The Value of Play – A Creative Employee Engagement Method

on October 26, 2011

How many meetings did you attend this week?  How many things were you asked to read?  How many problems did you face?  Did you experience frustration at work?   On the other hand, how much time did you spend “playing” this week?  Does the idea of play sound appealing, or does it sound like something you can’t fit into your schedule?  Are you worried that play is for lightweights?  Think again.

There is more research being done all the time on play and the value of play for adults.  Nothing lights up the brain like play.  Today’s innovators realize that play spurs more creativity, builds better relationships, and actually enhances productivity.   But play isn’t just for design firms or creative types.  Play enables all humans to be better explorers and problem solvers.  It ignites curiosity.  When we truly play with one another, it also builds relationships and trust.

Recently at our own organization, we held our annual Root Olympics.  This is the 10th year for the event and we took our people offsite for an afternoon just to play together.  Our people tell us that they really value the time to play with one another (and with leaders) and the afternoon is one of challenge, laughter, creativity, and just hanging out.   The objective of our Olympics is simply “to play.”

One of the people I really respect on the issue of play is Stuart Brown.  Check out his talk on play at a TED event.  He explains that that the purpose of play shouldn’t have to be higher than “play” to be valuable.

At Root, we often build principles of play into our creative engagement methods.  We find that adults light up when we suspend judgment and ask six to 10 of them to explore visuals as a group, discuss open-ended questions, and interact in ways that are outside of the way most work typically gets done.  Learning Map® experiences embed all of these qualities, and clients tell us that the maps are a powerful cultural event for their people.  Hierarchies are left at the door.  The experience creates a brain gym for people to connect differently.

Using creative methods to solve business problems comes naturally to us at Root.  It’s hard-wired into our DNA.  Yet, I’ve also realized the value of playing just to play.  Giving people permission to stop working and start playing actually is smart.  Don’t believe me?  Give it a try.

And don’t just think about it for other people.  Where is play alive in your life today?  I’m guessing it will be a place that is vibrant, where curiosity, imagination, exploration, and trust exist.   If you’re missing a place like this, give real play a try and watch the value it brings you.  The Root Olympics embodied this spirit for me this year and compelled me to write this.  If you want to see us have a good play, check out this quick video.  Even the rain couldn’t keep the play out of us!

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