“Can play at work be useful, though? I would argue that it is essential.” Play, Dr. Stuart Brown


I recently received an email that shared a “fantastic virtual icebreaker” to play with teams. It suggested that team members wear a hat to a video conference and explain why they chose said hat. That was it. A hat. That was the “fantastic virtual icebreaker.” 


I see so many “icebreaker” activities that miss the mark in helping teams connect, and frankly, our meetings and team members deserve better! Sure, wearing a hat gives everyone the chance to talk, which is a start. But true team building and employee engagement requires meaningful conversations that leads to authentic connections!  


When I work with new teams and announce that we are going to play together, I am often met with rolling eyes, checking of watches, and sometimes I even catch a few nervous and wide-eyed glances being shared. For adults, even the word “play” inherently has a stigma attached to it, especially at work. We are concerned about being taken seriously, about being productive, and about being professional at work. However, what about being happy at work? In Ron Friedman’s book The Best Place To Work, he shares that,


 “Happy employees are more productive, more creative, and provide better client service. In addition, they are less likely to quit or call in sick.” 


And he has science on his side! Even just 2 minutes of laughter is proven to increase endorphins and happiness! What’s more, according to the studies of renowned play expert, Dr. Stuart Brown, play increases productivity and helps spark curiosity! So, not only is play well…fun, it is good for your bottom line.


As you introduce (or re-introduce) the idea of play to your workplace, there are four tips that I share to be effective and reduce any stigma about “play” in the office: 


  • Create the ritual of play: We at TheCultureBiz believe in the power of play (and we know firsthand how it works to engage and retain talent)! However, playing at work is a muscle that many need to develop. We suggest starting every meeting with a play-based activity (not just an icebreaker, but an activity that drives connection and conversation) to get people in the habit of playing at work. Creating these rituals will help your team know what to expect, and maybe even look forward to team meetings. 


  • Make play a priority: Even the teams with the best intentions of increasing play in meetings often move team building activities to the bottom of the agenda as time goes on. However, considering that play can help individuals decrease stress, improve  productivity and drive creativity, it is incredibly important to commit to making play a priority! Given even just :10 minutes to play during a meeting, teams become more focused and more likely to engage.


  • Play as a team: One of the best ways to destigmatize play in the office is to do it together! If everyone is competing in the same activity, laughing, and having a great time together, it helps slowly break down the barriers of what we feel like is “appropriate” at work. Once you introduce regular play, be on the lookout for changes within your team. Are more conversations taking place? Is there a difference in energy from pre- to post-play? Do people seem to engage more in agenda items? Does your team seem more energized and happy? These are all great indicators that play is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. 


  • Use Play as a way to drive change and innovation: Does your team need to remain nimble and creative? Is your company grounded in innovation? Good news! Play inherently signals our brain to be creative, take risks, and innovate. When trying to solve a problem, try taking a “play break”, and solve a non work-related problem within the context of play. Often, just allowing your team to think differently can create connections to work. Allow your team to truly explore without boundaries for a bit, and you might see some new ideas come out!


In an age when we have little time, it is an absolute necessity to make play a priority. Without it, employees burn out faster, look for different jobs, and find themselves being less creative and productive. As Dr. Brown puts it, “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. \” 


So, do you have time to play? You don’t have time NOT to play!


TheCultureBiz helps make meetings matter! We know how challenging it is to find purposeful activities and to source materials. Let us bring curated activities and materials directly to you! Visit www.TheCultureBiz.com to learn more about how you can start playing at work. 


-Katie Wall

CEO of TheCultureBiz



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