Photo courtesy of Wendi Dykes

Building Leaders Through LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

by Nathan Foster

Wendi Dykes, Ph.D., plays with LEGO® bricks every day. Dykes, an assistant professor in Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Leadership and Organizational Psychology, along with her colleagues Edgar Barron, Ed.D., Shawna Lafreniere, Ph.D., Jillian Gilbert, DSL., and Susan Barton, M.A., are certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®(LSP) facilitators who teach graduate students how to use LEGOs® for something more than just making fun creations. Their innovative work recently garnered national attention from Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas (WCI) Awards with an honorable mention in the Education category. More than 2,000 companies and organizations representing dozens of fields entered the WCI competition.

“LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a tested methodology that helps organizations thrive,” Dykes said. “We’re using it to teach students organizational systems, organizational change structures, leadership development, team learning, team identity, and more.”

Prior to teaching at APU, Dykes worked at LEGOLAND California for 11 years as their director of organization development and training, where she received international honors for her programs and strategies. “I used LEGO® as part of my workshops and training there, but it wasn’t until four years ago that I became certified as an LSP facilitator,” Dykes said. “I even used LEGO® as part of my dissertation. I studied how LSP can increase creative confidence in individuals to help them solve complex challenges.”

APU wins honorable mention in Fast Company's 2019 World Changing Ideas

This is exactly what Dykes does in her classes. “In the Organizational Systems: Theories of Change class this semester, we start the process of building an organizational system. We choose something the students all have in common. Then they each use LEGO® to build a model of their own that represents this,” Dykes said. “We come together and share our creations and, in turn, we learn about each others’ unique perceptions. Next, we create a new, collaborative model. Every single person has to feel represented.”

Dykes said it is exciting to watch these graduate students work with LEGO®, as individuals at first, then as a group. After they finish the collaborative model, they map out the bridges and barriers they may come across within the particular challenge. “It’s really eye opening for people,” she said. “The ultimate goal of this class is to understand how vast a system is, with all the subsystems within the larger organization. To visualize that is powerful. It’s fun, but it’s hard work. It’s also rewarding for me as a professor because I get to see students experience a deeper level of learning when they build something external from themselves.”

Initially, some students are uncomfortable with the idea of building with LEGOs® because they were never fond of them as kids and don’t think they’re creative. Dykes said this doesn’t matter because LSP is not about being creative; it’s about building the muscle of creative confidence. “The important part is the process and the story that the individual attributes to the brick,” Dykes said. “Whatever you make in the world of LEGO®, it’s right.”

In addition to teaching her students LSP, Dykes plans to bring the founder of LSP, Robert Rasmussen, to APU so students can learn from him firsthand and be certified as LSP facilitators. “They can go into organizations and use this tool they learned in class,” Dykes said.

When students graduate from APU’s Organizational Psychology program they will have the competence and confidence to begin consulting for organizations, whether internally in a human resources department, externally for their own company, or as part of a larger consulting firm. “We’re training students to go into organizations using skills and tools to make a major impact.”

Nathan is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a double major in journalism and public relations.