Play at Work

by Pam Hartley

Whether we're young children or grown adults, we're wired for play. Think back to the last time you were at your best: you were on a roll, ideas were flowing, the team was energized, the project seemed to self-propel. This could just as easily describe a child's Saturday afternoon building cardboard forts in the backyard as it could your favorite project at work. What links the two is Play, That time that's fully enjoyable, when we get sucked it, when creativity and connectivity take over.

A playful work environment lays the foundation for creativity, flexibility, resourcefulness, and spirited collaboration. Playful means fun. It also means great hard-work, tackling tough challenges, and getting big things done together.  Bright colors and space to hang out together help, but a play at work is more about how we work together.

Playing around with ideas

Building time in projects to play around with ideas at the start of the project, encouraging divergent ideas, truly encouraging risk taking all help build creative confidence on the team.

Playing together

Getting together with colleagues to create and connect ideas works best face to face. The more we work together around a common table, eat together at lunch, grapple with a challenge over a quick walk, and celebrate together over good food and drink, the better equipped we are to tackle the next big project together.

Play at work is about getting it all done in a creative environment. Like any good playground, a set of often unspoken rules keeps everyone in the game and the play moving forward.  How do we build time for creative thinking and push forward to meet the deadline, strive for new ideas and avoid recreating the wheel, go for gold and remain on budget? In creative environments, it often takes playing with juxtaposing project goals to keep everything on track.

Action... Collaboration

Act without collaborating, and we risk operating in a silo, without the big picture and missing creative input. Collaborate too long or without a clear end goal, and we can slow to a halt and avoid implementing.

Big Picture... Details

Paying attention to the context and big picture while attending to all the details ensures the project will work on all levels.

High Impact... Low Cost

Striving for high impact and shooting for big ideas while crafting simple, low cost ways to execute can keep projects right-sized and heading in the right direction.

Plan Ahead.... Seize Opportunity

Planning ahead helps make room for quick change of tacks. Sticking to the plan at all costs can lead to missing opportunity. And no plans at all can lead to whiplashing between opportunities, keeping everyone busy but missing the opportunity to grow.

Fresh & New.. Tried & True

Supporting both creative, new approaches and the tried and true, keeps projects fresh without throwing out great simple ideas that are already working.

Bottom Line: Next time you think play is just for kids and has no role in the workplace, think again. Play enhances our lives at every age, everywhere.

With more than 20 years in program leadership roles with children's museums, Pam Hartley is an expert on play, learning, and creativity. She is currently the VP of Play Experience at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, NC.

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