The secret to a great team? Let them play!

I remember attending a dress-up party when I was seven years old. The theme was ‘princesses and pirates’. As a young girl easily influenced by my older brother, I decided on a pirate.

With a patch on my left eye, a jingling pocket of coins and a hook in my left hand, I was practically the captain of the ship. I joined my fellow pirates to occupy the seven seas and conquer the world with our ‘arrs’ and raised hooks. It was these simple props which crafted a new world, allowing each of us to transform our bodies and voices, and explore our creativity.

Growing older, the freedom to express such creativity felt less accessible because it was considered less acceptable. Growing older meant becoming more self-conscious, overtly aware of what people might think of my actions, ideas and the way I expressed myself.

When I entered the corporate world, the impression I had of the workplace was one of big ideas, creativity and innovation. But for me, the reality was that creativity and innovation was stifled by people’s fear of being judged. I felt the work environment caused a fight or flight response in people, which meant that they were less open to challenge themselves and ideas were not expressed as freely.

In my opinion, businesses should create an environment where employees feel safe to speak confidently about their ideas. I believe that encouraging play will allow people to feel more relaxed, open, and at ease to speak their mind. The ultimate pay-off for fostering the art of play from a business perspective is enhanced creativity and innovation, which also allows for a greater competitive edge.

A recent study from Finland examined playfulness as an intentional approach for enhancing team creativity and innovativeness. The researchers focused on three different methods for bringing playfulness into different organisational contexts – improvisational theatre, sketching with pictures and serious play.

They found that playfulness helped foster team creativity and innovativeness, ‘building open social connectivity and a space for creativity to emerge, which releases the creative potential of the group’.

On an individual level, improvisational theatre helped people become more open to contributing and engaging in the creative process.

On a group level, sketching with pictures helped to illustrate different viewpoints and aided different people to create a shared dream.

On an organisational level, serious play provided a playful way to deal with real-life problems, see the problem more clearly and form practices to overcome it.

So, it would appear that the concept of play is just as important to us now as when we were pirates and princesses. It is merely the props we use and the access we allow to our confident young imaginations that differentiate us.

At NIDA, we invent and play all the time. We draw from the world of improvisation to encourage spontaneity, explore the power of lateral thinking and develop interpersonal skills, self-confidence and teamwork. Importantly, improvisation requires us to actively listen to other peoples’ ideas and respond in the moment, so it also gives us a communication tool that allows people to experience freer, more organic flowing conversation.

We connect people to their imagination and support the idea that a creative approach leads to growth and confidence, provides opportunity for innovation and encourages collaboration in the same way an ensemble of actors work to put on a show.

So how can you ‘foster the art of play’ as a leader in your workplace? I don’t mean go and buy your colleagues a drink, or play rounds of mini golf in the office. Here are some simple ways you can achieve this:

Keep meetings positive and relaxed. The answer should be ‘yes, and…’ and not ‘no, but…’. Responding positively allows the conversation to flow and ideas to grow, instead of shutting down and blocking suggestions. This is an easy and effective technique actors use in improvisation practice.

Challenge your staff to tell a story about their week in progress using metaphors or anecdotes. Ask them to set the scene, introduce characters and present a plot structure with a beginning, middle and end. This gives the team an opportunity to think creatively, understand people’s different perspectives and can also be used as a problem-solving tool.

Reset the meeting room. Reduce the physical barriers such as tables or dividers to allow for more open communication. This will facilitate a more personal connection and supports a positive and relaxed environment.

Most of all, I believe it is the leadership style within an organisation that will have the most powerful impact on an organisation’s ability to be playful and turn creative ideas into innovations. A leader who is accessible to the entire team and demonstrates open physical, vocal and imaginative communication will allow people to feel more comfortable and confident to express themselves.

All views expressed are authors own.

 

 Vanessa White
About this author:
 Vanessa White, Head of NIDA Corporate. 
Want to know more? Give her a call today on 1300 650 357 or connect with her on LinkedIn