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When the going gets tough at work…the tough need to play and have fun.

Doubt it all you want! PLAY AND FUN with teams lead to new and better ideas during hard times.  

At Funmentum Labs we live by the phrase Productive Play. The thinking is that if you can inject fun and play into your daily, weekly, monthly workflow it will breed a culture of unparalleled collaboration, creativity and innovation. But is that true? How does that happen? Let’s start with Dr. Stuart Brown (author of the book ‘Play’ and founder of the National Institute for Play) his definition of Play:

"Play: an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time."

One word in Brown's definition probably sets off some alarms for every executive or manager, ‘purposeless’. How can ‘Play’ be productive if there is some ‘Purposeless’ needed for it? This is work after all.

Stuart Brown says that play isn’t frivolous, he says the opposite:

‘Play isn’t just useful at work, it is essential, especially during the hard times at work'.  

Fun and Play are amazing tools to help recharge and provide some much needed energy. In fact Play and Fun can lower cortisol levels within the team. By doing that you lower stress, fear and anxiety. Getting rid of the stale and ‘funeral air’ as Brown writes that can devour companies. Once the fear and anxiety dissipate, people are more open. The brain starts producing positive hormones like Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and ideally with other team members - Oxytocin. Once that happens our bodies start entering the flow state. Which is not coincidentally defined similarly to Brown’s definition of Play:

‘When one is lost in an activity, challenge or situation where they lose track of time and are focused and present’.

In another sense, Play and Fun help trigger flow.   

There’s a story Brown writes about Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore, the leaders of Intel at the time during the 80’s, who were under much stress because their competition was nipping at their heels and taking away business. The board was demanding new answers and new thinking. Instead of staring at each other for hours writing desperate notes back and forth, the two chose to play a game and use their imagination. Grove and Moore imagined being replaced and how would those other people solve the problem. After literally looking each other in the eye and saying - "you're fired" - they walked out of the office. When they walked back they pretended to be the new and smarter executives that would replace them. The role playing continued for a little while and suddenly the answer became crystal clear, they needed to get out of the memory chip business and steer the company into designing and creating microprocessors - which, yeah, that worked out pretty well for them. (Until there was supply chain challenged pandemic!)

The problem is, "Fun" and "Play" is not a light switch. It’s not something you can say or demand. In fact there is nothing less fun than someone yelling ‘we need Fun Dammit!' out of stress. There are so many tools to learn and use when moments of stress creep in to the team, instead of grinding, that might be the moment to engage in imaginative play. 

Here are three tools incorporating Fun and Play that we would recommend for your team to lower the cortisol level and have some focused productivity during challenging times. 

Play 'What would Oprah do?'

This is exactly what Grove and Moore did at Intel. They thought of a different perspective to solving the problem. Use your playful imagination to be someone else. Imagine you are someone famous, or someone in your family, and think about how they’d solve the problem

Play 'Super Villain Challenges'.

Sometimes it can help the team to just vent all the challenges and obstacles ahead of them, but maybe have them draw the challenges and create the obstacle as a Super Villain. Give the Super Villain a name. What are their evil super powers? This actually creates a safe space for people to draw and share their challenges without feeling like they are complaining or whining. There will be laughter and creativity. Then for bonus points come up with a Super Hero to combat the Super Villain.  

Play 'Worst First'

A really fun, playful exercise is to encourage everyone to generate the worst and most horrible solutions for the challenge they have in front of them. This will free people up to not feel judged about their solutions or ideas because…they are encouraged to come up with bad ideas. Once your team generates those ideas they will actually find some nuggets of ideas that they actually will want to solve. 

If you are interested in integrating Productive Play into your team's workflow check out our products.