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The Power of Play - Making Good Teams Great

The Power of Play - Making Good Teams Great



“Screw work let’s play!” Do you sometimes wish you could goof off work and play? In this interactive presentation, inspired by the theory and experience of play, we demonstrate why play isn’t ...

“Screw work let’s play!” Do you sometimes wish you could goof off work and play? In this interactive presentation, inspired by the theory and experience of play, we demonstrate why play isn’t just essential for creativity and innovation, but crucial to our survival and overall well-being.

Portia Tung investigates the relationship of work and play and demonstrate how, instead of being mutually exclusive, both are necessary for personal and group creativity and achievement.

The talk includes 7 guidelines for bringing more play into your life. And if you play your cards right, you’ll leave with plenty of ideas to achieve your recommended daily amount of play!



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  • Welcome to The Power of Play - Making Good Teams Great. EX: ICE BREAKER If you would all stand up. Introduce yourself to a neighbour and tell them about your favourite hobby. You have a total of 2 minutes between you. All play!
  • I have many roles, including Agile Coach and I’m passionate about realising human potential, both among the teams I work with and of course in myself. For the past 7years, I’ve experimented with many models, tools and techniques. While some have worked better than others, there is one that works every time. One that opens people’s hearts and minds like no other. And that is Play.
  • Without a goal, it’s hard to score. Here is the goal and success criteria for today’s session. I’m counting on you all to help us reach the goal!
  • How would you define play? According to Dr Stuart Brown, Play is seemingly purposeless. He defines play as a set of characteristics. Play is... seemingly purposeless, voluntary, inherently attractive, time flies by when you’re having fun. When you play, you become so engrossed that you feel freed from your usual inhibitions. Play offers plenty of opportunities to improvise and, once you get started, it’s hard to stop.
  • Through my own experiences, I’ve come up with a definition of Play that inspires me how I do what I do. To me, play is when you have more fun than purpose. Play has always had and always will have a purpose and sometimes multiple purposes. For many of us, we play to relax. That is a perfectly legitimate reason. As a facilitator and coach, I use play to help people relax by creating a safe, open and friendly place to maximise learning. I also use play to encourage our hearts, bodies and minds to open for long enough to let in different ways of perceiving the world around us.
  • My friends and colleagues call me the Playmaker because of my passion for the practice and science of Play. Rest assured, you are in safe hands but that you should fasten your seatbelt. Remember, safety first when it comes to play.
  • According to Dr Stuart Brown, who specialises in the science of play, True Play is about fair play, safe play and being a good sport. So during this session, I ask you adhere to the following rules: Communicate with an open mind Keep things simple Treat feedback as the gift that just keeps giving Give things a go Be sensitive to the needs of others as well as your own.
  • Are you ready for your assessment? O! Did I forget to mention that during the next 40 minutes, you’ll be undergoing a series of tests to help us gauge you play potential? You may feel a slight discomfort at times. If you do, I suggest applying the principle of Sustainable Pace. Let us begin…
  • EX: PLAY OR NAY Play can mean different things to different people, so let’s play a game to find out what we mean by play. You will be shown a sequence of images and your goal is to spot which one is play and which one isn’t. There are two simple rules. When you see an image that you associate with play, shout “Play!”. When you see an image and you don’t consider it play, shout “Nay!”. Ready, steady, go!
  • If you played in the last month at work, stand up. If you played in the last week at work, stay standing. If you played at work just before coming to this event, stay standing. Now that we’ve baselined your amount of play at work…
  • Let’s do a quick Play Preference check. There are 4 types of people when it comes to play. Type 1: Can play, want to play Type 2: Can’t play, want to play Type 3: Can play, won’t play Type 4: Can’t play, won’t play Remember, you are among friends. All stand up. If you classify yourself as a Type 1, sit down. Type 2s, sit down. This session focuses primarily on Type 1s and 2s: To give Type 1s the data they need to convince Type 3s to play To give Type 2s ideas on how to get started. As for Type 4s, it’s a party and everyone’sinvited. [Pass out sweets] It’s up to you to participate as much or as little as you like.
  • Time for a quick splash in the sea. This is the humble sea squirt in its adult form. As a juvenile sea squirt, it resembles a tadpole (much like what our ancestors would have looked like). The juvenile sea squirt spends its time swimming around looking for nourishment and avoiding being eaten. When it becomes an adult, the sea squirt implants itself on a rock or the hull of a boat. So what do you think happens next? The sea squirt eventually digests its own nervous system and brain since it no longer needs them anymore. Some cheeky teams compare the adult sea squirt to coaches who use the same tools, in exactly the same way, constrained by the safety of their comfort zone. So what’s the sea squirt got to do with play? Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert, believes that the brain exists for one reason alone. Action. If action is the source of the magic we see around us then I would say Play is a catalyst for action.
  • Who has seen “Finding Nemo”? What are the characteristics of Nemo? Nemo was the juvenile clown fish that has to escape and find his way home in the sea. What we want is not to be a sea squirt, but much more like Nemo instead. The good news is that human beings are the biggest players among all the species. We are built through play and we are built to play.
  • Let’s play another game. How many squares can you see? You may consult your neighbours. You have 60 seconds to work it out. All play! If you think it’s answer a), stick your hand up. 17 26 30 None of the above The “correct” answer depends on your definition of “square”. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate problem-solving through play.
  • What’s the purpose of play? According to the latest research by neuroscientists, biologists, psychologists, social scientists and many others, play serves 4 key purposes: It shapes an organism’s brain It makes animals smarter and more adaptable It enables us to sustain social relationships It fuels creativity and innovation. In an experiment involving rats, one group of rats were allowed to play and another was prevented from playing. What happens when a cat shows up? Both groups scurries into a hole for safety. What happens next? The group that played, over time, emerges from the hole, slowly and cautiously. As for the group that hadn’t played, they never set foot out of the hole. Ever again.
  • This is life’s creative cycle as represented by Paul Arden, a former Creative Director of Saatchi and Saatchi, a global advertising agency. Let’s superimpose an average person’s play history onto it. How many of you remember playing from the age of 1 - 3? Then 5 - 10? Keep your hand up for as long as you remember playing... What about 15 - 20? Then at this age, some of us start doing something called work like a Saturday job and start earning some money. And 20 - 25? What about 25 - 30? Pretty soon, work takes over our lives and it’s not until we reach retirement age that we start playing again, then playing some more, right up to the end. Did you know that we spend around 70% of our waking hours doing work or work-related activities in a lifetime? That’s more time than you’ll ever spend with your loved ones. Does that worry anyone at all? Because it’s certainly worries me!
  • Pop Quiz: What’s the opposite of play? Play leads to creativity and innovation which, in turn, result in invention and growth. What about work? How does work fit in? It turns out that work can also lead to creativity and innovation. It also provides us with a sense of purpose and develops our competence.
  • [Show video of Emily Fox doing cupstacking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNG3sgk02Lc]
  • [Metanote: This slide enables you to switch to the video and come back to without the Work animation so that you can go directly into revealing the depression animation in the next slide]
  • So if the opposite of play isn’t work, then what is? Imagine a life where there are no movies, no music, no jokes, no risk-taking, no games, no stories, no fantasy.
  • The opposite of play is depression. So where are play seekers and play skeptics in relation to this landscape? [1] Can play, want to play – Combine work with play [2] Can’t play, want to play – Wants to address work-play imbalance; seeks out Type 1s [3] Can play, won’t play – Work, work, work – convinced themselves that work has to be serious all the time [4] Can’t play, won’t play – Work is everything – there is no room for anything else. Have forgotten how to play / may have never learned how to play.
  • Like most good things, you don’t need a lot to feel an immediate benefit. Dr. Stuart Brown tells of stories how play lights up the brain indicating activity. In my experience, the feel-good factor from 5 - 10 minutes per day is enough to keep you going for an entire day. Based on my preliminary research, the benefit of one day of play can last up to a week. One prospective study done at Albert Einstein and Syracuse universities showed that for people who had the most cognitive activity (doing puzzles, reading, engaging in mentally challenging work) were 63% less likely to get Alzheimer’s than that of the general population. Playmakers say: “ Play once a day keeps the doctor and priest away! ”
  • Playing begins shortly after we’re born. Cast your minds back to your childhood. When did you start playing? Think back to your first childhood toy. What did it feel like to play with the toy? What did you enjoy most about playing with that toy? Now introduce yourself to different neighbour and tell them about your first childhood toy.
  • Why should adults play? For all the same reasons children do: Breaks down barriers between people Opens the mind to enable learning (again) Opens the heart to create a connection Source of joy Source of hope De-stresses parts of the mind and body that beer cannot reach When you’re playing, you’re 100% engrossed, so there’s no time to be angry, sad, judgmental or resentful. Play drives you forward and the shared passion for play during play is what creates a shared experience. Point people towards a common goal to get the most out of work and play.
  • This is proof that pigs can fly, so there must ways of infusing work and play. After all, Play and Work are two sides of the same coin.
  • Before you can get others to play, you need to be able to play yourself. Step 1 is to give yourself a break, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Literally: Go for recess. Take time out during the working day and play in your breaks. Go for a walk, hmm a song, do a dance, go for a run. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between actual play and the conversations we have about play. Share with others how you play. Put the topic on the table. Get the conversation started. Talking about play gets the brain at least thinking about play. Metaphorically: Type 3s “Can Plays, Won’t Plays” find this extremely difficult to do because they know how to play (they tell you how much fun they have outside of work) but have convinced themselves that there’s no place for play at work. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Once you give yourself permission to play and it’ll be like riding on your first bike again, you may wobble at first, but it’ll come back to you soon enough. As Dr Stuart Brown remarks, “the body remembers what the mind forgets”. Once the mind remembers the power of play, play will find a way.
  • Social Play usually comes most naturally or at least meets with the least resistance from others. Take time out after work to socialise with your colleagues. Given you will spend more time with them in a lifetime than your loved ones, the sooner you get to know them the better you will enjoy their company both in and outside of work. Interacting socially with others often increases understanding between people because, for many, having a chat down the pub is when people feel they can step out of their stuffy suits and begin to be themselves. Other examples of Social Play include team lunches, team breakfasts and team ice creams and team coffees. Different people prefer different snacks – have a food rota to keep the play going!
  • Then it’s time to mix things up. Socialise the idea of play at work by scheduling playtime towards the end of the day, right around the time most people finish work and just before they go home. This kind of activity requires a little more co-ordination than an adhoc pub visit but not much more. It will requires some organisation as people will want to know exactly the kind of activity you have planned, how long it will take, where it will take place and, most important of all, what they will get out of it. Their barrage of questions is a sign of interest, often mistaken as resistance. They’re asking questions because they’re still making their minds on whether or not they want to come. This will be your chance to practice the 3 basic skills in Playmaking: Event hosting: Selecting a popular enough play experiment to draw in a crowd - it only takes 3 to make a crowd! Marketing: Marketing makes or breaks an event. Give plenty of notice (1 – 2 weeks). Advertise using mailing lists, posters and word of mouth Merrymaking: Create a party-like atmosphere and invite everyone (in your area). Make it clear that everyone is welcome to attend – if they choose to!
  • One of the most common observations I hear in organisations large and small is this: “ Our people don’t care about improvement. They don’t want to learn.” I know what gets me learning: a solvable challenge, great company and good food. Provide all this and you’ve got yourself a party!
  • As an adult, my playmaking journey began with The XP Game back at XP Day London 2004. Back then I spent the next 2 years looking for play company at work, I didn’t find much. During that time, I fought hard against the urge to play, convincing myself that Typs 3s “Can play, won’t play” is what career-minded high-flyers do. In the end, the play get the better of me and I’ve been playmaking ever since from facilitating meetings to inventing learning games. Here we see The Scrum Simulation, a variation of the XP Game, in action. It’s a game my teams and I co-created at work. Let’s step through the process of play. The process is very similar to the learning cycle. That’s why experiential learning, learning by doing, is so effective. Very often, people will continue to gain new insights long after the session has finished. That’s the power of learning games.
  • Another way to play at work is to incorporate it into learning how to improve your processes. Participants who’ve played the Bottleneck Game often say to me after the game, “I never knew that process improvement could be fun!”
  • Nowadays, I get to play the Scrum Simulation at least once a month, sometimes around the world. If you play your cards right, people will start contacting you and asking you to play. Before you know it, play will become part of what you do and how you live and work. Remember to talk about play, encourage play and remember to play yourself to stay in shape!
  • EX. PART 1 On your own, take an index card. Draw a line down the middle. On the top lefhand side of the card, write down “Work”. Then on the top righthand side, write down “Play” . Under the heading of “Work”, write down a few tasks that are particularly tedious, irksome or not enjoyable. Under the heading of “Play”, brainstorm ways of making those tasks more fun. PART 2 Now in threes or fours, share your ideas with each other. You have 3 minutes. Go!
  • Strive to fulfil your recommended daily amount of play. You don’t need a lot. 5 – 10 minutes of play a day is enough to keep the doctor and priest away!
  • And remember Life’s Creative Circle?
  • With a bit of effort, a splash of creative thinking and a lot fun, we can all infuse our work with play. That way, we can play and work until our ripe old age and stay active for longer!
  • Let’s so do some session user acceptance testing. If you agree with a criteria, stick your hand up. Turn to your neighbours and shake hands with everyone to thank them for playing. Imagine we’ve just finished playing a really good game of football. [Metanote: Step through each criteria]
  • Many thanks for playing. Happy playmaking!
  • And remember, don’t be a sea squirt, be more like Nemo instead!

The Power of Play - Making Good Teams Great The Power of Play - Making Good Teams Great Presentation Transcript