained, something that was reinforced, something to change.
2. How to map the “take aways” above into leadership development needs.
3. Reflect on how the context around them supports their leadership practice and how they can influence that.
I am so glad that I took the plunge this year and ran the session as I think it worked really well and its given me ideas as to how I would run it face-to-face too. One of the additional outcomes I wanted the students to appreciate was that taking time out to “play” is vital for leaders, as it helps with creativity and thinking. As I was writing this post, the mail arrived and it with one of the Lego packs that a student had returned with a thank you note saying “amazing to have the permission to play”. That pretty much sums it up!