Archives for posts with tag: play at work

Conflict based on personalities is a time drain, wasteful on many levels.  Conflict rooted in differing convictions can be constructive and add value if handled correctly.  Yet doing so takes courage, and that means facing our fears.

company cypher

Openly invite conflict.   People are afraid of disagreement because, in hierarchies, the outcome can be loss of social status.  Invite people to share a multitude of ideas in open forums.  There will be less risk associated with offering the “wrong” opinions, and  communal trust will increase. [1]

Kill the experts.  Any organization that presumes to bring in “experts” is operating in a hierarchical manner.  Call them something else, like “instigators.”  It changes the energy.

Critique ideas, not people.  In the 12-step circles I’ve been fortunate to frequent as a participant-observer, this is known as “putting principles before personalities.”  In a training session on giving feedback, one company I worked with decided to embrace the model of the art critique.  This makes the process of observing what works and what doesn’t fun and engaging rather than scary and full of rejection. [2]

Strictly enforce timeboxes.  When deadlines loom, posturing and jockeying for position simply makes no sense.  [3] Study how theater ensembles manage deadlines: the date for opening night gets published and the public is invited in.  Everyone in the ensemble has a personal, public stake in meeting the deadline [4]

Reinforce goodwill.   Consistent, sustainable quality cannot occur when people treat each other badly.   One company I worked for spelled out its expectation that we would show “respect and candor in all communications.”  Too much candor can descend into brutality.  Overly respectful deference, on the other hand, can put the freeze on important conversations.  So say it, but say it in a nice way.  That’s goodwill.

Be #Flawsome. Show your imperfections and people will automatically feel safer around you.  A group of people doing this will be more united than a team of perfectionists.   Do you believe that awesome imperfection is sufficient to muddle through challenges?  Try it on a small project and see how much anxiety and energy get released for finding creative solutions.

Play with options.  Forum Theater is a way to stop action in a tense or conflicted setting and reinvent new futures.   [5]  The following questions can be posed in writing (to encourage introverts) or in dialogue, or acted out in skits.

  • What would I do if I were brave..?
  • What would I do if I were all-powerful?
  • What would I do if I were in charge?

The Traditions of one worldwide self-organizing group state “So long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well.”   Here’s hoping that all is well and continues to improve with you and your teams.


[1] Brindusa Axon, “The Power of Productive Conflict”

[2] Narcotics Anonymous, “Why It Works: The Twelve Traditions of NA”

[3] Tom Wujec & Peter Skillman, “The Marshmallow Challenge”

[4] Lee Devin, “Artful Making” and “The Soul of Design”

[5] Sarita Covington, energizing the use of Forum Theater to help organizations and ecosystems


Arthur Fink, for sparking this essay and providing feedback and

Michael Romano, for being a trusted and reliable editor

Pictured: Company Cypher, founded by Sarita Covington with another fellow Yale grad.  Coming soon to The Agile Gym (all rights reserved) 

Pretend for a moment that work is a creative playground, and we are all on it.

Which of these eight different “Play Personalities” would describe you, your colleagues, managers, clients?

The Joker

Revels in practical jokes, pranks and stunts. Always pulling people’s leg. Hardly ever serious, and/or hard to tell sometimes. Sense of social acceptance dependent upon making others laugh.


The Kinesthete

Someone who needs to move. A high degree of athleticism is built into his/her routine. Enjoys physical antics and displays of derring do.


The Explorer

Always poking around for the next cool thing in the universe. Never bored because there’s so much to do and see. Catch phrase is “I wonder…”


The Competitor

Wants to master any game. A natural maestro, attracted to virtuosity in others. Enjoys going over the rules to improve play, i.e. to WIN.


The Director

Plans and executes scenes and events. Born organizers of other people. Often a charismatic instigator of fun, he/she can hold the dynamic epicenter of a social space.


The Collector

Thirsts for the best and most interesting. Likes arranging and systemizing. Often travels far and wide to satisfy his/her impulses.


The Artist

Finds joy in creating something new. The quintessential “maker.” Sensitive to color, shape and texture. Likes getting things to look and feel just right.


The Storyteller

Always imagining new scenes. Enjoys perfecting his/her reality through playful augmentation. Invites others into situations and events to watch them unfold.

Granted, most of us are a mix of several of these, a Play Personality Parfait, if you will. The dominant stripes are basic archetypes to tap into for greater self-awareness. Learning them can also help identify the most effective ways to interact with others. I am experimenting with the concept of Play Personalities to understand high-level motivations for pulling out people’s greatness.


Inspired by PLAY: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown, MD with Christopher Vaughn, (c) 2009

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