Monday, 14 December 2009

Philosophy of PLAY at Work.

Over the years I have come across lots of advice or inspiration around the concept of 'Fun' or play at work. These messages have been delivered through many forms. Everything from fellow bloggers, articles from Harvard Business Review, management training and Most recently a TED talk.

This particular ted talk was by Tim Brown CEO of IDEO. IDEO are exponents of the concept "Serious Play". I've included it here for your reference. The talk runs for approximately 27 Minutes.

This idea of PLAY has always appealed to me. An interesting perspective I have is that when I have actually achieved this it has not really been done with the concept of 'fun' at the forefront of my mind. This has been a By-product of the activity/task at hand. With that in mind here are three examples and a simple suggestion to get you started down this path.

NOTE - Fun at work should be the default state.

Stories at work

A lot of the teams I manage are involved with the process of making things work or happen. That is Service or Project management. When I first get involved I often find the groups are challenged by issues of ambiguity. Ambiguity in their roles, ambiguous actions that they take relative to others, ambiguity around their right to make decisions etc.

It is because of this environment that the group is often struggling to be objective. The concept of 'Accountability' and interdependence often alludes them. I have found on two occasions that I have a great method for addressing this particular challenge. In short I take them out of their comfort zone and tell them the 'Story' of My life as a submariner.

The benefit of this is that it is a fully immersive story (literally). Taking a team through this environment and being able to provide stories of first hand experience, I am able to articulate the concept of clarity in an environment where ambiguity can get you killed. It allows me to provide examples of clear process, clear communications, and team work.

Although a relatively extreme example of Story telling it has proven to be very effective.

Games at work

Games are a particularly under-utilised tool. I have used games on a number of occasions to great affect. One particular game that comes to mind is that of the Simpson's Game (Pictured) that I had created a few years ago, and have used with a number of teams since.
Last Import

The beauty of this particular game is that it provided benefit from inception through to execution. I had inherited a demoralised disempowered team, which needed to be reinvigorated on all fronts (people, process and technology). I could not afford the $30k plus price tag to educate the team in ITIL concepts so we did this ourselves.

From the word Go we started to make an difference. Locking one or two creatives away in a room, having them carry big pieces of cardboard in with great fanfare, colouring pencils, colored cardboard etc. was a master stroke - the anticipation this generated was impressive. The team was learning to appreciate the adage 'Under new Management'.

Second to this letting the team come up with the 'Theme' proved to be invaluable. Out of this the Simpson's game was born. We then had team members buying Simpson's characters from their local supermarkets through to bidding for Simpson's cars on eBay. The creation of the game rules themselves provided a challenge for a different part of the team.

By the time we actually got together to play the game the team was keene to see what they had created, and the fundamentals we were trying to learn were easily understood. Three years later this particular game is still in use - although looking a little tired.

Play at work

The idea of banter and fun at work is often a challenge, especially if you're running a lead team of senior managers who spend 99% of their time on task, that is focusing on managing teams and activities to achieve outcomes, dealing with exceptions etc. Often a leadership team will find that they do not get enough time together to make sure things are running smoothly.

Traditionally this predicament is either addressed by extending the existing formal meeting by an hour, or simply having two of them. Interestingly this particular format is not overly conducive to addressing the actual need. Traditionally meetings can only handle 2 - 3 topics in a given hour, doubling the meeting time does not necessarily mean doubling the output.

My most recent team recognised this particular issue, and we started to try and work out how we can address the problem. In reality the team wanted more time together, whilst I really wanted a team - one that works well together. Enter the concept of the Mop-up.

This particular approach was influenced by the TMZ.COM team (tongue-in-cheek), agile methodologies, in particular scrum. We threw in some wine, cheese, crackers and an electronic egg timer.

As the mop-up matured we found ourselves having quite a good laugh whilst being able to discuss and address a number of issues/opportunities within the team, ranging from making sure each other understood our interdependencies through to discussing team members performance, as well as identifying actions to be taken in the coming week.

This particular approach really turned the group into a an efficient team. The philosophy here is that teams are not built on away days or off-site events, they evolve on a daily/weekly basis. The mop-up provided and enjoyable bookend to the week and allowed the leadership team to check-in on how things were going.

Give it a crack

The above examples are simply some of the games and stories I have used in the workplace over the last couple of years. They are not overly complex, and as you can see by the quality of the game and video above it can result in considerable discretionary effort from your team. Something all managers should aspire to.

One last example and a take-away that you could apply immediately is the ide of the Photo collage. Have you team members bring a photo of themselves, a landscape from their travels or their hobby. Stick them on the wall and have the team guess what picture belongs to which team member. A simple idea, that can generate a lot of interest and good will within your team.

Have a play - you could only improve your environment.



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