Let’s Go Fly A Kite” George Banks, 1964
Play is a waste of time and energy. Play is for kids. We are grown-ups and we have a job to get on with! So there.
During my time as Learning and Development Manager with TransPennine Express, one of my responsibilities was to organise the Annual Management Conference which I had done for a couple of years. Each time we would organise a series of activities and speakers throughout the day. Everyone would sit around the cabaret style tables, sticking with the colleagues who they knew and worked with regularly. As soon as it came to coffee time, delegates would grab a cup of coffee and then go in search of a quiet space so that they could catch up on their emails.
And so the ‘silo’ working continued.
“How do we encourage managers to step out of their silos and create a culture of cross-functional working?” asked one of the directors.
“A jigsaw?” I replied.
“Aren’t jigsaws for kids and old people?” my colleague replied. Their tone of voice suggested that what they really wanted to say was something along the lines of…..”do we really pay you to come up with daft ideas like that?
I do like a dare!
At the time we were introducing a new fleet of trains. Off I went to have our very own jigsaw created with a picture of the first of our new trains standing proudly in the station.
Day one of our third annual conference. The room was set and awaiting the arrival of the delegates. In the foyer the tea and coffee area was all set out and ready. Close by, a separate table where I’d put together part of the outline of the jigsaw along with a few other pieces. I left the box lid on the side so that we were able to see the finished picture. And that was it, I just left it. I said nothing and made no reference to it. I just stood quietly in the corner and watched.
At each break time the same core group, picked up a brew, went back to the jigsaw to continue with their masterpiece. More and more colleagues joined them, gathering around, drawn by their curiosity and the desire to make their contribution to completing the puzzle.
In between each of the conference sessions, when we were talking business strategy, this was ‘playtime’ or was it?
Can a humble jigsaw really be the seed to building effective teams, developing a culture of collaboration as well as being good for our own mental health?
I recently read The Essentialist; The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
Greg devotes a whole chapter to play and the importance of embracing the wisdom of our inner child. He reminds us of Mr Banks, from the classic musical Mary Poppins. The gruff and joyless Mr Banks who returns home, transformed, after being discharged by the bank. Full of joy and sense of fun, launching into song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”, (I have included the link to the video below for those who feel the urge to sing-a-long).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you need to go and lose your job and break into song. More that, as Greg suggests, this story reminds us of the powerful effects of restoring play to our daily lives.
Stuart Brown, the co-founder of the National Institute for Play, (I never even knew such an organisation existed!), concluded that “play has the power to improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organisations’ ability to innovate. Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability and creativity. Nothing fires up the up the brain like play”.
For the Essentialist, play is considered essential, plays sparks exploration.
So if you are wanting to spark creativity in your organisation, build a strong sense of teamwork and effectiveness, talk to ted. We take play and having fun very seriously.
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