Toy lab

A serious game: moderation toys

When corporate teams make use of Playmobil and Lego
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What do Viking, cowboy and witch hats out of the Playmobil world have in common with team processes in big corporations, medium-sized businesses or the public sector? That depends on how participants use their imagination in a training with Playmobil Pro. The Brandstätter Group introduced the moderation toys to the market two years ago – as an “innovative moderation set for the entire business sector”. The set consists of 23 white playing figures out of the well-known Playmobil world, as well as 480 accessories with which the figures can be equipped and individualised – such as the aforementioned hats. The figures can be used to visualise and further develop team relations and processes.

“The toy world offers very many possibilities as numerous combinations are possible”, says Christian Deuschle. The certified business coach helps executives and teams in communication so they can work together better. In doing so, he also makes use of Playmobil Pro. “Strictly speaking, Playmobil Pro is not a method, but rather a material”, according to Deuschle: The moderator uses it to create his or her own framework and rules for the workshop. Deuschle appreciates the fact that the figures are left a simple white: “Specific colours and prints would lend the figures meaning, making them represent different emotions and experiences for each participant.” Whereas the neutral figures are simply waiting to be individualised with the accessories and markers included in the set. “That way, everyone can make the figures according to their own conceptions”, says the coach.

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The gamification trend

The use of toys in coaching is part of the large sphere of what is called gamification. This methodical connection of playful acting and development/learning processes has become ever more important in the last years. That is why Thomas Ellenberger, Deane Harder and Marie Brechbühler Pešková write in the 2020 anthology “Digital Transformation and Corporate Management” that gamification is increasingly being used to improve corporate culture – with positive effects on motivation and the sense of belonging together in teams.

Already in 2017, the German trend and future institute Das Zukunftsinstitut elaborated how important “a new (playing) culture” can be for companies in order to be able to manage an increasingly complex working environment. Especially younger employees, who learned to handle both the real world and digital world playfully, are open to such approaches. The spectrum of materials that can be used is enormous. In addition to systems that use humanoid figures, there are also approaches that work with animal figurines by Schleich, or a more freestyle approach with craft materials.

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Lego Serious Play

The moderation toy Lego Serious Play based on the famous Danish building block brand has been on the market for a much longer time than Playmobil Pro. This is the system Jens Dröger works with. The coach has set his emphasis on change management and has a background in business consulting. “I came into contact with Lego Serious Play by chance six years ago, but the method excited me right away”, says Dröge. He also uses the system with small and medium-sized businesses with great success, even if some people may be sceptical about working with moderation toys at first.

As opposed to Playmobil Pro, Lego Serious Play is based on a method that has been established for almost 20 years and is ruled by a clearly defined process: “The coach assigns a task and everyone builds something, presents their results, which is then followed by a joint reflection”, Dröge sums it up. The coach knows and appreciates both systems. While Lego Serious Play is a more metaphorical approach and therefore more abstract, Playmobil Pro has great potential for an associative approach, as the figures can go through a specific process together in a collective role play situation. Dröge also contributed with his know-how as a translator (he translated “Serious Work – How to Facilitate Meetings & Workshops Using the Lego Serious Play Method” into German) and co-author (“How the Lego Serious Play Method Works Online”) in specialist books.

Changes in the time of COVID-19

Coachings with moderation toys are a well-proven approach when it comes to supporting teams in companies and organisations in times of change. However, the method itself has also experienced a particularly drastic change since the beginning of 2020 as face-to-face events were suddenly no longer possible due to the Covid-19 related restrictions. “So we sent small sets to all the participants, with which they could work together in a virtual conference”, says Christian Deuschle. The concept worked well: “Nobody felt like anything was really missing. Instead, there were a lot of positive experiences with true depth and rapid implementation”, recalls the coach. On the other hand, face-to-face coachings have the advantage of being much more dynamic and playful. 

Jens Dröge sees it in a similar way, he also made use of virtual formats during the pandemic: There will probably be certain formats that remain digital in the future – in particular hybrid types of working, such as big workshops that are augmented by small, focused units in a virtual room. However, the digital formats will not completely take over face-to-face events: “Online Lego Serious Play is no replacement for classic workshops, but a great addition”, Dröge emphasises.

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