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When Work Is Play

When Work Is Play

Work should be fun, but should it be playful? Pause here. What were your first reactions when you read those words?
Perhaps some of these thoughts are running through your mind:

  • “Work is not fun, that’s why they call it work”
  • “Play is not good for my leadership image”
  • “Sometimes, in the right context.”

In my day job, I work with different companies with unique cultures. I was in one center this week, which had developed a Jimmy Fallon meets training sort of way to keep their reps up to speed on breaking news and key initiatives. It was funny, upbeat, engaging, and most importantly sent a crystal clear message.

This video streams live to reps computers every few days, and they look forward to the next edition. After watching that short segment, reps are crystal clear on what’s important and what to do next.

The “bloopers” they shared at the kickoff were even more entertaining.

When I spoke with the COO about the approach, she shared that one of the leaders who is “anchor” is normally so serious and results-driven. It’s nice to see him leveraging the lighter side of his personality to engage these young reps. He’s a well-rounded leader using all his strengths. Results are on a hockey stick trajectory.

My Play

Ask my team, I’m dead serious about results (and we achieve them). But, I’ve also been known to play from time to time. This round of kickoffs includes a video with me doing one of my kickboxing stunts and pretending to clumsily knock over one of my Directors (p.s. no leaders were actually harmed in the making of this film).

When I was in sales, and we were launching the Droid phone, I rented professional Star Wars costumes for my leadership team (I was Leia) and we drove hundreds of miles visiting our retail locations. It inspired the team and the customers loved it. My little guy even dressed as Luke at met us at one of the stores before school (kids make great leadership side-kicks.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Of course this is not every day, but a sprinkling of leadership play can go a long way.

Your Play

I’m collaborating on a book with LaRae Quy, Alli Polin, Terri Klass, Chery Gegelman and others on Energizing Leadership. I’m on point to write about play at work. Would love your insights to any or all of these questions. Or any other ideas you have on the topic in the comments. I would appreciate you passing this along to any playful leaders you know. Looking to cast a wide net for stories.

  • Why is play important at work?
  • What are the dangers and downsides of play?
  • What’s the difference between productive play and down right silly?
  • What is your most memorable playful work experience? What made it great?
  • Are you a playful leader? Why? How has that impacted your leadership?
  • What examples can you share of play leading to breakthrough results?
  • What examples do you have of play backfiring?

If this is really your scene, or you know others I should talk to, please drop me a line at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com

Filed Under:   Energy & Engagement
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is a leadership speaker, consultant, and MBA professor. She's a former Verizon Wireless executive with two decades of diverse cross-functional experience in sales, customer service and HR. Karin was named as a top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. She is author of, "Overcoming an Imperfect Boss: A Practical Guide to Building a Better Relationship With Your Boss. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of a marathoner and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

bill holston   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

I”m a big believer in humor. We deal with torture survivors here, so our work is literally deadly serious. I tell the staff, ‘We take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.’
Hanging on the wall is this quote from Molly Ivins:
“So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t forget to have fun doin it,be outrageous, rejoice in the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through celebrating the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.’

letsgrowleaders   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Bill, What an amazing quote. I love that! Thanks so much for sharing. If you can laugh during your heavy work and “tell those who come after how much fun it was…” then humor can be in all kinds of work. Beautiful.

Chery Gegelman   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Dear Princess Leia,

I love play at work! And imagining your different examples!

I’ve been known to race a children’s scooter down a hallway with a co-worker, instigate the throwing of fish in a department and have it spread throughout an entire campus, and engage suited executives in hula-hoops, limbo, and crawfish races.

The rewards of play: Watching a group of under-performing individuals transform into a highly engaged team that met and then exceeded expectations. The icing on the cake was hearing this from a VIP customer, “I don’t know what you’ve done with the place, it was a tomb and now it is alive.”

I look forward to more play time with all of you on our project!

letsgrowleaders   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Chery, Fantastic examples. I got chils when I read the comment from the customer! Perfect. Energy and play makes also leads to great customer service. Thank you. I’m looking forward to more “play time” as well.

Steve Borek   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Hockey stick metatphor. Brings back memories of what the quarterly sales revenue numbers trend looked like. Why do customers always wait until the end of the quarter to buy? Back in the day, it was to get a better price. I doubt things have changed.

The best boss I ever worked for made selling fun. He was fun to be with. At times acting like a kid. But you know what? It was a blast being on his team.

Work should be fun. Whatever you can do to make your team happy, do it.

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Thanks. Some of the most fun I had was when I was leading a sales organization. Selling can feel like a fun game when done well.

Jim Ryan   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

I have been using games in trainings for years. Most report it is the one thing that helps them learn. There is actually a word for it – Gamification.

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

Jim, Thanks. Agreed, play has a special place in training. What’s your favorite training game?

LaRae Quy   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

LOVE this article, Karin. Your approach is both inspiring and stress reducing.

In the FBI we didn’t actually play games, but the need for humor was tremendous. Our humor was our way of playing games…before it became politically incorrect, we gave other folks nicknames and joked amongst ourselves…the upside of this is that it created real camaraderie.

No one wants to made fun of, but once we can let go and make fun of ourselves, we’re on the way to real relationship building….

Such a need for play in the midst of work…thanks for reminding us!

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, Thanks. Humor has such an important place in creating a positive work environment. Totally agree, it has to be the right kind of humor. I’ve seen “leaders” use sarcasm or other demeaning humor to destructive ends.

John Bartholomew   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Karin, I took the boys down to Scottsdale for spring training “practice only” last week. What hit me is that these million dollar players tend to play around, I’d call it “goof” around as much as the 12 year olds I coach. The difference is when a drill is on they become 100% focused on excellence. They know when it is “game on” so to speak. So what is “game on” in every company? At Disneyland its when a cast member walks out behind the walls, they are in character. Perhaps in the call center world it is when I sit down and strap the headset on!

Joy Guthrie   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

When we are facilitating events, we will often turn sections into a form of play. Just a few examples: 1) We have people draw. Opens up the mind to think about things in different & bigger ways. 2) We give out toys (usually from the dollar store) to people contributing ideas or volunteering to go 1st in presenting their work to the team. 3) We use “time” as an element of play. We use a “buzzer” when time is up – it gets people energized in very interesting ways. 4) From time to time, we’ll use a puzzle to convey a message that everyone has to figure out. 5) In a recent facilitation, we worked with an IT Leadership group to create “vehicles that would participate in a competition.” The competitions were on Design, Distance/Accuracy & Cost containment.

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

Joy, I love the idea of drawing… I’ve used that a good bit as well. It’s always interesting to see what folks come up with. Thanks for all of your examples.

Sara   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Karin, I want to see that video, dig it up from the archieves! Great post, as always.

I have found that play at work is a great motivator as long as it has a constructive foundation. This helps everyone build stronger, more cohesive relationships with each other.

The only time that I see “play” backfiring is if there is a lack of respect on the team. This could be from the leaders view or the teams. If the leader is viewed as sacastic or immature when they are trying to have fun, or think they are having fun and making everyone else uncomfortable, the team suffers and they loose crediability with their greatest assets (their employees).

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

Sara, So great to hear from you. You raise important points about when play can backfire. Really important to stay on the productive side of play. Great addition.

Terri Klass   |   26 February 2014   |   Reply

Being playful brings out creativity and innovation as well as help resolve conflict. It allows adults to stretch their thinking similar to how they did in childhood. All organizations and individuals need play to stir up the juices within them. I love your Star Wars ideas and execution!

Like Joy, I interject play into all of my training. Whether we use tennis balls, yarn, mints and lemon drops, it is all about having fun and learning something profound.

Loved the playful post, Karin! Can’t wait for the book!

letsgrowleaders   |   27 February 2014   |   Reply

Terri, Thanks so much. Love the idea of using play to resolve conflict. A lightened mood breaks down defenses.