The workplace environment is a crucial element in employee satisfaction and retention as well as skill building and creativity. If you are looking to improve your team’s ability to innovate your product and service offerings, encouraging play appropriate for the workplace is a way to get your team to think differently and interact in a way that will inspire new ideas. In this post we suggest that play is crucial to encourage boundary-less thinking; it’s not just for children – play is intrinsic to delivering superior performance.

The identified benefits of play are often explored in the area of parenting and family studies but they can certainly be applied to adult life, especially in workplace design. Some of these benefits are healthy development of the brain, learning how to work collaboratively and discovering new areas of interest. Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of play is that it protects against the effects of pressure and stress while driving out-of-the-box thinking and critical thinking skills.

David Elkind, Ph.D. contributed to University of California’s Greater Good website with a piece on building a culture of play. A portion of his research highlighted how bringing play into the corporate culture results in greater employee satisfaction and higher levels of overall success. Using examples of Seattle’s Pike Fish Market (fish tossing), Google Inc., and Rohm and Hass Chemical company Elkind notes “study after study has shown that when workers enjoy what they do and are well-rewarded and recognized for their contributions, they like and respect their employers and produce higher quality work.” Ben Waber of Sociometric Solutions has a similar view shared in the 2013 New York Times article Looking for a Lesson in Google’s Perks:

“Physical space is the biggest lever to encourage collaboration. And the data are clear that the biggest driver of performance in complex industries like software is serendipitous interaction. For this to happen, you also need to shape a community. That means if you’re stressed, there’s someone to help, to take up the slack. If you’re surrounded by friends, you’re happier, you’re more loyal, you’re more productive.”

Now, Fresh Squeezed Ideas doesn’t have an office like Google with Clue-inspired rooms, secret passages and desk treadmills. What we do have is an attitude and culture that celebrates creativity and understands that there are many paths individuals and teams must explore to get to their “a-ha” moment. We have whiteboard walls for writing down ideas, freedom to listen to music during the workday and plenty of time to unwind with a beverage or two in the office after our weekly team meeting. Monthly, we all get together for a social event (Paint Nite, BBQs, a night out) and, with a number of board game enthusiasts on the team, each week there’s a games night.

These things we do in the company to promote creativity and ideation is intrinsic to the work we do and how we approach it. At Fresh Squeezed Ideas interaction occurs in an unstructured and less formal way. This is important as it enables social bonding that can lead to greater comfort in conversation and interpersonal skills. Discussions surrounding project brainstorming and ideation are elevated while encouragement to share or explore new ideas is significantly improved. When speaking up with a fresh idea or perspective it’s important that team members feel safe knowing they won’t be put down or made fun of for their input.

So, to bring this full circle, we believe we should all take a cue from lessons in parenting, fishmongers and a massive technology giant and play a little more. Maybe you face a challenge getting your team to accept such a culture really is beneficial, there are certainly small things you can do to enjoy moments in your day on your own. Take breaks for brain exercising puzzles, doodle and draw in an idea book, have your own pipecleaner supply at your desk, or start a pact with a colleague to come up with new ideas to try out at the office. Play in the workplace means that employees will actually become more engaged and creative in the way they approach work—it means looking at the world in a different way and increasing the potential for innovation. With or without the beer.

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