It’s playtime! You bring the Lego, I’ve got the Kool-Aid.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Do you remember your childhood, endless days playing and without a care in the world, except for when you will get to play next.

I see that with my Son, his endless appetite for play and hopefully he and his generation can not only retain that, but nuture that into their adult and working lives.

I can’t remember when I shifted into the norm of separating play and work, something got serious and whilst there was playful and fun times in later school years, university and the work force, it was mainly down to business. Institutions will do that to you!

Around the same time I was losing my faith in the Gantt chart, layers of bureaucracy, process, politics, command and control had warn me down, I wanted to bring my whole self to work and be part of a better way to interact with colleagues, be creative, learn and achieve great outcomes.

So agile ways of working became a magnet, the values, principles, practices, techniques…all of it, I drank the Kool-Aid and wanted more, for me and everyone, I knew it made perfect sense!

Learning about this humanistic (for customers and colleagues) way of working resonated deeply with me and I had a great coach guiding me. Sofia Woloschin, was absolutely a pioneer in Adelaide at this time (and continues to be in more ways than one) and meeting her just under a decade ago really sparked a transformation in me and the flames of learning and adaption are still burning strong.

I recall at that time, Sofia had established workplayinspire and introduced me to Lego Serious Play and the use of Lego for Scrum Simulation. Sofia was about to run such a simulation around that time with a group of Masters students at the University of South Australia and I asked if I could observe, Scrum itself was very new to me at the time. I was welcomed into the simulation on one condition, I had to play the Product Owner!

‘‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.’’ — Plato

Well, there is some debate if Plato ever said or wrote this, but fact is, we all learnt a lot that Saturday afternoon on Campus and I sure as eggs did!

I recall two things that day in particular.

Firstly, a small part of the morning session when we started, involved Sofia providing a brief presentation to the students, it was quite engaging and the material was spot on as was the delivery, Sofia kept this short and sharp, but ultimately, it was a series of slides and information about agile and Scrum framework.

The students were mostly paying attention, but also on their phones, sitting back, not fully engaged. (Smart phones were relatively new, so this part would not surprise me so much now!)

Then the Lego appeared and the simulation kicked off and so did the engagement levels. (Yes, no sot surprising, Lego will do that for you!)

Secondly, when the students were in their first sprint, as the ‘Product Owner’ and outside of the ‘Dev Team’ looking in, I could see a couple of obvious things they could do to improve their process and I quietly mentioned them to Sofia, suggesting we should let them know. She smiled and took it as a first of many learning opportunities to point out I needed to let them go and not try to control their work.

Only a short time later, when the students stopped to retrospect, they came up with the things I spotted and much more. When they continued, they owned it, had learned by doing and were probably feeling proud and content. If I had held them up to direct them, it could easily have left them feeling displeased and losing some interest and definitely not as valuable a learning experience.

The immersion into the game was fun, but also purposeful, experiential learning and a key takeaway for me when I read about Lego Serious Play, was the fact you want people engaged in meetings, discussions and workshops, being creative, using their hands, materials and critically, leaning in NOT leaning out.

Those two takeaways with the students that Saturday morning years ago, whilst seemingly small, I believe are an important part of what we can do to improve our lives and the way we work.

  • run better meetings (this can include less or shorter meetings); one-directional, status meetings with no engagement/involvement from people attending and with no outcomes, will destroy creativity and meaningful work;
  • give people the support, tools and environment they need and then get out of the way. For knowledge based complex work and creating an outstanding employee experience, which will lead to awesome customer experience, this is a non-negotiable!

Play at work, serious, purposeful play is a great way to run better meetings, workshops and training, learning by experience and getting input and ideas from everyone in the room.

Sure, you don’t want people creating Marshmallow towers with Spaghetti or running a Kanban Pizzeria every second week, especially if there is no reason for it, there must be a purpose, the purpose may in fact be fun, then go for a team lunch and eat real Pizza.

The play for me is about inclusiveness, so it can be a simple check-in at the start of a meeting, getting everyone to say a few words in the first few minutes of a gathering can make a world of difference to what happens next.

Beyond the use of Lego, other materials and your imagination, powerful techniques I have experienced and starting to use as the norm now, are Liberating Structures (Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandeless) and Training from the Back of the Room (Sharon Bowman).

I look forward to sharing more on this in coming weeks, with some great experiences emerging.

For now, get you and your colleagues leaning in when you gather, play with purpose to collaborate for outstanding results.

Don’t forget the Kool-Aid…you’ll never look back.

Francesco 🙏🏻

Sofia thank you for coaching and inspiring me in work, play and life. #workplayinspire

I live by the beach in Adelaide, South Australia with my wife, young lad and Jack Russell/Tenterfield Terrier. Passions include golf, food, humanity at work.