How to Create a Playful Environment at Work

Guest-blogger
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FrancisThis is the third in a series of three articles by Francis Cholle about the importance of play in the workplace.
  (For part 1 see "How to convince your boss that we all need play at work").  Mr. Cholle is an international business consultant, best-selling author, and engaging speaker. He helps companies rethink business in ways that conventional strategic management cannot. His clients include global powerhouses across a wide variety of  industries such as beauty, food, luxury, pharmaceuticals, communications, media, and information technology. His extensive studies and experiences in cognitive science, the performing arts, and eastern philosophies have profoundly influenced his consulting practice and approach to working with CEOs and senior executives. In his most recent book, The Intuitive Compass (Wiley-Joss, 2011) Mr. Cholle details his groundbreaking perspective on decision-making and describes how he has helped clients reach unparalleled levels of achievement in their industries.

Because creativity is such an important factor of success in business today, play should be part of every CEO’s mandate, and companies should be rated according to the level of playfulness of their culture in the same way as they are rated as a great place to work or as a socially responsible organization.  A number of practical steps can be followed to navigate this cultural shift toward play, which then can become easier than it seems. 

If innovation is key to corporate success, and if play is the door to innovation, then the next logical question (logic does have its place!) is how to create a corporate atmosphere that is conducive to play, how to turn workers into players. 

Think about what play look like.  It is personal, engaging, and interactive.  It is often exuberant and messy.  It is filled with light, color, and sound.  When you think about play, you may instinctively think about a children’s playground or children’s toys.  Now, think about corporate offices, or, more specifically, corporate boardrooms.  There are lots of straight lines in boardrooms, (or perhaps, artistically, an elegantly curved accent wall); there is typically an imposing table made from fine polished wood or sleek metal.  That table likely suggests a hierarchical seating arrangement that people intuitively understand: the boss will sit at the head of the table and the chief advisor will sit next to the boss or perhaps will anchor the other end.  The rest of the employees will fill in the sides of the table.  So, before the meeting even starts, everyone knows his or her relative importance.  And everyone knows that polite behavior is expected: sit up straight, papers stacked neatly in front of you, a pen at the ready, smartphone close by in case of an emergency.


These rigid boardrooms are where major strategic decisions are being made about innovation and the future of our organizations.  They represent a very logical environment geared toward conscious conversations that will unfold in a very linear and efficient way.  They appeal to the 20 percent of our intelligence that lives in our conscious mind with its wealth of creative ideas, and the intelligence that we can reach through play.

Dr. Marian Cleeves Diamond, one of the world’s foremost neuro-anatomists advocates the establishment of “playful environments.” I too believe that we need to create offices, boardrooms, and activities that engage our playful nature—a corporate sandbox or playground. Some of the things that they do to create a play-friendly atmosphere include:

  • Allocating significant time in which employees are explicitly encouraged to play
  • Creating, or giving employees access to, physical spaces that are conducive to play
  • Giving employees implicit and explicit permission to “fail” or be “unproductive” in their pursuit of innovation.

We are playful by nature and efficient by necessity.   So let’s embrace our nature, and less effort will be needed for the same, or better, results. 

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