Should that really be my goal?
I know some people have a problem connecting work and fun (and therefore by extension, play). We’ve been taught that work implies effort and struggle and discipline and challenge. All of this can be true, AND it isn’t an inclusive list. Work can include meaning and challenge and engagement and fun – when you are doing the right work and doing it effectively.
And, as a leader, part of our role is to help people figure out how to do work right.
Because it is better for the long term success of the individual and it creates better productivity and results both now and in the long term.
So even if work, well done, can have playful components, there are things we need to keep in mind as we try to create an environment that supports that approach. That’s the goal of this short article — to give you some of those ideas.
Cultural, not an add-on. If you buy the ideas I’ve shared so far, the first thing you must do is realize you are trying to adjust or change organizational culture. How people view work in your organization is (in part) the ideas and habits they brought with them and (in part) what your organization or team reinforces for them. Remember that people are busy and if they feel that the fun event is now a new expectation or a new task, they may react with more cynicism and resistance. Making work play isn’t something you do overnight; be committed to changing views and behaviors over time.
Organic, not forced. As you introduce ideas, create opportunities for more play, and promote a more playful atmosphere, let it build momentum from the group; don’t take the approach that seems contrived. “OK team, stop working. It’s time to have fun!” is the wrong approach. The goal is integrate playfulness into the work, not make it a new job. Which leads to the next point. . .
Variety, not one size fits all. All people aren’t created equal, and all fun isn’t viewed the same. Doing something around the Super Bowl to inject some fun will connect with some people more than others. Recognize that the approaches will need to vary and not everything you try will appeal to everyone. So while you’ll make progress steadily, remember point number one. Making work play will take time for everyone (and it is worth it).
Fun, not frivolous. If the hard business reasons listed earlier haven’t convinced you yet, recognize that environmental factors impact significant business issues in a positive way (unless things like productivity and retention and job satisfaction don’t matter in your business). So remember (and help other see) that creating a lighter, more enjoyable atmosphere isn’t just a fuzzy “nice to do” thing – it is real and important to your results. That means that the things you try and the approaches you take must be viewed in the right way. Recognize that while everyone likes to have fun, some will see it as less important. Be patient with them and listen when they feel something is frivolous. In that moment they may be correct.
Meaning, not just parties. Making work play is about an attitude and an expectation and it can (and should) come from more than a party. Can you have parties and events to create a more playful atmosphere? Of course. But recognize that when people are most engaged in their work and having the most fun, it is not because of a great party at work, but because they see the value in their work and know how what they are doing makes a difference.
Challenges and goals, not just events. Goals met call for celebration. Challenges can kick in our competitive nature and when that is well channeled, that can create significant fun and play in the workplace. My daughter’s math teacher promised to shave his head if 100% of the class got above 75% on the final exam. Do you think that caused focus and fun? You bet. Challenges like this can happen in the office too. What challenge with a fun side bet could you place before your team to infuse and invigorate people’s energy and fun?
Led, not luck. A positive, playful and fun workplace won’t happen by accident. While many of the points above point to not overly planning, someone must lead. That can be you or you could recruit deputies to help you create a more fun workplace. If you want the results adding some playfulness can bring, it must be led.
We spend more time at work than in any other activity in our adult lives (except perhaps sleeping). Playfulness is part of what makes us enjoy life and be more human. When properly focused, infusing more human-ness into work will create better results for everyone. It’s more than good leadership and organizational stewardship —it’s the right thing to do.
Go ahead, Make Work Play.