Why do we at THINKspiration encourage the creation of an atmosphere of PLAY in the workplace?

If the thought of this conjures up images of jungle gyms, cupcakes and mindless hilarity – you aren’t quite on the right track :) (although Google have no problem with brightly coloured slides between floors at their headquarters!). ‘Play’ speaks of fun and laughter, but also of spontaneity and creativity. Play melts away stress and insecurity and births possibility thinking and optimism. The natural result is social connection, collaboration, engagement and innovation. What’s not to love?

 One of my favourite spontaneous activities with my son (who is in matric) is a late-night trawl through the funniest memes and internet posts of the day. Pouring over a cell phone or tablet, we chuckle together at the latest political cartoons, cat videos or humorous relational cameos – marveling at the craziness of the world we live in. Our shared dry humour always draws us together and leads to warm moments and meaningful conversation. It opens the way to discuss the difficult stuff, and to think together about solutions to life’s quandaries.

Laughter truly is good medicine; and should be part of the culture of your organization. It strengthens immunity, decreases pain and diminishes physical tension. It helps resolve conflict and bonds people together. It stimulates optimism and helps people let go of their inhibitions. People who laugh easily and heartily (especially at themselves!) demonstrate a distinct personality strength – a secret success catalyst!

How could we encourage an atmosphere of play in our organisations?

We could start by helping each other find the funny side of work situations, or by asking each other questions such as “What makes you laugh most?” and “What have you found funny in the past week?” We could share funny stories and You Tube video clips, and take time out for fun activities (you may even like to establish a ‘fun’ committee). Don’t forget that workplace laughter and jokes should never include put-downs or be at the expense of a people group or individual.

Of course, a quick google search will give you more ideas. Start meetings with positively framed questions such as “What makes you smile?”; and nurture a deep-thinking environment by freeing people to dream and brainstorm regularly. Help them to interrogate their thinking by trying to spot any flawed assumptions that could be holding them back.

Remember that creativity is fast becoming the most important leadership quality in business today. Always encourage new ideas, and try to action them where possible. Be wary of coming down too hard on your team when mistakes are made – rather model the art of ‘failing wisely’ – helping others see how learnings can be gleaned efficiently. Expose your team members to different approaches, and different sectors; and get them to intentionally question whether they could be pursuing their deliverables more effectively. Remember to celebrate successes and reward those whose initiatives and efforts have significantly paid off for the organisation.

While an environment of play and creativity is primarily a function of leadership influence and example, you may also like to look at the layout, ‘look and feel’ of your physical workspace itself. Does it need more colour? Less cubicles? More light? Some comfortable areas for coffee breaks? How do people feel when they enter your offices: creative and enthusiastic, or drained and demotivated?

Who knows what could happen through and around us if we made a greater commitment to play, spontaneity and the nurturing of creativity in our work environments? I think we would all be a bit more like Thomas Edison, who said "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun."

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