Monthly Archives: December 2016

Play at Work: An Antidote to the Daily Grind

According to Gallup, the average full-time worker spends 47 hours a week on the clock. So ponder this for a minute: If work isn’t a fun environment, that’s an awful lot of drudgery. Perhaps the grind explains the miserly 32.6 percent of employees who are engaged in their work.

The concept of play at work isn’t new. The now-outdated company softball team used to  be a way for employees to get to know one another outside of work, which translated back into the office with better communication and collaboration. Fun also spawns creative energy and increases employee retention rates. These days, more and more companies—from Google to MasterCard—are recognizing the importance of integrating play into the workday and have taken the concept much further than softball, encouraging staff to play in a multitude of ways.

But what’s the best way to create a play ethic in the office, especially if you don’t have a Google budget or the square footage for ping-pong and foosball tables? Don’t worry. Creating a playful workplace and building camaraderie needn’t require extravagance. (And if your workforce is made up of millennials, they aren’t interested in playing ping-pong at work anyway.)

First, The Rules

1. Play is an invitation, never an obligation: It’s no fun being told to play. (If you were ever told to “go outside and play” as a kid, you know how those words can dampen the fun—at least momentarily.)

2. If you want to establish a play ethic, senior-level staff should lead by example—as they would with any other company value. Otherwise, it will be tough for employees to adopt.

Let the Games Begin
With that foundation in mind, here are a few starter ideas to bring a more playful vibe to the workplace:

Before a meeting begins, identify three or so keywords that will likely be used a few times throughout the session. (Select words appropriate to the meeting’s subject.) Then identify an action for each keyword. For example, if “fiduciary” is established as a keyword, ask everyone to laugh maniacally when it’s mentioned (i.e. muahahahah!). Or if the keyword is “team,” tell the group to high-five one another, switch seats or get up and jump. These absurd responses will bring actions to meetings, as well as ramp up the engagement level as people listen closely for the keywords.   

Collaborative Etch A Sketch
When was the last time you held an Etch A Sketch? And have you ever done a collaborative Etch A Sketch, where two people draw something in tandem, each controlling only one knob? Acquire some classic Etch A Sketches and hold a collaborative Etch A Sketch tournament: Pair people into teams and provide them with a simple drawing to mimic. Set a timer for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on complexity of the drawing, and then hold a judging round to decide on the winning team.

Fantasy Sports Leagues
New research conducted by Penisula—an HR, employment law, and health and safety consultancy in the UK—suggests that fantasy football leagues create an opportunity for employees to connect. Of 800 workers surveyed, 62 percent said that a fantasy football league boosted their morale, and 49 percent found it helped build relationships with colleagues. Fantasy sports leagues can be created for most any sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc.) and the “team owners” can be made up of actual company work teams who choose the athletes together and compete against other departments or teams.

Office Hide N Seek
Without telling your employees or colleagues, gather some random objects that aren’t normally found in the office (rubber chickens, bags of candy, stuffed animals, small gift certificates for coffee or books, etc.) and hide them around the office. Wait and see what happens as people discover the hidden surprises one by one.

Incorporating moments of playfulness won’t undermine the seriousness of an organization’s mission, but it can change the pace of things and encourage employees to interact in new ways.

How to Build Trust in the Workplace

In elementary school, we probably all had few teachers who said, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” And, as kids, every time we heard that line, there was a collective eye roll. But in spite of the inherent snarkiness of adolescence, the point was made: No one deserves to be ridiculed for being curious. It’s a good rule. And it’s one way that teachers create what’s known as psychological safety in their classrooms. The intent is to foster a space where students can feel confident that no one will embarrass, reject or punish them for speaking up.

As adults, psychological safety is equally important, especially in the workplace. No one should be ridiculed for thinking, even if the logic is faulty. Bad ideas, like dumb questions, are part of the creative process. Without bad ideas, good ideas would be scarce. As the great American scientist Linus Pauling once said, “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.”

Google’s Research
Google, in a quest to build the perfect team,
studied the dynamics of various groups and found that psychological safety is actual critical to a team’s productivity and success. Unfortunately, they also discovered that there’s no simple recipe for nurturing psychological safety within a team. Unlike grade school, it’s not as easy as authoritatively announcing “There’s no such thing as a dumb idea” to generate an accepting atmosphere.

But Google found that honest personal interactions—ones that go beyond small talk, work and the not-always-100-percent-authentic professional persona—help create stronger bonds within working teams. Like any personal relationship, sharing real-life concerns builds trust. And if we trust the people around us, we aren’t as afraid to take risks in front of them.

Herein lies the core of what we do at The Go Game. We strive to design activities that move people beyond office conversation and work personalities. We’ve noticed that if we edge individuals a little beyond their comfort zones, especially while working together, they’ll see a new side of their fellow team members, one that’s more personal and real, one they’re able to more genuinely trust and respect—two key components in any healthy relationship.

How to Help Build Psychological Safety at Work
Of course it’s not every day that an organization can commit the time needed for an off-site team-building experience, so what can be done routinely in the workplace to foster psychological safety?

Bucket Lists
One way to gain new insight into someone is to learn about his or her personal life goals. Encourage people to post (either on an intranet or a bulletin board in the office, something everyone can access) a short list of five things they hope to do someday. These goals might range from visiting a castle in Scotland or reading The Brothers Karamazov to sky diving or learning how to bake bread. Discovering the dreams of others, encouraging our colleagues to pursue them and watching as things get ticked off the list can create ongoing conversations that delve into the personal without being awkward.

The Family Style Meal
Researchers have found that sharing a meal can create a special kind of camaraderie. A recent study focused on firefighters who prepare and share meals together at work. The firefighters reported that this tradition helps their teams operate together effectively and that sharing food makes them feel like a family. This research could translate easily into any office environment by implementing a shared lunch periodically. Ideally, it’s a meal prepared on site together, served family style and eaten together. But, if the office lacks a kitchen, try starting a lunch club—where members take turns selecting where to go—or hosting a potluck lunch at the office, where each person contributes a dish that would, hopefully, stretch people beyond their normal eating habits and generate an atmosphere similar to what the firefighters experience for a new kind of camaraderie.

The better we understand and know someone, the more likely we are to find common ground and be able to trust him or her, be supportive and enjoy working together in a collaborative way.

Play: As Universal and Far-Reaching as the Internet

The internet changed everything. The world gained global access to ever-growing sources of information (both real and false), commerce (both legit and scammy), platforms for socializing and endless entertainment. At The Go Game, what we’ve appreciated most—well, aside from hundreds of hours of delightful cat videos and dazzling memes—is seeing that play is truly universal.

Play is the undisputed universal language of childhood. (If you’re unfamiliar with this phenomenon, grab a nearby toddler and take him or her to a playground anywhere on the planet. It won’t take long before the tots are all playing together.) But, sadly, as adults we play less often. That’s not to say that our natural inclination to connect through play ends
at an arbitrary age; we retain an inclination and ability to play at any age, regardless of nationality. We work all over the world and can testify that play is as far-reaching as the internet.

Cosmina Pacurar, our game producer in Romania, is involved with our team-building efforts in Europe, Eurasia and South Asia. She recently worked with a group of upper-level management mostly in their 50s at a telecommunications company who wanted to play The Classic Go Game, a scavenger hunt that combines creativity with spy-style missions, in a remote mountainous region in Pakistan.

Unlike most Americans, who clamor for selfies and video shenanigans, this group was a little camera shy. They requested missions that wouldn’t make them look too silly, objectives that would reinforce their company values and simple instructions because not everyone was fluent in English. Fair enough. We customized the game, tailoring the language, promoting specific values and making the missions more serious (while still including The Go Game’s notorious humor and playfulness).

Wherever we go, it usually takes 10 or 15 minutes before people relax and start enjoying the fun—much like new kids on a playground—and this group was no different. Shortly after the game began, the participants’ innate instincts to play kicked in. With missions based on iconic landmarks, artworks and historical events (familiar to most everyone, thanks to the internet), The Classic Go Game is inclusive for everyone, regardless of culture, age or religion. Of course new interpretations of the challenges sometimes emerge in international locations, but if there’s an ostrich or horse nearby, who wouldn’t use it as a prop?