Play in the Work Place

A growly voice on a conference call said “Danny, get control of this meeting.”

I was not sure if that person out ranked me and it wasn’t the time or place to debate management styles, so I cracked the whip, brought order to the meeting and worked through the agenda. But it got me to thinking.

Life it too short not to have some fun in the 8 to 12 hours we spend working every day. But my gut told me there is more to it than that. We are not Egyptian slaves building pyramids. Our teams, resources, peers, contractors and subject matter experts all need something more from their work than the pay cheque they get every couple of weeks. And all of them have enough skill and experience to go work somewhere else if we don’t give them what they need.

What are they looking for, and what can managers give their teams by allowing a bit of play?

Starting with what people want; I think they want to make a difference. They want to work on meaningful projects, with modern tools, equipment and processes. They want the training to not just stay current but to rise in their professions;  to be the ‘Experts’ in Subject Matter Experts. They want to be treated with respect, to be included in the planning and design of a project, and to have their input and suggestions given full regard. They want to be part of a team, a winning team.

So my natural inclination for years has been to give the teams as much as I can. Let them make the decisions where appropriate. Let them choose when and where to work. Let them choose their training, and let them choose which projects they want to work on. And create a work environment that is safe for people to make suggestions in that might be unorthodox. A safe environment. A fun environment.

It has worked for me and I have moved forward in my career by building teams of people who want to work with me, again and again. But it has been a gut instinct. Years ago I had a team of technical people working with me at Children’s and Women’s Health Center in Vancouver. We started every morning with a bit of a huddle and the team lead distributed work to the team. We joked. We laughed. We traded stories of what had happened lately both on the job and in our personal lives. And then the team went to work. They were so productive that we started ending up completing all the work just after noon every Friday. So I started letting people have Friday afternoons off, which caused another whole problem I will talk to some other time. But my gut instinct to let the team have fun paid off in much higher productivity than the plan called for.

One morning at C&W a woman who worked on the floor stuck her head into our War Room. “What are you people doing here?” she laughed. “You are having far too much fun to call this work!” I took that as one of the highest compliments I have ever had on the job. They days flew by. The work we delivered was first rate, we came in under budget, and we used that job and our references to grow the business by a quantum jump in the following year.

So when I was recently called out for allowing some fun and play in a weekly meeting, I knew I was right to allow it, to encourage it even. But before I could debate it, I needed some support. My anecdotal experiences would not carry enough weight. I needed some tangible evidence and some hard numbers. So a few searches on Google and a couple of TED talks later, I found tons.

The Science of Play is only now getting the funding and research it deserves. And as with early research in most fields the learning and understanding is coming in leaps and bounds. We now have measureable data proving that play and fun have positive impacts. Huge positive impacts.

Some of those Outcomes:

Increased productivity, innovation and creativity.

Strengthen relationships, group & social bonds.

Reduce tension and stress. Refreshes your mind and body.

Increase trust.

Improved social skills.

Healthier, happier engaged team members.

So the next time someone suggests cracking down on fun in the work place, point out the reasons for allowing some play. You have the science to support you.


Play: How it Shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. Dr. Stuart Brown .

National Institute for Play :

A Whole New Mind . Daniel H. Pink .

Playworks . Jenn Hoos Rothberg






Shy Conservatives? Or the Right being driven underground.

We saw a phenomenon in the recent British election of Labour polling numbers much higher than they finally saw on election day. What finally happened was the minority Conservatives won an outright majority. A similar thing happened in the last British Columbia election.

What happened with those polling numbers showing a Labour win? I have an idea. And I think it could happen federally in Canada in the fall.

We live in a left leaning politically correct world. The language, the positions, the policies that the media have made acceptable are left of center. That is a given.
We also live in a world where people get passionately, even irrationally, invested in their positions. Nuance and compromise are dead.

And in Canada, we live with people who are so full of hate, anger and venom at the current Conservative government it can be daunting to stand up in support for their positions and policies.

Nobody is militant for the status quo. There is nobody screaming that the sun WILL come up tomorrow. Nobody pounds the drum that the average net worth of Canadians is up, considerably. What would be the point? It would only draw fire.

And why would any sane supporter of the status quo try to engage in a conversation with hatefull, eyes bulging, vein throbbing crazies ranting about Harper and their latest perceived offence of the week.

It is so much easier to just be quiet and to go about your day to day life. Keep your head down, tune out the mouth frothing haters, and wait for you turn to mark an X on the ballot.

When I walk down the street and see a seriously mental ill or drug addled person screaming about some perceived injustice or conspiracy, I don’t feel compelled to engage that poor soul in a conversation. Similarly I don’t feel compelled to engage with the ranting haters.

I will go underground. I will keep my politically center point of view to myself and trust that millions of similar thinking middle class Canadian voters will do the same. And on election day I will quietly go to the poll and mark an X beside the status quo. It is working for me. And the frothers frighten me.

Kurt Vonnegut quote

Find a subject you care about and which in your heart you feel others should care about. It is the genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

Kurt Vonnegut