Focus and Human Resources

Today’s schedule: Answer e-mail, staff meeting, recess and client project

Symposium builds on importance of corporate play for innovation, creativity and teamwork.

March 8, 2013
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Today’s schedule: Answer e-mail, staff meeting, recess and client project
Darell Hammond, founder and CEO of KaBOOM, a nonprofit that helps communities build playgrounds, was the event’s keynote speaker.
If you’ve ever longed for a recess break during the workday, you are not alone.

During the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum’s first Symposium on Play, several speakers argued for the importance of play in the daily lives of children and adults alike.

In his opening remarks, GRCM Executive Director Robert Dean pointed out that play is something everyone is born knowing how to do and that children develop and learn important skills during the process of play, including cognitive and social skills.

Unfortunately, time spent engaged in free play has fallen by 25 percent between the current generation of children and the previous generation. Dean and many of the individuals attending the symposium wonder how that decline might impact innovation and creativity in the future.

Though the decline of innovation in the United States continues to be debated, there is no question that adults tend to play very little, viewing it either as a waste of time or a luxury they cannot afford. Additionally, many see the benefits of play as strictly for children, neglecting to understand how continuing play into adulthood might influence creativity, innovation and teamwork.

The GRCM thinks it is time to reevaluate the value of play, both for kids and in the corporate realm.

“It all started with a strategic planning session of the board where we talked about needing to get the message out about the importance of play to the broader community,” Dean explained.

“We feel our mission extends beyond providing the wonderful play experiences we provide at the Children’s Museum to getting the message out to the community, as a whole, of how important play is and how it can enrich people’s lives.”

Dean said GRCM doesn’t just talk about the importance of play. Staff members are encouraged to take time out of their week for it.

“We have something at work we call an emergency play drill,” Dean said. “Anybody on the staff can say, ‘OK, we are going to go play.’ We might have a ball made out of duct tape that we start playing volleyball with. … Whatever the kids are doing, we get involved with it. We also can take that to the workplace and give that experience to people in businesses.”

The Children’s Museum offers a program called Corporate Recess to companies that want to infuse play into their company culture. GRCM staff members facilitate “recess time” with a company’s staff, helping them to see the relationship between play activities and team building, stress reduction and improved creativity.

These results were definitely on display at the Symposium on Play as speakers engaged the audience in several playful activities and improvisations.

Mary Jane Pories, president of Fishladder Inc. and a presenter at the symposium, has incorporated her improv training from The Second City main stage into corporate training to help companies and their employees overcome challenges and become more innovative in solving problems.

One of her main messages during the Symposium on Play was the importance of saying “yes, and,” rather than shooting down co-workers’ ideas. By saying “yes, and,” colleagues are able to take action while still accepting the realities of their situation and the boundaries of their resources.

Pories highlighted three key factors in her approach: Tell the truth, allow for mistakes and make others look great. She said that, in the acting world, she was told to view other performers as geniuses with whom she was fortunate to share a stage. She suggested professionals view their colleagues in the same way and approach solving problems together to achieve those tenets. She also noted that the fastest way to get two people to bond is through sharing a laugh, and play is a great way to facilitate natural laughter.

Marcie Brogan, partner at Brogan & Partners, also spoke during the symposium, sharing some of the things her company has done to make play and fun part of its daily routine. Free Monday morning manicures, quarterly mystery trips, impromptu dance parties, outdoor recess time, onsite beer taps and cash awards for the Mistake of the Month are a few of the things that have helped the creative agency regularly earn Best Place to Work honors.

Brogan & Partners doesn’t stop there. The office is outfitted in leopard print carpeting, incorporates bold colors — particularly, red — into its interior decorating, and staff make liberal use of their marshmallow guns and Frisbees.

The downside is that Brogan & Partners has lost potential clients who take one look at the office space and decide the company isn’t serious enough for them. But, Brogan said, the upside outweighs the downside. The company reports earning double the industry standard every year since its first year in business, partly because of its low employee turnover rate, and clients who do take a chance on the company tend to stick around longer than average.

To Brogan, a playful environment makes solid business sense. She said there are five principles for creating a fun environment: Show that you don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t just say it; fun cannot be an add-on when time allows, it must be integrated into day-to-day operations; a company must have quality people in place who are pre-disposed to hard work; the company must plan for fun; and the company must be willing to devote resources, including financial, to fun.

The Symposium on Play was well received by attendees, and Dean said to expect a similar event in the future.

“I am thrilled with the audience and the caliber of speakers we have,” Dean said. “It’s just amazing and it really fulfills our goal of getting the message out to the community.”

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