The Power Of Play

I’ve always been a firm believer that there is a lot of power in playfulness and play. Why? Let me tell you why…

Think about the moment in your life when you met someone new, romantically… I bet the beginning of the relationship was pretty playful and fun, maybe concluded a little bit of teasing, possibly challenging each other at times and joking around.

For example, when your new love does not know how to make a sandwich, you might find it funny, joke about it and teach him how to do it… if he goes out partying and ends up with a terrible hangover the next day you probably tease him about it and give him a break, if he forgets his wallet home and is unable to pay for dinner — most likely you will not mind… There are endless examples of how people take things a lot easier when they are still in the play phase and how it turns around when they get used to each other. The partying is no longer fun as it happens too often, the inability to prepare something as easy as a sandwich could possibly upset you, that fact that he ALWAYS forgets something irritates you etc. So the nagging starts.

So what happened? Did the other person turn into someone annoying after a while or did you simply stopped being playful?

There are periods when all is not as fun and sometimes you do have to work on your relationship, that is true, but does it really have to be hard work or a lot of work?! I believe NOT! :)

Let’s take this thought a little further and think about playfulness in a WORKPLACE too.

People who work usually want to be successful, build a career, become a manager etc and yes, most of the times it requires a lot of work but who said that this work has to be hard, boring, draining?!

I think start-up mentality is a really good example on how you can balance work hard play hard attitude. Usually the offices of start-ups are quite fun too and the physical side helps of course but won’t make a huge difference if the person itself does not have the desire to play.

The people who take initiative usually become more successful compared to the ones who don’t. But in order to step up, try something new, get out of your comfort zone and step into the unfamiliar takes some courage and playfulness.

For example, imagine you are at the conference and the keynote speaker tells you that she needs some volunteers from the crowd to come on stage. Would you raise your hand right away? Or would you try to hide your eyes like most people and pretend you are invisible as it makes you uncomfortable to even think about going to the stage in front of possibly hundreds or thousands of people not knowing what is expected of you?

We already established that the people who DO get out of their comfort zones are more likely to become successful, so why did you hide if you did? In which other areas of your life do you hide?

If the speaker was to ask the same thing from a room full of kids, they would have probably fought over the possibility to be selected, to be the one on stage — they see some kind of pride in being selected because they see it as a play, a game that they can win! Where did we, adults, loose that and why?

So I say what determines success in a workplace, relationship and in life is the PLAY!

I practice play quite often. In the relationship I always try to take things with humor and be playful instead of nagging. It works way better ;)

At a workplace I play on many levels.

With my immediate team I hold a weekly meeting that I call “Team Fun” where we play different team building games and get to know tasks. As there are very different personalities in my team and some tasks are shared I believe the better the team knows each other and appreciates their differences the better they communicate and work together.

For example we focus on a topic that is relevant at a time and play a game related to it. When we had new joiners who needed a lot of information to be passed on we played a drawing game where one person had the drawing in hand and had to describe what she saw to the rest and the others had to draw image as similar to the one described without seeing it. That showed us how different people see the whole, describe details, how they listen etc and we found it quite powerful.

When there was a time to get to know each other on a personal level we played a game of “My favourite”. So I asked questions on various topics like your favourite TV series, the most inspiring person you know, dream destination , the most courageous thing you have ever done etc..put down all the answers and others had to guess which belonged to who with explanations. I am sure you get the point by now… :)

As I am also running our Tallinn office with more than 400 people in the team, I have once again taken more playful approach instead of having bunch of guidelines and rules. I believe that people respond better to positive reinforcement than pointing out negative examples and list of things what not to do. Therefore we have filmed funny clips, shared several e-mails which point out great things and favored behavior, post humorous quizzes and reward great examples. That does not mean that the firmness can not go with it or we take everything as a joke, but the focus is more on the positive rather than negative.

For a wider team — the whole company, I organize a 2–4 day event once a year mixed with strong team building activities and play which we call our Summer Days. Check out my blog post about organizing these events for the TransferWise team. Even though for the moment I have not wrapped my head around ROIs and ROOs too much regarding these events, the feedback I receive and the VIBE I experience and witness — I can see and feel the value it brings. The team simply works so much better, faster, friendlier after these few days all together. There is so much power in play !

And it is amazing how a little bit of ridiculousness will unlock a lot of creativity — the best and craziest ideas are usually born in a relaxed and playful environment where you feel safe and inspired to think outside of the box.

So put your game face on and let’s play!

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