This morning I spent some time with a team going through some serious morale issues. Lots of things seemed to be getting the team members down, but when they broke it down to the “root cause” it seemed that the team just wasn’t having fun anymore. There is no sense of playfulness at all. In fact, the few times they did try playing a bit, they felt guilty and were the object of organizational scrutiny for “playing” on the job.
By strange coincidence, I couldn’t sleep last night so I ended up re-reading the book Innovate the Pixar Way for like the tenth time or so. And even more strangely, the chapter I happened to open the book to is called Recess: Go Out and Play! You see, at Pixar, morale means everything. And, they actively promote playfulness. They find that the level of fun and play at Pixar has a direct impact on morale which leads to people at Pixar working at their peak.
And guess what? It’s not just Pixar that has figured this out. There are plenty of organizations out there that have realized that allowing people to play at work is a good thing. It stimulates creativity and innovation. And there’s plenty of good “brain science” out there to support play at work too. Just check out John Medina’s awesome book Brain Rules or Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt. When you look at play from a brain science perspective, you’ll realize that not only is play important for innovative teams, it is at the core of being an innovative team.
So, if there are so many companies that are figuring out the value of play at work and good science to back it up, why are so many organizations still resistant to playing at work? For one thing, there are plenty of corporate types who fear disruption and disorder. They think this can only lead to a decrease in the only important metric to them: productivity. And to people like this, that equates to a decrease in the bottom line. But that is an absolute misconception. In fact, plenty of studies show that playful teams end up with very high morale, which always translates into higher productivity. Pixar’s Brad Bird (who directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille) had this to say about morale and the bottom line:
“The most significant impact on a movie’s budget – but never in the budget – is morale. If you have low morale, for every dollar you spend, you get about twenty-five cents of value. If you have high morale, for every dollar you spend you get about three dollars of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.”
Now, I don’t know about you but I’d gladly settle for a 300% return on any investment I make. So why not invest in morale and playfulness at your company. Make the commitment to keeping our most important “resource”, our people, as happy and content as possible. And for just a minute forget about the bottom line and ROI. Consider that all of us spend at least one-third of our adult lives at work. As human beings, shouldn’t we strive to make work a fun place to be? It’s doesn’t have to be all seriousness and suffering in the corporate world.
So, my question to everyone out there is this: HOW PLAYFUL IS YOUR WORKPLACE? Here are some questions from Innovate the Pixar Way that might help you answer that question:
- Is it common to hear laughter coming from your employees?
- Does the laughter stop or diminish when management is around?
- Is the workplace humor good-natured constructive ribbing rather than destructive sarcastic criticism?
- Does your boss usually have an optimistic and happy attitude?
- When something gets screwed up, can team members step back and laugh at their mistake?
- Do you have fun celebrations on a regular basis?
- Is the physical workplace conducive to fun?