What is serious play? And why is it so powerful in work-related contexts?

A brief exploration of ‘serious play’ and the reasons that make it an extraordinary asset for the world of work.

April 26, 2024
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4 min read
People around a table looking at the LEGO MODEL built on.

This article is part of our series dedicated to the world of Serious Games and it is also available in Italian and in Spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the evolving world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe

To find out more, or get your organisation involved in this approach, contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/


We now frequently see on social media pictures of adults, sometimes even in suits and ties, playing with LEGO bricks, colorful cards, dice, or other tools. And we are told that they are working, and in fact, achieving exceptional results!

What’s going on? Is this yet another fad? Does the narrative of unlocking the full human potential through “serious play” tools have a basis, or is it a gimmick by consulting companies? Honestly, the answer is: both! But let’s break it down.

On one hand, the concept of play is broad and free, consisting of spontaneous activities individuals engage in for fun and exploration, without specific goals. On the other hand, its power on our cognitive development and on the interaction among diverse individuals is widely recognized and documented. Without play, no mammal develops healthily, let alone us humans.

So the question becomes: what does all this have to do with the world of work? How can play transform the way we learn, collaborate, and make complex decisions?

Originally stemming from the realm of video games, the concept of “serious games” involves using playful elements such as rules, objectives, and competition for educational or training purposes. The intrinsic enjoyment of play merges with learning objectives. Today, the term gamification is used when these elements are applied to work processes or tools to make them more effective, while serious play refers to engaging in playful activities with work-related goals.

To explain and demonstrate the power of serious games in work contexts, there is now an abundance of studies and research, along with many details from cognitive sciences, complexity sciences, and neurobiology. Alternatively, it can be experienced, and it all becomes clear in a matter of hours. Briefly listing some of the key things that serious play allows us to bring into work environments, a very intriguing list already comes up:

  • Full engagement and increased motivation of participants, resulting in people expressing everything they think, feel, and are capable of creating regarding complex topics or challenges.
  • The ability to quickly make decisions about complex challenges and problems, including assessing elaborate scenarios and possible courses of action, allowing participants to base subsequent actions on a shared understanding of the information upon which the decision is based.
  • Experience-based learning that fully engages individuals, activating all their cognitive abilities and remaining firmly anchored in the participants’ minds for a long time.
  • Enhancement of human skills in communication, collaboration, creativity, as well as team dynamics.
  • Increased workplace well-being and stress reduction, both through direct dynamics like the opportunity to feel actively involved and valued, and indirect dynamics such as increased understanding of colleagues’ perspectives and ways of thinking.

We have been practicing and teaching serious play for many years, and we have seen people in various contexts around the world achieve the best possible results through play. We have witnessed participation, smiles, fatigue, and satisfaction. And we have observed it in countries all over the world and in large, formal organizations like the European Commission as much as in cutting-edge start-ups or scale-ups, or in socially-driven organizations in challenging environments. All of this clearly indicates that serious play is not just a fad, but a family of genuinely effective work tools.

However, the fact remains that it is also a fad. Especially after the LEGO Group trademarked “Serious Play”, launching a methodology that allows (very effectively) the use of LEGO® bricks for serious play. It’s also partly our “fault” for extensively promoting it in Europe, which convinced many to jump onboard. And when this happens, it’s evident that one starts to find a little bit of everything “out there”. The quality of outcomes in serious games, be it LEGO® Serious Play® in one of its forms or any other serious game, directly depends on the quality of the facilitator. Training is a fundamental aspect, and not all training programs are equally effective. Moreover, years of experience in diverse contexts, coupled with human sensitivity and understanding of complex dynamics, make the difference between a serious play professional and an enthusiast who still has a long way to go.

As with all things that are attractive, powerful, and complex, discernment is needed. However, the enthusiasm is more than justified. Serious games that roll up the sleeves of managers as they play with colleagues and often with clients themselves make a tremendous difference. Try it to believe it.


Sprouting from a decade-long collaboration and deeply grounded in years of action research and experimentation at international level, we have created the Serious Games System (SGS) methodology as the most adaptive and comprehensive paradigm for the use of serious games, designed to put people at the center.

If you are passionate about using serious games to unlock human potential, don’t miss the SGS Open Source Playbook: download it here or reach out to us at play@cocoon-pro.com


You might also be interested in reading: “What is serious play for? Where is it beneficial to take it?”


This article is part of our series dedicated to the world of Serious Games and it is also available in italian and in spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the evolving world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe

To find out more, or get your organisation involved in this approach, contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

This is the account of our staff at Cocoon Pro. Wish to know who are the people in Cocoon curating our content production?Have a look at the people page on our website here. For any question or feedback we would be happy to hear from you! Reach out here: hello@cocoon-pro.com