Toppling the Holy Grail

In the Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) methodology, there is a 2 to 3 day facilitated process called ‘Real Time Strategy for the Enterprise’. This technique takes a leadership team or even a board on a journey of unpacking what the organisation really stands for, including how the company is viewed internally and externally.  A later part of this process is to explore the agents of change or forces of influence that act on the company and undermine its success as well as support its growth. This is Serious Play® at its best.

The team runs through scenarios and uses the agents agreed to reflect the impact of those scenarios. For example, perhaps one of the agents of change that a team has built is called ‘fluctuating currency.’ This agent exists in the ‘aura’ of the organisation and influences it in varying ways. The team builds connectors between the agent and organisation to reflect the relationship and connection between agent and enterprise. In the process, the facilitator guides the journey of running  the scenarios.

Scenarios are particular events that are potential situations and are related to the enterprise in question. The team then changes the model based on the event and agent and observes what happens to the organisation. This can be quite a traumatic process as the team literally pulls apart and yanks on the agent to see what happens with the connectors that are plugged into the organisation. This process is iterative. As each scenario is played out, the model is destroyed to some extent and then rebuilt back to the way it was. As this process continues we start to see patterns emerge. These patterns or themes provide insight on the principles that would protect us from the negative impact of the external agent.

The outcome of this methodology is to identify those 4 to 6 guiding principles that hold the organisation up and support its growth in light of change and external influences. This approach to strategy is quite different. Most of us come from the school of thinking that the strategy and business plan should be a detailed three-year document showing timelines, outcomes, milestones and resources. This principle-based LSP approach is aligned with the principles of Scaling Up and the Lean Startup methods. It suggests that instead of having a detailed plan for a long period, which ultimately is never delivered on anyway, why not set some overriding principles or guiding outcomes that allow the business to remain agile as it works towards an endpoint goal, the vision or the big hairy audacious goal (BHAG).

The process of acting out scenarios through agents, breaking the model down and rebuilding it in itself yields interesting insights. When I attended my certification program, our group was not comprised of people from the same organisation, yet to experience this specific application technique we role-played as if we were. We built a shared model in the centre of the table with a shared view of what our organisation stood, including our internal view of the organisation and how we were viewed externally. In the centre of our shared model of our fictitious organisation was a giant pillar with a sphere on top, which we nicknamed the Holy Grail.

We agreed that this Holy Grail represented the essence of what we stood for as an organisation – the given assumption of why we exist. One of the agents was a Lego® cannon and every time this cannon got fired off in one of the scenario rounds, it shot off the top of the Holy Grail and toppled the tower. This happened in every single round….so much so that it became obvious, even in our simulated experience, that the Holy Grail was actually a problem. The process provided a biofeedback mechanism to tell us that we need to pay attention to the Holy Grail because that is the thing that was our greatest risk and the most significant opportunity for change.

It was a profound moment of insight. Even in a simulated ‘mock’ company, with a group of people who had no working relationship with each other prior to the course, there was a profound realisation of what the real obstacle was all about. Unlocking such an insight requires that you have a metaphor and storytelling mindset. If we pay attention to the biofeedback that comes at us from our organisational journey we can easily see the problem. The LSP process, if guided by the right facilitator, can help you to see the metaphors and the stories – the biofeedback loop – that can address where the challenges are and switch on the opportunities for rapid growth.

So what is the Holy Grail in your organisation? We think about the metaphor of the tower or perhaps even Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: the untouchable, given and immortal assumption – what might that be in your organisation and where might you be getting feedback all the time, albeit unacknowledged, that your Holy Grail needs to topple?

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