The first meeting of the Work-at-Play-at-Work Society met at Counterplay 2017.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘invitation to play’ recently: what invites people to engage in playful activity; is it different for each person? And then what allows them to continue playing?
The description was as follows:
“We might be playful individuals, but we work in often distinctly unplayful organisations. To consider this problem, join me for a board meeting. We’ll sit around a table. We’ll have an agenda. We’ll have slides. None of us will have read the papers in advance. There may or may not be coffee. Let’s see how far down the agenda we get, before someone says “what if we did it like this…”
There was a formal agenda, as attached here. Once all members were in the room (excluding Valerie from Admin, who forgot to come), we began with Apologies. Members were asked to apologise for something distinctly un-playful they do regularly at work.
This slightly playful twist on proceedings produced some surprisingly revealing apologies: with people admitting to ignoring what goes on in most meetings; avoiding speaking so as not to prolong the meeting, etc.
Introductions were next, and we went around the table so that all members knew who was represented.
Everyone was given a name card (eg. Luna, Erik…) and the person opposite was asked to give them a job title and department. To the left of me I had Algernon the Management Financial Analyst from the Department of Financial Management Analysis; to the right of me I had Xavier, a shadowy figure from ‘up above’, who cast an acusative eye over the whole meeting.
Members were reminded of their action points from last meeting, and asked to report on them later in the meeting.
I had created a set of secret Action Cards, one for each person. Over the rest of the meeting, it was really interesting to see how they each approached their actions: one member winked at another via twitter, for example. Others used the following activity to mask their missions.
We then found that Valerie had mixed up the Minutes from the Last Meeting, and they were distributed across the papers in front of each member. It took some time to get them back into some sort of order.
I had taken the first 50 pages of Frankenstein from Project Gutenberg, and mixed them up across the 24 paper packs. There were some clues (the start page, end page and some chapter breaks) but everyone was soon up trying to match their pages with others, lay them out on the side, etc.
By the end of these last two activities, everyone knew everyone else in the room, which made the following exercises much easier.
The main section of the meeting was a design exercise. Members were formed into small groups, and asked to design meeting activities together. Members engaged actively with this exercise.
I’d used different colour paperclips on each set of papers, strategically placed around the table, so that some groups were near to each other, but others had to work across the length of the table. Their task was to design a playful activity using only materials in the meeting room. Things got very playful, very quickly.
Link from Dog Grooming fortunately took good minutes in the absence of Valerie, which you can see here.
I was particularly impressed with the idea of massages as a reward; and the use of the underside of the table for secret meetings.
Members then shared their activity ideas, and the meeting attempted each one to test its effectiveness.
The meeting ended with arranging the date of the next meeting (after failing to find a free slot in all 24 diaries within the next year we used the time-honoured and always successful method of arranging a Doodle poll).
The meeting closed.
A simple experiment, which started with a few simple playful twists on the traditional meeting, took on a life of its own when the participants accepted and ran with the invitation to play. I was hugely impressed with the work everyone put in to create such inventive activities, and to complete their own secret actions; probably more work – certainly collectively – than any business/committee meeting in history.
This was, of course, an inherently playful audience, but I was struck with how easy it was to set up and subvert a mundane daily activity. What if, in a meeting, apologies were indeed a chance to say sorry for unproductive work; or if attendees took on ‘secret’ roles or actions to engage them during the meeting; or if playful constraints were used to create small group activities with a meaningful aim? The experiment continues…