When was the last time you experienced Play at work? In my case, my 3-year-old daughter can sit at my desk and Play more in 5 minutes than I do all day.
Somewhere along the way, we lose our ability to Play, but we don’t start that way. Isn’t it surprising how easily kids engage in Play at a Playground?
No exchange of names. No rules. No game even. Just Play.
Now imagine a recent customer meeting.
No introductions. No agenda. No objective for the meeting even. Just…Play???
More like just awkward chaos or just someone on their way to getting fired.
There’s an overwhelming amount of research in support of more Play at work. Play fosters more innovation. Deeper relationships. Better engagement.
So why are Play and work so far apart?
What We Got Wrong
How often was the ping pong table used in your office breakroom pre COVID? My assumption is rarely. And what about now?
What about the nap pods, slides, video games, messages, and swimming pools? OK, maybe that’s just Silicon Valley tech companies, but still. Turns out the answer is rarely there too.
What we and most of us with the dusty breakroom ping pong table got wrong is that environment isn’t only physical. It’s mental too—a state of mind.
And in work from home, pandemic world, this state matters.
Researcher Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi is famous for his work on what he refers to as a “flow state.” When you’re in the zone. Fully immersed and energized in a behavior.
This is why kids are shocked when it’s time to leave the park. Time passes effortlessly.
Does this sound familiar? “Hey [insert kid name], time to leave.” “No, but we just got here.”
So what about at work? Is time passing effortlessly?
How to Play More at Work
There isn’t a 5 step process for how to Play more at work. If there was, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?
“Follow these exact 5 steps, and you have successfully completed your Play quota today.”
But I can tell you the best weekly team meeting I ever went to started with a YouTube video. This was back in 2012 when YouTube was breaking on the scene. Each week someone would take the action item to find the funniest video they could, and we’d start the next meeting with it.
Here’s one I remember showing my girlfriend, now wife, after work one day. It’s still so good.
Based on the engaged discussion, problem-solving, and teamwork in that meeting, you never would have guessed that I was a brand new leader to the team.
My boss had only been there 3 months.
The rest of the management staff had been cut in half 6 months earlier.
And our Corporate HR was terrified our facility would be unionized.
The Too Busy Excuse
Now, do I start every meeting these days with YouTube videos? Of course not. I don’t have time for that.
Remember what I said earlier about my daughter Playing at my desk?
But isn’t it interesting that someone can remember weekly status meetings from 9 years ago? For context, I set reminders on my watch for when it’s time to go to bed.
That, I believe, is the power of Play at work. So
maybe I should. Maybe Play is what can make the good work we’re doing great.
When to Fit Play In?
Most of our time awake is spent at work. That’s a fact. And Play isn’t something that we can regularly program from 3:15 to 3:30 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For a lot of us, that’s a fact too.
The question is really…
How can we make all these zoom meetings, PowerPoint decks, status calls, email updates more Playful?
I think the answer lies with our mindset.
Here’s the BIG idea: Play at work really means more playfulness while you work.
Instead of fitting it in. Bake it in.
Bake it in by the way we show up on those zoom meetings. By the example we set with our communication, feedback, and attitude in 1 on 1s. After all, it just takes the first kid to start a game of tag.
So how can you make one meeting today, one presentation today, or one email today more Playful?
Maybe someone will remember it 9 years later. Maybe you will.