Get serious about playtime

25/11/2020 - 14:00

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Organised workplace play can help connect colleagues working from home, improve mental wellbeing, and boost overall happiness.

Some professional playfulness at a LEGO Serious Play workshop run by the author earlier this year in Melbourne. Photo: Jesse Spezza

In a year when the entire world is dealing with some very serious stuff, many people are turning to something formerly considered at odds with the work of being a serious adult: fun and play. 

As US-based playful change and learning facilitator Chris Bailey said: “[There’s] nothing like a good pandemic to make you reassess an obsession with seriousness.”

The most obvious place play is being deployed this year is in the reimagined workplace, which has now, in many cases, become entirely virtual. With vast numbers of employees working from home indefinitely, leaders are finding new ways to keep their teams happy, engaged, and mentally well.  

Some examples of how workplaces are using play this way include weekly crossword puzzle-solving sessions, virtual pet shows, happy hours with games and prizes, monthly gif contests, and painting nights.

All hosted virtually.

In my work as a LEGO Serious Play facilitator (a methodology created by the LEGO group to boost innovation and creativity), I have seen an increased appetite from clients in Australia for online events and workshops powered by LEGO, where the core objective is to ensure everyone has fun.

Play power

However, as playful adults like Mr Bailey remind us, play has the power to do a lot more than just make us happy, especially in these times when disruption on all fronts is the new normal.

“Then 2020 comes and we’re hit with this perfect storm of pandemic, racial injustice, American political rancour, and climate change,” he said. 

“This incredibly natural thing we are all born to do opens up different ways of understanding our experiences, how it helps us cope physically, mentally, and emotionally with stressors, how it might be the very thing that’s needed in our world right now.”

Michael Fearne, who runs the Melbourne-based Pivotal Play and is author of The LSP Method: How to Engage People and Spark Insights Using the LEGO® Serious Play® Method, agrees.

“Individuals and companies that dive into play are tapping into ancient skills that we all possess,” Mr Fearne said. 

“Play at work is vital for engaging people and then feeling real ownership and purpose. When there are big changes in the world, using play is another lens to process that change.”

Perhaps more broadly, the challenges of 2020 might be pushing us to reconsider the role of play in our lives as adults, especially when it often can feel like something we’re not supposed to do.

Speaking about his own journey of bringing playfulness back into his professional life, Mr Bailey shared that it was the fear of being seen as silly, childish, or frivolous that held him back. 

“[There’s] this belief many of us have that being a proper professional and respected grown-up means being serious and responsible, and driven to succeed,” Mr Bailey said.

“It reminds me of the transformation that happened to Robin Williams’ adult Peter Pan in the movie Hook, where he forgot who he truly was and how to playfully be himself. Sometimes it takes a crisis to make us remember who we really are and how to do something that is incredibly natural to us.”

A playful future

So, what might happen if we adults embrace play like we did as children?

“I see an incredible opportunity for play to re-emerge as a powerful force for good,” Mr Bailey said.

“Humanity needs something good right now. All the uncertainty and ambiguity and volatility we’re facing aren’t going away. 

“If we’re going to innovate our way towards lasting solutions, a playful mindset and playful practices can help us find a way forward.”

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